Kendrick Lamar is one of the true modern day enigmas and moguls in the music industry. With three critically acclaimed studio albums to his name and a whole host of awards too, this is my personal favourite 10 songs K-Dot has ever blessed us with, from turn up anthems to conscious masterpieces.
10: Swimming Pools (Drank) – From ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’
A turn-up club anthem about the demons of alcoholism, that’s what I like to call Kendrick Lamar doing a commercial banger on his terms and his terms only. There really isn’t another rapper out there right now who can do what Kendrick has been doing throughout his career and this hit taken from GKMC is a prime example of all his greatest strengths. The characterisation he creates by using his voice is brilliant as he imitates his thoughts and that also brings out the streak of thought-provoking wordplay and the dangers of alcoholism and how destructive it can be. All of this over a slick beat and glitzy production? Masterful.
9: A.D.H.D – From ‘Section.80’
Much like Swimming Pools, A.D.H.D is a commercial hit with deep-lying emotion and thought. He tackles the issues of having Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder while also making it a quotable rap track which can fill up an arena or festival set. This comes from K-Dot’s debut album ‘Section.80’ and it stands the test of time as one the biggest turning points in Kendrick’s career, propelling him to superstardom while also passing him the torch to prophecy as well. It was obvious from this song that even if it is a banger, he had more to say and demanded that we listen.
8: HUMBLE. – From ‘DAMN.’
The world stood in attention when Kendrick dropped this song out of the blue, it came a couple of weeks after he had released ‘The Heart Part IV’ in a stunning comeback and this Mike WiLL Made-It produced bop has gone on to become Kendrick Lamar’s most popular song to date, amassing an incredible 500 million plays on Spotify alone as well as a couple hundred million views on YouTube. The song’s content is philosophical as we find ourselves wondering who he is telling to sit down and “be Humble”, maybe Big Sean? Maybe Drake? Maybe everyone? All we know is this, Kendrick’s left stroke went viral and this song slaps left, right and centre.
7: Ronald Reagan Era – From ‘Section.80’
This was one of the first times I heard a Kendrick Lamar song and was genuinely speechless, it took my breath away as to how incredible is flow was and how he could manage to twist his words into something so powerful as well as catchy and quotable. He was 24 years old when this album came out and that in itself is mind-blowing, his words are far beyond his age and his skill set completely humiliated anyone in his path at this point and as far as I am concerned, this was the precise moment I knew Kendrick Lamar was the best conscious rapper alive.
6: DNA. – From ‘DAMN.’
This is second on the tracklist of ‘DAMN.’ and boy does it set you off with a bang. It shows Kendrick snapping unlike ever before as he talks about the multiple things he has in his quite frankly perfect DNA (too much fangirling?). The beat is so hard but it only goes on to get harder when it switches in the bridge, the use of the FOX News segment about Kendrick’s empowering performances is nothing short of a masterstroke and K-Dot duly obliges to the intensity of the best by not breathing for a solid minute and just going ape shit on the microphone. Listen to that last minute and tell me he isn’t the best rapper alive, I bloody dare you.
5: King Kunta – From ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’
K-Dot put unlimited sauce on this song, the funk on it is absolutely astonishing and it really might be the biggest staple on any playlist I make, it caters for any mood I may be in and can make anyone click their fingers or shuffle their feet. Not just that, but the narrative of the track is genius too as it speaks about Kunta Kinte, a rebellious slave from Alex Haley’s novel Roots: The Saga Of An American Family. Kendrick relates himself to this character and considers himself a king at the peak of his powers, speaking out and standing up for what he believes in. It is very rare you will find an artist who can balance both funk and concept, but Kendrick does it with such ease it makes you question the legality of his humanity.
4: XXX. feat. U2 – From ‘DAMN.’
When I saw Kendrick was collaborating with U2 I sighed and then dreaded the results of it. U2 are, in my eyes, the most overrated band of all time and Bono is what I can only describe as an absolute pleb, a disease to society. Upon the release of ‘DAMN.’ the time had come to hear the song and face my demons; how wrong was I to judge this song before it had even been released. That will teach me for ever doubting Kendrick and his abilities to make a magnificent track with or without frankly rubbish dad rock bands. The vocal variation from K-Dot is a thing of beauty and the motive of his words is powerful, not to mention the boom blast beat from Mike WiLL once again. U2’s bit is so miniscule and Kendrick wraps it up well, what more could you want?
3: The Blacker The Berry – From ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’
You’ll very rarely hear Kendrick as blatantly angry and aggressive as he is on this track, he completely loses it and snaps at the current state of America and their racist standpoint. He stands up as a leading figure for the black community and seems like he is leading an army into battle, he shows nothing but pride in his appearance and heritage, calling himself a “proud monkey” and referring to the black community as “my people”. He uses the iconic Tupac Shakur line for the song’s title and the hook that follows it is hard hitting and yet another example of black excellence, much like the rest of ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’. It is very rare to hear someone approach racial diversity in this manner but it is very poignant from Kendrick as he clearly shows frustration that we are living in the stone ages of discrimination. The “I’m the biggest hypocrite of 2015” line is repeated at the start of each verse to signify that those who are opposed to white-on-black violence also need to look closer to home at what is going on around them. The message doesn’t get more powerful than that and Kendrick goes full Super Sayan on this one.
2: Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst – From ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’
Easily one of Kendrick’s most deep and meaningful songs, a tale of his dangerous youth and troubled lifestyle. He tells graphic anecdotes of the Compton ghetto and gang warfare, an environment he found himself unwillingly dragged into. The song splits into two parts and these two parts signify two different people and responsibilities Kendrick takes on with his incredible characterisation. The stories he tells and the perspectives he takes on are there to solely spin a prophecy, be realistic with what is going on in the dire situation of death in gang lifestyle. I absolutely love the “dying of thirst” aspect of the song where he plays the tape recording of his friend talking about being “tired of running” and the message he leaves behind is so poignant, it shows the levels of responsibility Kendrick is ready to take on his shoulders in his music. At a grand total of 12 minutes long this one is an experience that’s for sure, so strap yourself in and prepare for emotional warfare listening to this one.
1: How Much A Dollar Cost – From ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’
Barack Obama loves this song and if that isn’t enough of a reason to call it your favourite Kendrick song then I guess I will just have to give you the genius context behind this masterful song from ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’. It tells the tale of Kendrick in South Africa and as he leaves his car he meets a homeless man asking for money, the conversation seems all but normal and you find yourself wondering what the story may lead towards. Kendrick won’t give any money to him because he assumes he shall just spend it on alcohol or drugs, but the vibe of the man feels different and Kendrick can’t help but keep looking at him. The story discovers that this man was metaphoric of God and Kendrick’s greed and ignorance will cost him a spot in heaven, it is a rollercoaster and quite frankly a work of art. The narrative leaves you gripped and from a musical perspective the song is very enjoyable, the production is smooth, K-Dot flows very well on it and the hook is lovely and soothing. Nobody currently making music can do anything that could come remotely close to this, it is a song for the ages.