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Declared a holiday by Taylor Swift via Twitter, June 17 is here and the celebration of Kendrick Lamar’s birth is in full swing. Turning the page on 28 years, Lamar has one of the most diverse and inspiring discographies in modern rap music. From “Overly Dedicated,” “Section.80,” 2012’s “good kid M.A.A.D. city” and his most recent surprise drop “To Pimp A Butterfly,” Lamar has tracks that inspire, tell stories, and everything in between. We’ve rounded up 15 essential tracks to play through during this day celebrating the king of Compton.
It’s impossible to mention Kendrick Lamar without paying homage to the city that shaped his incredible influence, Compton, California. Teaming up with fellow Compton power house Dr. Dre, “Compton” is a celebratory track about the way the city influenced Dre and in turn paved the way for Kendrick. A powerful display of two of Compton’s greatest showcasing their undying gratification for influencing the way they live and make music day in and day out.
“The Jig Is Up”
It’s been rumored that Kendrick Lamar and J Cole have talked about creating a joint album, something that would most definitely light up the hearts of hip-hop heads everywhere. Back in 2012 J. Cole teamed up with Canei Finch to construct a menacing beat which was then turned over to Kendrick, the rest is history as “The Jig Is Up” was formed. In an aggressive display of lyricism, K Dot flows effortlessly over J. Cole and Finch’s work. Now when is the full Kendrick and J. Cole collab dropping? Lord knows we all need that.
“Cartoons And Cereal”
Elmer Fudd said “Shoot ’em down.” Reminiscing on his time as a young man, Kendrick recalls eating cereal and watching cartoons while violence unfolded around him. Being told to not follow in the footsteps of those around him but to continue on watching the likes of Elmer Fudd, Scrooge McDuck and Wiley Coyote. Accompanied by Gunplay who takes things into his own accord, the two rap their asses off, plain and simple.
“Growing Apart (To Get Closer)”
Kendrick is a wordplay master, period. “Growing Apart” is the perfect example of this with lines like:
Forgetting the big picture and making it wallet size
I tried to make it right but the pen ran out of ink / So if my letter’s don’t reach you I hope these lyrics in sync
With a young Jhene Aiko on the hook this slow burning love balled is nothing short of classic.
The now staple phrase of TDE, “HiiiPOWER” was another break out track for Kendrick Lamar on “Section.80.” Referencing Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, Lamar sets the tone for his conscious thinking and music making. Once again J. Cole takes over the board for this legendary track that has the potential to be around for many years to come.
Although “Control” is technically a Big Sean song, Kendrick Lamar steals the show with one of the most memorable verses of the century. Going in and taking no prisoners even going so far as calling out the man that brought him in for the track, Big Sean, Kendrick proves time after time that he is on a whole new level. This is a verse that no matter how many times you play it through it will still contain that WOW factor.
Outlining his peers substance use is something that Kendrick has used time and time again. From “H.O.C.” to “Swimming Pools (Drank)” Kendrick uses these experiences to tell stories and seek inspiration for himself and “A.D.H.D.” is at the forefront of this stand. With frequent collaborator Sounwave at the helm of production, this is another Kendrick track that seems to remain timeless throughout the years.
“The Art of Peer Pressure”
“Really I’m a peace maker, but I’m with the homies right now.”
That line says it all as Kendrick takes us on a journey through the streets of Compton, bumping Jeezy and doing no favors for anyone, we really see the story-telling of “good kid M.A.A.D. city” come to fruition. Every action has an explanation, the homies, as tension builds throughout the song. What will Kendrick do next? How serious is the peer pressure that the normally level-headed Kendrick faces? Another gem that sets Kendrick apart from so many modern day MC’s.
Following “The Art of Peer Pressure,” “Money Trees” feeds perfectly in succession as Kendrick teams up with Jay Rock. Continuing to give us insight into his young life from seeing his Uncle Tony go down to dreaming of living life like a rapper, Kendrick gets more and more into the culture of Compton.
With an intro that could turn a orchestra concert upside down, “m.A.A.d. city” makes you feel like you’re in the midst of some serious action in the heart of Compton. But it gets even better, the track switches up nearly three minutes in, giving it a whole new feeling. Kendrick frantically raps without taking a breath as MC Eiht joins the fun and outlines his life in the hood in stunning story-telling fashion.
Taking things to a more sensual side, Kendrick Lamar teamed up with Drake in 2012 with the byproduct being “Poetic Justice.” With a brilliant Janet Jackson sample and the two powerhouses complimenting the track in their own original style, the track bred classic lines about flowers blooming in dark rooms and sundresses. Times were simpler and the music was indeed smooth.
First came “i,” the Grammy-winning, self love ballad that swept the charts. Then came “To Pimp A Butterfly” and out stood another introverted balled titled “u,” but this one is different, much different. Outlining Kendrick’s struggle with depression, “u” is an incredibly vulnerable track that features the emotional ring of a saxophone. Showing the diversity Kendrick brings to the table, “u” comes to a screeching halt as it feeds into “Alright,” letting the listener know everything is okay. Genius track placement doesn’t even begin to describe it.
“The Blacker The Berry”
One of the only tracks on “To Pimp A Butterfly” that doesn’t have a jazz-like ring to it, “The Blacker The Berry” releases some of Kendrick’s tension as he pegs himself as the biggest hypocrite of 2015. Stemming from Wallace Thurman’s 1922 novel, Kendrick outlines the frustration he feels regarding the treatment of African Americans. With production from Boi-1da and Terrace Martin, this anthem rings loud and clear in the ears of the listener.
Closing off “To Pimp A Butterfly,” “Mortal Man” is another vulnerable track asking many questions of self-worth. When shit hit the fan is you still a fan? Do you believe in me? Is your heart where it needs to be? Kendrick pleads for people to see him the way he truly is. But the context of the track is just the tip of the iceberg as things take a drastic change 5 minutes in, Kendrick does something that no one has even come close to. Breaking up sound bites from a Tupac interview we hear Kendrick asking questions of his own to his idol. Stop and listen carefully to the knowledge that is dropped in this 12 minute work of art. For further explanation on the making of this song you can check out Rob Markman of MTV’s exclusive interview with Kendrick.
The funk is real in this one as Sounwave and Terrace Martin take over the boards and instrumentation. Kendrick once again calls out wack rappers and straight up bodies the beat. Once again we see Kendrick is serious about making waves and putting out fresh, original music.