When crowning the most talented rapper of the 2010s, there isn’t too much debate.
Well, of course there’s debate; everyone’s got an opinion.
However, if you were to decide the main frontrunners for the title, Kendrick Lamar would undoubtedly be one of them.
For almost the entirety of the decade, Kendrick Lamar has been the utmost standard for lyricism and artistry in today’s world of hip-hop.
In a time where many oldheads and edgy millennials declare the rap game as dead, Kendrick has been a beacon of hope to hip-hop fans old and young alike. In the four studio albums he has released, we have received some of the most important music of our generation. While he has exemplified grade-A hip-hop, he has done so while strategically playing with other genres and delivering some of the most important political commentary, storytelling, and artistic statements of our time.
Without someone like Kendrick, the rap game probably would be dead, in all fairness. All the trap and sadboy music is cool, but Kenny delivers what is needed to keep things balanced- soul, lyricism, narrative, artistic vision. Of course Kendrick isn’t the only one delivering those elements to the rap game, but he’s arguably the best at his craft. Not to mention, arguably the most high-profile; Kendrick is one of the only mainstream artists who can get people to actually give a fuck about real lyrics, real production, and real stories.
(NOTE: In my mind, the only competitor to Kendrick is Kanye. But don’t fret; there will be a big Kanye GOTM when the time is right. This is Kendrick’s time.)
With everything above being said, I will take you on a walk through Kendrick Lamar’s legacy- essentially a domination of the 2010s. I will also analyze what makes Kendrick so special, but bear with me- it isn’t always easy to do full justice for someone as talented as Kendrick Lamar.
Kendrick Lamar Duckworth was born on June 17, 1987 in the notorious city of Compton. His parents were from Chicago, but made the move to California in search of a better life before he was born (the backstory is explained well on “DUCKWORTH”, which I personally consider to be one of his best songs).
FUN FACT: As a kid, K-Dot witnessed the video shoot of “California Love” by Tupac and Dr. Dre. Kendrick has since reflected that it was a very impactful moment in his life, likely sparking his passion for hip-hop.
Kendrick attended Centennial High School and graduated with straight A’s. He grew up on welfare and lived in section 8 housing, both hardships eventually becoming integral pieces of his subject matter.
He first began his career in 2004 with his debut mixtape- Youngest Head N***a In Charge (Hub City Threat: Minor of the Year). Throughout his early career, he released his music under the moniker K-Dot. After a string of mixtapes as K-Dot, he made the switch to his government name in late 2009 after releasing The Kendrick Lamar EP. That same year, Kenny and his labelmates formed Black Hippy- a supergroup comprised of himself, ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, and Jay Rock.
Black Hippy- Jay Rock, ScHoolboy Q, Kendrick, Ab-Soul
In 2010, Kendrick made a breakthrough with his fourth solo mixtape- Overly Dedicated. The mixtape was well-received, setting Kendrick up for his push to stardom that would follow in the coming years. Many critics and fans began to see Kendrick as the new face of West Coast hip-hop, hungry for more gems from Cali’s finest. Luckily, 2011 brought us a major gem in Section.80.
As his debut studio album, Section.80 confidently confirmed that Kendrick was not playing with us.
Section.80 put a new spin on conscious rap, refreshing the lost art form. Section.80 also reconceptualized the lost art form of the concept album, delivering an enrapturing story centered around antiheroes Tammy and Keisha as they endure the array of hardships and systemic injustices that come with life in the ghetto.
The 80s are a major theme of the album, featuring many references to “80s babies” such as Kendrick, Tammy, and Keisha and often criticizing the Ronald Reagan era. The crack epidemic is analyzed and contrasted to the new kinds of drug addiction seen today, namely opioid addiction.