Kendrick Lamar is a man of many faces and an artist that now sports a multi-facetted sound. He’s credited by some as the saving grace God-child of hip-hop, with a lyrical flow which is so dense that it’s easy to think that he raps from another dimensional plain. Whatever you may think of him, it’s clear that he has had a huge influence on the industry around him over the last few years. On the 7th of April, Kendrick has announced that he will be dropping a new release. What it is isn’t exactly clear yet, but as expected the internet has been hotly discussing the topic over the last week. So far, in the run up to April 7th, K.Dot has unleashed two tracks on the world; ‘The Heart Part IV’ and ‘HUMBLE.’ The first is a continuation of his ‘The Heart Part….’ run of tracks that are similarly titled and appear throughout his career. The second, which was released in tandem with a music video, has sparked massive debate on the Twittersphere, covering topics such as K.Dot’s alleged dig at Big Sean and the now notorious “stretch marks” line.
To celebrate and anticipate Kendrick’s new release, we’ve put together a list of eight tracks, one from a large variety of his best known solo releases, that show off his evolution from a up and coming Compton teenage rapper, into a spoken word poet hybrid to global hip-hop megastar.
‘Biggie’-‘Hub City Threat: Minor Of The Year’ (2005)
Before King Kunta, there was K.DOT, a sixteen-year-old rapper from Compton, C.A. Traditionally Compton is famous for its rapid production of hip hop greats. From N.W.A to The Game, the small, suburban area just outside of LA is where a very young Kendrick also happens to hail from. One of his first mixtapes, ‘Hub City Threat…’ saw Kendrick cutting through with a tonal style which is very different to his 2017 flow. With a much lower delivery, and much less complex production, this mixtape was one of the world’s first introductions to K.DOT’s work.
The final track on the mixtape, ‘Biggie’ features a backing Dr Dre-esque synth and introduces one of Kendrick’s main recurring themes: gang violence and his feeling of being stuck in the crossfire. With echoes of the first line of ‘m.A.A.d city’, K.Dot raps about the Bloods and the Crips and how he never wanted to live a life governed by gang affiliations and codes.
‘Ignorance Is Bliss’ –‘Overly Dedicated’(2010)
Fast forward five years and numerous mixtapes later and we come to ‘Overly Dedicated’. Noticeably more glossy in its production and its flow, it was the first major release from K.Dot and featured numerous guest appearances from TDE (Top Dawg Entertainment) a collective/record label that features Schoolboy Q, AB-Soul and Sza, amongst others. The track was also the one that a convinced a certain Dr Dre to work with Kendrick. ‘Ignorance Is Bliss’ shows off Kendrick’s dense rhyming style and his favorable use of classical instrumentation; a possible precursor to ‘Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst’ from ‘good kid m.A.A.d city’.
‘HiiiPower’ -‘Section 80.’ (2011)
Following up on Kendrick’s themes of race and violence, comes ‘Section 80’. Produced in Top Dawg studios and featuring the same level of rising star features as ‘Overly Dedicated’, this record really started to see the development of Kendrick’s strange, often psychedelic vocal style. ‘Hiiipower’ is a socially aware and mournful look at civil rights, as well as a small glimpse towards Kendrick’s own life. The numerous lines about Malcholm X putting “a hex on my future” for example, apparently relate to K.DOT’s father, who was a member of a black power gang, from whom his family eventually fled from. In this track, K.Dot’s signature double meanings are shown off to full melancholic effect. Lines such as “I’m standing on a field of landmines/moonwalking hoping that I blow up in time” create the idea of a narrator who is constantly caught in war; a war with himself and others around him.
“I’d be lying to you to say I knew good kid,’ m.A.A.d city’ would be as successful as it has been. In the beginning I was very doubtful. Once I was done, the jitters hit me so fast. I was so confident in making it, because I was like, “This is it, man. Nobody heard this story and if you heard it, you heard it in bits and pieces but I’m finna put it to you in a whole album—from Compton, from the hood, from the streets—it’s a whole other perspective”
The title track from the album reprises some of the ideas from ‘Ignorance Is Bliss’, opening up with the subject of gang violence in ‘m.A.A.d city’: “If Prius and Crips all got along/they’d probably gun be down by the end of this song”. The rest of the track lays out the life of young people in suburban crime areas such as Compton, and how their world experience is that of a “cul-de-sac”; a place that they cannot leave or move on from.
‘The Art of Peer Pressure’- ‘good kid m.A.A.d city’ (2012) and ‘Welcome to Compton’ (2014)
Between his two most famous releases falls ‘Welcome to Compton’, very much a mixtape in its track listing (strangely even including K.DOT freestyling over Hudson Mohawke’s ‘Higher Ground’ on BBC 6 Music). ‘The Art of Peer Pressure’ tells a tale of something that everyone is familiar with; the goading of manipulative friends. The narrator in this case sees his behavior become more and more criminal as the track progresses, and includes a thick drum track as its supporting backbone.
‘King Kunta’- ‘To PIMP A Butterfly’ (2015)
Kendrick’s 2015 release was a serious switch up in his sound; Moving away from traditional hip-hop towards some seriously funky undertones. In his third studio album Kendrick firmly cemented his place as a spoken word poet, as well as a very technically skilled rapper. The regretful narrator laments “I remember you was conflicted, misusing your influence sometimes I did the same” and repeats this reminiscence throughout the album’s extremely varied track list. As well as earning K.DOT numerous Grammys, ‘To PIMP a Butterfly’ presented an artist who could blend genres, meanings and performances to suit his vision.
This album is absolutely packed with tracks worth slicing into, and this was probably the hardest album to pick just one song off of. ‘King Kunta’ features references from everywhere; classical literature (the character of Kunta Kinte, an escaped slave was the inspiration for what would become Kendrick’s alter ego), James Brown and much much more all come into play on the track. The instrumentation features a deliciously funky bassline from the ever endearing Thundercat, who would go on to perform in Kendrick’s backing band in the future.
Released as a surprise compilation album, ‘untitled, unmastered’ was purportedly a spillover of the tracks that didn’t quite make it onto ‘T.P.A.B’, or where made in tandem with it. With production credits from Ali Shaheed Muhammed of ATribe Called Quest and Cee-lo Green, ‘U.U’ was treated as an ironically low key foray into Kendrick’s updated jazz/funk sound. More than any of his other records, ‘U.U’s’ lyrical intonations start to veer into a more obscure-poetic style. In ‘untitled 7…’ Kendrick’s raspy, high pitched delivery hangs off of some seriously wonky sounding instrumentation, giving the impression of a very unhinged psyche. The track almost sounds like a cautionary tale for those who rise to the highest heights, only to find that they can never go any further up.