The symbolism: The music video centers around the idea of perspective. Using deepfake technology, Kendrick embodies the perspectives of O.J. Simpson, Kanye West, Jussie Smollett, Will Smith, Kobe Bryant, and Nipsey Hussle. In the first verse, Kendrick appears as himself, as he raps from his own perspective. But then he opens the second verse by morphing into O.J. Simpson’s face, while interloping Jay-Z’s iconic opening line from “Izzo (H.O.V.A.).” Beyond the symbolism of O.J.’s rise to fame and fall from grace, there’s also a subtle nod to Hov rapping about O.J. on “The Story of OJ.” Kendrick’s face morphs into Kanye next, as he raps about a bipolar friend who is surrounded by opportunists that might be taking advantage of him. Then he morphs to Jussie Smollett, hinting at the hypocrisy surrounding the controversy of staging a racist and homophobic attack. Kendrick closes the second verse by rapping, “In a land where hurt people hurt more people/ Fuck callin’ it culture,” from the perspective of Will Smith, who recently faced backlash when he slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars after the comedian made a joke about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith’s alopecia. When he’s rapping from Kobe’s perspective, Kendrick’s lyrics hint at how they’ve both changed their respective games thanks to hard work and dedication. And as he closes the track, Dot channels the spirit of Nipsey Hussle, leaving a message to his loved ones about being in heaven, forgiving the man that murdered the late rapper, and how he hopes his legacy is being carried on.
“The culture” lies at the crux of all of these portrayals, as Kendrick conveys these influential (and polarizing) Black figures who are all a part of the same whole. This point about fractured perspectives is driven home by the opening title card that says: “I am. All of us.” It could be interpreted that Kendrick chose figures like O.J. and Smollett to highlight how even their unfortunate decisions are a part of “the culture,” for better or for worse.
The aesthetics: The video utilizes a simple aesthetic, encouraging viewers to focus on Kendrick’s face and what he’s saying, rather than what’s going on around him. The camera zooms in on Kendrick from the shoulders up, with a solid backdrop behind him, forcing our attention on his words (and morphing face). This prioritizes the lyrics, and enhances the stripped-down sound of the second half of the song.
The South Park connection: South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker are given special thanks in the credits of the video, along with their deepfake studio DEEP VOODOO, which helped with the face morphing aspect of the video. In 2020, Parker and Stone launched the deepfake studio when they made their viral video, “Sassy Justice.” This isn’t the first time Kendrick has been linked with Parker and Stone. Earlier this year, it was revealed that Kendrick and Dave Free are co-producing a live-action comedy film for Paramount Pictures with Parker and Stone. The title and release date of the film has yet to be announced, but it will reportedly be about a Black man who works as a slave re-enactor at a living museum. In the film, the man learns that he is a descendant of slaves who were once owned by the ancestors of his white girlfriend.
The single artwork: The cover artwork for “The Heart Part 5” depicts six photoshopped hands being held up. Upon closer inspection, each of these hands represents the perspectives that Kendrick is rapping from in the video. The gloved hand on the right is taken from the infamous picture of O.J. Simpson in his 1995 murder trial, and the hand with a band-aid on it is Kobe’s after he won his fifth championship. Jussie Smollett’s hand is taken from a photo of him walking to trial, while another is from a photo of Kanye shunning paparazzi. “The Heart Part 5” is all about fractured perspectives living within the same culture, and the cover art extends those themes even further. —Jordan