Greatest Rapper of Our Generation: How Kendrick Lamar’s Complex Albums Pushed Him to Fame

Edward Moran, Staff Reporter

Kendrick Lamar, arguably one of the best rappers of this generation, has been acknowledged by many rappers throughout the decade for his great talent and work. Some of these rappers include Drake, J. Cole, Travis Scott, 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Kanye West, Jay Z, and many others, all of whom Lamar has collaborated with. 

It all started on July 2, 2011, when Lamar first appeared in the music industry following the release of his Debut Studio Album Section 80. Many of the songs in the album include deep real-world messages like the one found in “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain),” which Lamar dedicated to his sister, Kayla Duckworth, to warn her of the damages that prostitution inflicts on women. The song conveys the struggles that lead women like Keisha to resort to the profession in order to survive; it also exposes them to even more danger as Lamar raps about the different scenarios that Keisha has gone through eventually leading to her death at the end of the song.

Although the album only sold 5,000 copies the first week, it did not slow Lamar down as he released his second studio album Good Kid, m.A.A.d City the following year. This was a big step for Lamar; everything from the mainstream success to the quality of the album raised exponentially compared to his previous album. 

From selling roughly 5,000 copies the first week in the first album to selling 242,000 in the second, it’s quite clear that Lamar was finally getting the attention he deserved. Good Kid, m.A.A.d City solidified Lamar as one the best rappers of 2012 and many, myself included, consider it one of the greatest rap albums of all time.

One of the insane highlights of the album is the song “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”. This 12-minute true storytelling song starts with the perspective of Lamar’s real-life friend who was associated with the Pirus Gang. Telling Lamar that his life has been nothing but trouble and at any moment could eventually die, Lamar’s friend requested he rap about him and the past experiences they went through when Lamar makes it big. 

 The album received well-deserved ratings with a 91 on Metacritic and a 9.5 on Pitchfork. Lamar’s awards also boosted with a BET Best Hip Hop Album of the Year, a Grammy nomination for 2013 Best Rap Album, and Soul Train Music Award for Album/Mixtape of the Year.

It was on March 15, 2015, following the release of his 3rd studio album To Pimp a Butterfly when Lamar cemented his status as not only the best rapper alive but one of the greatest of all time. To Pimp a Butterfly is arguably Lamar’s peak and has been acknowledged by many as his best album to date. It is not hard to believe this claim since the album contains many songs that are as consistent or even better than some of the songs on Good Kid, m.A.A.d City. The album dives deep into many different themes such as race, politics, and violence that have been also seen in his previous works. One of the most notable songs on the album is “Alright,” which contains lyrics about issues pervading America today, such as racial injustice and police brutality. However, the messages displayed in the songs, like “Alright,” bring comfort to the listeners with the idea of no matter how the tensions in America continue to rise, hope will come one day and everything will be alright. The album went on to receive the highest rap album rating ever on Metacritic with a 96, a 9.3 on Pitchfork, and a 10 from the well-known music critic “theneedledrop” who has only given only 5 perfect scores out of all the albums he’s ever reviewed since 2010. Lamar received 11 nominations at the 2016 Grammy Awards, a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album, and a Danish Music Award for International Album of the Year. 

Three consistent quality albums under Lamar’s belt is all he needed to prove that he’s one of the greatest rappers of all time, but he didn’t stop there. Lamar released his most successful mainstream album DAMN. on April 14, 2017. The album was different from Lamar’s previous work in that it contained commercial sounds that Lamar had not branched off to before. Songs like “HUMBLE”, “LOYALTY”, and “LOVE” became some of the most popular songs Lamar has ever delivered.

Lamar’s elaborate mind showed through the album as he subtly connected each song to fit a story if listened from a certain order. Listening to the album from “DUCKWORTH” to “BLOOD” tells the story of an alternate Kendrick and what his life experiences would be like if he grew up without a father and a mentor, which would eventually lead to his death. The most notable themes in order are “DUCKWORTH” with the killing of his father, “LOYALTY” with the struggles of being loyal to either himself or his environment, “YAH” with the understanding and exploration of self-worth, and “BLOOD,” with Lamar’s new persona eventually turning on him. The album went on to receive numerous awards, the most notable ones being a 2018 Grammy for Best Rap Album, Billboard Music Award for Top Rap Album, BET Award for Album of the Year, and the first-ever Pulitzer prize to be given to a non-classical or jazz work. 

The creativity that Kendrick Lamar has presented upon these 4 quality albums has had many fans, including me, eager to know what Lamar is capable of on his 5th album. From the amazing delivery on Section 80 to the insane storytelling on DAMN and all of the albums in between, there is no doubt Lamar’s next album will make his discography the greatest ever in Hip Hop.