Maxwell Cavaseno: Another year, another Kendrick Lamar single that receives undue praise for me to neg. Let’s be frank, “HUMBLE.,” beginning with its hyper distortion yodeling from Mars (and not even the good kind you get from Young Thug or Peewee Longway, but the histrionic sounds of a hamster getting squashed as channeled by a child) is doomed from the start, because the record’s main goal is telling us the supposed superiority of Kendrick Lamar. Based on what? Half of “HUMBLE.” is a jumble of half-assed analogies that don’t even make sense and Lamar couldn’t even bother to structure as a simile. Yet still, he manages to insist that his record is “Grey Poupon, Evian, TED Talk” like those three are actually essential, classy, or worth your time. Coincidentally, he turns to the ever overrated Mike WiLL, who is no Daz Dillinger or Sam Bostic, and whose attempt at Mobb Music-style keys sounds more like a parody of rap music made for an episode in some comedy show where “gangsters” come to intimidate your overexposed improv icon of the year. The hook itself is unfunky as anything, not to mention his flows throughout the verses. He demonstrates that, even a relatively straightforward Kendrick Lamar record is — in which he tries to rap without lavish choirs, evocative jazz noodling, or some other form of grandstanding to glory he’ll always inevitably assume — still so far up his own ass.
Thomas Inskeep: Am I allowed to admit that I don’t really like the tone nor tenor of Lamar’s voice? Also, this is Mike WiLL Made-It’s most uninteresting beat in eons. “HUMBLE.” is clearly a record made for the radio, and that’s to its detriment.
Will Adams: The set-up for what could have been a simple, effective car-blaster of a single gets bogged down in Kendrick hopscotching topics and an annoying synth screech.
Jonathan Bradley: Kendrick hops on Mike WiLL Made-It’s broke-up jock jam of a beat, popping his own off-kilter shrapnel syllables perpendicular to the industrial whirs and zombie-funk piano jabs. “HUMBLE.” is “King Kunta” in negative: a banger that pounds against our urge to ride along with it. It’s both disorienting and intuitively pop because Kendrick knows how a voice can lick like a flame around a listener’s synapses: “my left stroke just went viral” is a smarter hook than the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do peacocking that forms the actual chorus. What makes him such an arresting presence in hip-hop is not that he rhymes better or flows better than anyone else — though he has a reasonable claim at both titles — or that he is more innovative, but that he imagines spaces in the American consciousness larger than anyone else and sets about filling them. So, sure: be humble.
Joshua Copperman: The video is a , and even the hook is a , but the rest is a bit more complicated for me. About that beat; I got justifiably called out last time I said something was tinny when that’s just a genre trademark (and it’s definitely an intentional homage here, considering that Derek Ali is one of the best engineers of any genre), but I’m pretty sure I should be able to hear more of the piano than just the overtones! Meanwhile, the controversial part about stretch marks and natural women is well-intentioned but feels surprisingly sloppy, especially next to someone like Vince Staples claiming that we “need Tamikas and Shaniquas in that Oval Office.” As a result, “HUMBLE.” sometimes seems stuck between two modes; if it’s a pure banger, then why have those lines about being “sick and tired of all the Photoshop,” and if there really are deeper messages, why don’t those lines tie in better to the theme of the song, and why make the chorus entirely consist of multi-tracked Kendricks pointing and laughing at Big Sean? Kendrick Lamar’s lack of focus is often thrilling on DAMN., especially with the beat switches and flow experimentation on songs like “DNA.” and “XXX.”, but it almost ends up hindering him here.
Cédric Le Merrer: That piano beat is so hard going all CAPSLOCKS. ONE. WORD. DOT. is the one typographic choice that makes sense. The perfect backing for Kendrick Lamar in one of his “let’s remind everyone I can rule the world if I want to” moments. I’m not going to talk about the authenticity of this, because like removing stretch marks from an ass on Photoshop, it probably took a lot for work to make this sound raw as fuck. But IT. IS. the rawest sounding shit and I’ve been playing it right before job interviews lately and can only recommend it as a secret of successful professionals.
Alfred Soto: The rhymes sound second-tier to me and his flow awkward; he and Mike WiLL Made-It fell too hard for that piano line. Moreover, Kendrick Lamar just sounds tired.