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Kendrick Lamar (feat. Baby Keem & Sam Dew), 'Savior'

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“Savior” isn’t the most explosive song you will hear from Kendrick Lamar’s Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. (That honorific could go to “We Cry Together,” “Auntie Diaries” or any appearance by Kodak Black, who has thrived despite a sexual assault charge for much of his career.) But it is where the artist behind “Alright” most succinctly rationalizes why his current sociopolitical views are more “Kodak Black” than “pro-Black.” “Kendrick made you think about it,” he raps, “but he is not your savior.”

Not he or anybody can be our savior, but this dynamic forces artists like Lamar, J. Cole and Future to “bite they tongue in rap lyrics / Scared to be crucified about a song.” To wit, the second verse features a parable about a Christian who, after catching COVID, “started to question” Kyrie Irving and the NBA player’s protest against New York’s vaccine mandate. But even that story ends on a cliffhanger (“Will I stay organic or hurt in this bed for two weeks?”). Either Lamar thinks what happens next is besides the point, or he realizes how he’d be held accountable for a more conclusive ending.

“Savior” answers a question that Lamar poses on “N95”: “What the f*** is cancel culture?” To that end, as Sam Dew’s wordless vocals pulse throughout and Baby Keem takes the hook (“Bitch, are you happy for me?”), Lamar wades into that contentious debate by lobbying to be seen as human. Whether listeners will forgive him — or wonder why his strongest stance in Mr. Morale seems to be against “cancel culture” — remains to be seen. And whether we’re ready to hear it or not, the elusive Lamar isn’t holding back.

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