Hits decoded: 3 musical elements that define Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.”

Kendrick Lamar’s HUMBLE. broke into the Billboard Hot 100 charts at number 2 in its first week. Much hype has been surrounding the production of the music video (which is pretty phenomenal) but in this article, we decode the musical nuances of Kendrick’s latest hit.

1. A humble structure…

The music production on HUMBLE. is, well, humble. At the core, the song bounces between just two chords, Ab minor and Eb minor, anchored by a piano riff that repeats throughout the song. The song’s two sections – a verse and chorus – are very similar, although the chorus distinguishes itself with a piano riff with an octave double and a “siren” sounding type synth doubling the melody.

2. …and a humble arrangement

HUMBLE. is proof that you don’t need to stack a song with tracks to make a hit. Producers Mike WILL Made-It and Pluss artfully cover low-end, mid-range, and high-end to make a full track without a whole lot of tracks. 808s fill up the bottom end while the piano, the main harmonic instrument, takes care of the mid-range. The hats and “siren” synths in the chorus occupy the high-end, completing the full frequency spectrum.

3. On repeat

HUMBLE. is a repetitive song. But there’s power in repetition if you know how to use it right. Repetition makes a song quickly stick in your head (as any hit should), but variation on repetition is needed to keep a song from being monotonous.

In HUMBLE., the beat is slightly different every four bars, the drums drop out completely at certain sections, and the mix engineer plays with the stereo field to keep different parts of the song sounding fresh. There are no bells and whistles to distract the listener from the song’s focal point: Lamar’s lyrics.

If you had produced HUMBLE., what would you have done differently? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

And if you’re interested in learning what makes other Grammy-nominated tracks tick, check out all of our Grammy Hits Decoded posts here.

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January 26, 2018

Reuben Raman Product Marketing Manager at Splice