Kendrick Lamar has had a short and unique rise to fame over the course of the past few years. After only one mixtape release, Kendrick had enough local support to get signed to the indie giant we all know today, Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE), home to Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock, Ab Soul, and more. Kendrick was always the crowd favorite of the group and had a skillset that no other MC at the time really had. K. Dot’s first retail release, “Overly Dedicated” showed off Lamar’s smooth west coast sound, deep and powerful lyrics, and overall great song composition. Not long after, many fans’ first experience with Kendrick, his first independent album,“Section.80” was pushed out on itunes. The massive success of this album skyrocketed his fan count, got the attention of Hip Hop’s Greatest, and secured him a major label deal with Aftermath and Interscope. “good kid m.A.A.d city” came next, and after that Kendrick became a true star. With features from greats like Drake, Dr. Dre, and more, Kendrick shot to the top of the charts made a huge name for himself in mainstream hip-hop, and blew the mind of millions. Following up on that universal acclaim, Lamar finally released another huge studio album “To Pimp A Butterfly” which is about to storm the Grammy’s with it’s huge 11 nominations. No one can do exactly what it is Kendrick does, and he truly is unique in our digitally over-saturated current state of hip-hop. His biggest hits, and greatest songs, some of which have stormed the radio, and others which have become fan-favorites need to be heard by any true rap fan,
- “The Blacker The Berry”
One of the first songs that we heard off of “To Pimp A Butterfly”, brought out an aggressive side of Kendrick that the fans rarely see. This is one of his greatest passionate outbursts and you can hear the anger and frustration of a young black man dealing with racism in his home country. Lamar speaks for his generation on the institutional prejudices against the black community and poor treatment of all black members of American society. However, Kendrick echoes the fact that he’s the biggest hypocrite of 2015 throughout the song without exactly explaining what he means until the end. “So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street? When gang banging made me kill a nigga blacker than me. Hypocrite!” Lamar croans on the exiting line of the song. Kendrick shows a different side to the racism we see in America, and mourns for not only racism from outside cultures, but the even more harmful black on black crime which we don’t hear about as often.
Another standout cut from his most recent album has Kendrick spilling all of his emotions and internal struggles to his listeners. In an interior monologue, he talks to himself expressing the disgust he feels with his life, examining his depressive tendencies and regrets in life.The chilling chorus lets the fans really hear the sadness Kendrick feels about certain events that that occurred throughout the course of his life. Not very often do rappers set their ego aside and explore their flaws, but Kendrick’s honest “U” shows the negative effects the rap game has had on his life, and proves to us even those with all the money in the world are still vulnerable to life’s problem, and aren’t always as happy as we might assume.
- “Ignorance Is Bliss
One of the most important cuts on this list from Kendrick’s debut “Overly Dedicated” is the stunning track “Ignorance Is Bliss”. The Kendrick we hear on this project sounds a lot different than the one we have all come to know and love. His voice is clearly much more high pitched and you can hear the jump in quality from then to now. Technical complaints aside, the raw talent and style are still just as evident on this track from 2010 as they are on his newest tracks which are 5 years newer. Lamar flexes his excellent flows and wordplay over a typical Willie B beat. He spits the first verse effortlessly and without taking a breath. This was the first song that showed me how serious this K. Dot guy really was and the song is too nice to be unaware of.
On Kendrick’s first actual album “Section.80” we see the formation of his lyrical themes and social commentary for his generation. On “A.D.H.D” Kendrick laments about the large amount of drug abuse that has become so prominent in today’s society. He gives real stories about experiences with other people like himself who were born in the 80’s, or the so-called crack baby generation. So many people resort to drugs and stimulants to help them cope with the sad reality that they have to deal with, but Kendrick disapproves. He went through similar situations and doesn’t use drugs to help him cope, they only make the situation worse and Kendrick often preaches against these practices.
- “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe”
Moving away from some of the common themes of “good kid m.A.A.d city”, Kendrick decides to instead of reflect on his childhood, assume the role of his present day self and reflect on his current problems instead of the woes of his younger years. Kendrick wants to have a positive energy around him and isn’t a fan of the new implications placed on him by fans, record labels, and the hip-hop community. One of his bigger hits off the album keeps a slow pace and is very representative of Lamar’s more slow jam style, influenced by his childhood influences. The large appeal of this song on the radio even prompted Jay Z to make a remix with Kendrick, a huge accomplishment for the young rapper who idolizes many of the founding fathers of rap that he borrows influence from.
Another famous cut off of “Section.80”, “HiiiPower” is just about as Kendrick-esque as you can get. One of the early tracks that showed the birth of a new unique style that Kendrick based his most recent albums off of, backed by a smooth J. Cole instrumental. One of the very first songs that critics and rap lovers helped push out to the media and music blogs. When introducing friends to Lamar, this is usually a good choice to test the waters with. The most important song on the album wraps up all of it’s main motifs and themes such as poverty, racism, conspiracy, and self-enrichment.
Perhaps 2015’s biggest rap hit, “Alright”, is interesting in a variety of ways. One of the most successful songs off of “To Pimp a Butterfly”, has dominated the airwaves, inspired the nation, and made it a lot more difficult for any rapper to win a Grammy. “Alright” moves things to the positive side and aims to motivate and provide hope during an otherwise bleak and depressing journey through Kendrick’s album. These same troubles Kendrick consistently describes, are not completely bad, but they help to give us character and form our personalities. Although life may seem hopeless at times as long as we have faith and look past our failures, “we gon’ be alright…”
- “Swimming Pools (Drank)”
One of the largest surprises to me from Kendrick is this particular track. After his major label record deal was signed, this was the first promotional single to reach his listeners. Also, the very first Kendrick song heard on the radio was actually at first underwhelming to his current fans. It caught myself and others off guard with its unique sound and message, especially for a radio single. Typically when an artist goes major, you expect a more pop-friendly sound, but K. Dot was clearly sticking to his roots. Those who didn’t know about him until hearing this song were at first drawn in by the catchy hook, but didn’t exactly understand what the song truly meant. Although it might sound to some like he’s making a drinking/party song, he in fact is doing the complete opposite, detailing his battles with peer pressure and alcoholism.
- “Cartoons and Cereal” ft. Gunplay
A consistent fan-favorite of die-hard listeners, and casuals alike, “Cartoons and Cereal” actually doesn’t belong to any of Kendrick’s projects at all and still, to this day, remains a standalone track, most likely due to sample clearance issues. A powerful and complex song by Kendrick shows a plethora of complex rhyme schemes and styles combined. Lamar discusses his childhood and relationship with his criminal father and how that influenced his passion to write and make music. Also, the largest surprise of the song is Gunplay’s massive feature. A rapper who is still relatively unknown on the radio, and in the rap game in general, held his own against Kendrick, and actually even outshined him depending on who you ask.
1. “m.A.A.d city” ft MC Eiht
Undoubtedly the hugest song from the rap-giant, “m.A.A.d city”, at the height of its success was inescapable. On the radio, at parties, the clubs and anywhere else you could potentially hear music, this song made a huge dent in the rap business. One of Kendrick’s most catchy and aggressive songs has the listener captivated the entire listen through. Like the Compton rappers that paved the way before him, Kendrick explores his experiences with gang violence and the notorious Crips and Bloods. Also, important in the grand scheme of the album’s concept “m.A.A.d city” shows how Kendrick can paint a picture and connect multiple tracks within an album and tell a story. Legendary rapper and influence, MC Eiht adds to the Compton vibe and gives it that finishing touch.