We’re coming up on four years since Kendrick Lamar dropped his Pulitzer prize-winning album, DAMN. In the long four years since, the Compton rapper has spit a verse here and there—such as on Anderson .Paak’s “Tints” or, more recently, on Busta Rhymes’ “Look Over Your Shoulder”—in addition to producing 2018’s Black Panther Soundtrack. But for fans of his music, for the listeners who know Kendrick Lamar is one of the best living rappers and minds, it has been a long and arduous wait for his fifth LP.

Could the wait for new Kendrick Lamar music finally be coming to an end?

The best news for Kendrick Lamar fans came out just last week, when podcast host Karen Civil extended an invitation via Twitter to rapper and TDE president Terrence Henderson Jr.—otherwise known as Punch. In the same invitation, Karen CIvil indicates that Punch played “new Kendrick” for her, and suggests playing it for her fans on the show.

And it is to our wild delight that Punch responded: “YES. Soon!” If the president of TDE is signaling the imminent return of Kendrick Lamar, confirming the new material we all hoped had been brewing, we think it’s safe to start getting excited about the rapper’s fifth studio album in 2021.

Everything We Know About Kendrick Lamar’s New Album

As is custom with Kendrick Lamar between album drops, very little has been leaked about the rapper’s forthcoming project. What fans have gathered about his fifth LP doesn’t date any further back than January 2020, when music reporter / former Billboard editor broke the silence.

What, a year later, should be taken from Bill Werde’s tweet? Could the new album have been complete at that time, if fans have yet to hear a new Kendrick Lamar single? We think, back in January 2020, anything was possible when it came to album releases for that year.

Then, come March, when reality took a turn towards illness, quarantine, protesting, survival, many artists—including Kendrick Lamar—decided that perhaps 2020 wasn’t the year to drop new music. Especially for an artist such as himself, whose albums are verified art, often literary masterpieces, which require exhaustive thinking and process in order to become great.

He said a much in an i-D interview that dropped October of last year. Kendrick, who conducts an interview with his cousin, rapper, and fellow TDE label mate Baby Keem, defends the time it takes to grow into yourself, the time he takes between projects. He says, “I spend the whole year just thinking about how I’m gonna execute a new sound, I can’t do the same thing over and over. I need something to get me excited. I see you get frustrated sometimes because you want some new shit.

Kendrick is speaking abstractly, about his career as a whole, in an attempt to get Baby Keem to open up about his rapid and remarkable growth since 2019’s Die for My Bitch. But we can’t help but connect his word with Werde’s. Could the “new sh*t” Kendrick is referring to in i-D be the “rock sounds” Werde mentioned in January?

Because of 2015’s To Pimp A Butterfly, we know Kendrick has demonstrated interest and ability in working across rap, towards influences outside of the genre, to emerge his own. Rock would be the furthest stretch Kendrick makes from a classic rap album. But we know, if anyone can do it successfully, if anyone is going to be the rock-rap revolutionary, it’s him.

The new Kendrick Lamar album will likely feature appearances from top to bottom. Based on who we’ve seen Kendrick collaborate with in the past, and who he’s recently been seen with, we think the artists we’re most likely to see on the DAMN. follow-up are: Baby Keem, Thundercat, Jorja Smith, and SZA.

Busta Rhymes, “Waiting for Kendrick,” and a 2021 Tour

Kendrick is one of the few living artists who can remain astonishingly mysterious while an eager and roaring crowd forms around him—his silence, his absence. When “Look Over Your Shoulder” arrived in October, Busta Rhymes spoke on behalf of his collaborator. “There’s a great deal of mystique around Kendrick,” Busta Rhymes told Vulture. “You don’t see him posting things on the ’gram. Very rarely do you find him being caught on camera, being out anywhere. I really appreciate that about him.”

But that doesn’t mean Kendrick won’t tour in 2021. In fact, it seems more likely, that if concerts are happening at all, that Kendrick Lamar will be filling venues with his fans. We think, if not for the Covid-19 pandemic, Kendrick Lamar and other TDE artists were going to tour in 2020. What else to make of the pgLang marketing push? That ginormous L.A Times ad? Considering the new “multi-lingual, at service” company launched at the beginning of March, before we knew the whole year would be cancelled, we think pgLang was the hopeful beginning of something that never fully came through.

Hopefully, until this year.

In 2020, Kendrick Lamar was scheduled to headline Montreal’s Osheaga Festival. Already, Kendrick has found himself on the Roskilde Festival lineup, a Danish music festival that is scheduled to take place at the end of July. Kendrick has performed Roskilde in the past, in 2013, at the heels of To Pimp A Butterfly. Now, two albums later, we can only imagine what it will feel like to return to the legendary stage. Plus, in the Roskilde press release announcing Kendrick in the 2021 lineup, the festival mentioned what we’ve all been talking about: “new [Kendrick] music on the way.”

Waiting for new Kendrick Lamar music is never easy. And this time, he’s put us through the longest period of anticipation yet. In November 2020, Pitchfork joined the speculation surrounding the Compton rapper’s return.

In “Waiting for Kendrick,” author Clover Hope reminds us of the multi-layered and emotional concepts Kendrick wrestles in his albums, how each of them strive to answer a different question, and though we know they all come from the same man, they are simultaneously proof of Kendrick’s ongoing evolution.

We think Hope leaves us with the best piece of advice we could relay to Kendrick Lamar fans as they wait for the fifth album, the rock sounds, to finally hear from the man who gave us “Alright” and “DNA.” and countless other tracks that lifted and defined us. He will return, he will, but: “Fans would be smart to let him simmer.”

The good news: We feel much, much closer to a Kendrick Lamar album release than the last time we speculated over the artist’s new material. The other good news: Considering that Kendrick Lamar is already on the summer music festival circuit, the odds are looking really good for a 2021 Kendrick Lamar Tour.

In the mean time, check out the other Most Anticipated Hip-Hop Albums of 2021, the hip-hop and rap music we can’t wait to hear this year.

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