The culture: Once again, Kendrick challenges us to appraise our collective moral compass, while spurning the notion of Black death as “culture.” Gang lifestyle has been absorbed by corporations and naive youth who digest regional slang, dances, and finger gestures, but discard the human casualties in what Kendrick describes as “the land where hurt people hurt more people.” His first utterance of “that’s culture” emits weary sarcasm, as he raps about a situation where “homies done fucked your baby mama once you hit the yard.” In the next line, he adds, “Then somebody called and said your lil’ nephew was shot down, the culture’s involved.”
He starts off the second verse by repeating Jay-Z’s “I do this for my culture” preamble from “Izzo (H.O.V.A.).,” reaffirming the assertion from the video’s title card (“I am. All of us”) by rapping for “niggas goin’ to work and sellin’ work, late for work / workin’ late, prayin’ for work, but he on paperwork.” Kendrick’s verse demonstrates that there’s no glamor in the gang lifestyle, and glory can be as fleeting as the solitary moment that someone snapped of you for a photo that ends up as your R.I.P. shirt.
Kendrick recounts his pain over Nipsey Hussle’s murder, rapping, “I’m in Argentina wiping my tears full of confusion / Water in between us, another peer’s been executed,” then succinctly encapsulates the cycles of grief that have Black and Brown people in quicksand:
“History repeats again
Make amends, then find a nigga with the same skin to do it
But that’s the culture, crack a bottle
Hard to deal with the pain when you’re sober
By tomorrow, we forget the remains, we start over
That’s the problem.”
Tupac’s legacy looms large in Kendrick’s catalog. One of Pac’s most beloved songs is “Changes,” where Talent crooned “that’s just the way it is” when reflecting on how systemic oppression bred a morass of hurt people hurting people. But at the end of the second verse of “Part 5,” Kendrick asks us to think deeper about what we accept and embrace: “Fuck callin’ it culture.” Call it for what it is: murder, or treachery, or consequences of white supremacy. But whatever we call the trauma Kendrick recounts here, we should label it something that spurs us to value each other’s lives more.
Nipsey Hussle: In the music video for “The Heart Part 5,” Kendrick uses deep fake technology to morph into some of the most iconic and infamous Black men in modern history: O.J. Simpson, Kanye West, Jussie Smollett, Will Smith, Kobe Bryant, and fellow L.A. rap legend Nipsey Hussle. Some of the figures seem to have minimal relationships to Kendrick’s lyrics after a first listen, but Kendrick uses the song’s last verse to rap from the perspective of a beyond-the-grave Nipsey Hussle. This approach could have been fumbled or come across as exploitative from a lesser MC, but Kendrick came from a place of respect. Rhyming from the perspective of the late rapper, Kendrick wrenches the listener by pondering, “Should I feel resentful I didn’t see my full potential? Should I feel regret about the good that I was into?” as he references the heartbreak of Nipsey dying in front of the store that symbolized his desire to be a pillar of his community.
Kendrick picks up the verse into resilience by rhyming, “To my father, to my wife, I am serious, this is heaven,” before advising Nipsey’s friends to count their blessings, encouraging his fans to “make them investments,” and telling Nip’s brother Blacc Sam to “make sure my kids watch all my interviews, make sure you live all the dreams we produce [and] keep that genius in your brain on the move.” The verse is based on Kendrick’s interpretation that Nipsey would offer his loved ones reassurances and gems to keep going in his absence, summed up by the line: “I completed my mission, wasn’t ready to leave/ But fulfilled my days, my creator was pleased.” —Andre