Kendrick Lamar has come a long way since his days as K Dot when he was just another typical Compton rapper. He has always had some buzz in the underground because the West Coast had been longing for a successor to carry the torch of great MC's from Cali that include DJ Quik, Ice-T, 2Pac and Snoop Dogg. Previous artists though to be torchbearers were The Game, Crooked I, Nipsey Hussle, not YG, and even Kendrick's label mate and big brother Jay Rock. Well Kendrick was officially bestowed the crown as the new Prince of the West Coast during a concert when Dr. Dre, Snoop, and Game (idk what qualifies him to crown anyone) passed the torch to the young 24 year old shortly after releasing his critically acclaimed Section 80. But how did he get to that point? Has he always been a prodigy or did he make some transformation to become the most respected MC in the game right now that both the underground and mainstream love. This post will cover mainly his career from his past four solo projects starting with the Kendrick Lamar EP up to his October 2012 release of Good Kid Maad City.
I was interested to see what Kendrick spit about and how he sounded before the self titled EP so i peeped a couple tracks like I Ain't No Joke off his No Sleep Till NYC which was a collaborative mixtape done with Jay Rock. he was just bragging but goddam did he have some flow. This was released in 2007 i think meaning that he was only 19 or 20 when it was made. Another thing noticeable was how much different his voice was. Obviously he didn't like how his voice sounded so thank god he went with his natural voice later because it was sounded like he smoked a pack right before he went into the booth. On a side note i could see why Jay Rock was getting hyped up as the next big thing at the time. The motherfucker was spitting crazy and he might have just convinced me to go back and check his stuff out. Also look at how Kendrick is dressed lol. I know he was still a kid at the time but it's cool to see ho much he has grown in the last several years stylistically both in fashion and as an artist. He has other tapes before that but i don't got the time to be going through all of them so at least that track gave me a basis as to where he was. And check out his C4 mixtape as that was the one that first generated some buzz for himself.
After dropping that C4 project there was pressure for Kendrick to deliver on another solo project of his own but this time over some original beats. On the last day of 2009 he released a free ep titled the Kendrick Lamar EP but don't get fooled, the project is 15 tracks long totaling just over 1 hour so it wasn't normal ep length but he was sending a message that it wasn't a mixtape either. Usually when someone releases a mixtape it is a collection of tracks not good enough to make an album or just a bunch of songs with no direction but Kendrick let us know that he put forth the thought and effort and wanted it to be treated as a proper project rather than just a bunch of throwaways. First thing you notice is that his voice has changed completely from what it was on No Sleep Til NYC. Kendrick is using his natural voice which is 1000 times better than the tough talk he was putting out previously. Another thing noticeable on the project was that he didn't sound like anyone else in the game. The closest comparison i could make was maybe Lupe Fiasco circa his first two albums and Farenheit days because they were the anti gangsters yet still had hood credibility. I came across Kendrick around the end of 2010 or early 2011 but even a year later the project sounded fresh. There wasn't anyone else rapping over the beats he was spitting over and he was the complete opposite of what you would think a Compton MC would sound like. He wasn't a pimp and slick talker like DJ Quik and he wasn't a thug like NWA. But you can tell that he was influenced by all the legends that came from the city before him. You can hear the Tupac influence in him as well because of his penchant for writing stories and being a descriptive storyteller despite being so young. Example of storytelling were in I Wanna Be Heard, She Needs Me, and Uncle Bobby. In I Wanna Be Heard he said the said the thing that best exemplifies his style as a rapper, "as a kid i wanted to rap like Jay-Z, until i realized Jay wasn't me." It was like a spiritual conversion for Kendrick when it made sense that being the gimmick gangsta rapper would maybe give him success for a little while but being yourself is always original and has more sustainability if you have the skills to back it up. The flow was crazy in this too with my favorite flow wise was Vanity Slaves, which was also my favorite track subject wise. The funny thing was that we heard the talent he possessed but he still left us wanting more. It's like he had a damn good debut but we couldn't wait to see what he had in store for us on his next project. This project was an introduction to the new Kendrick Lamar after shedding the K Dot name and would be the foundation for his style of MCing on future projects.
9 months later Kendrick dropped his next project Overly Dedicated with emphasis on the first two letters, OD. Kendrick was saying the same way a junkie is addicted to drugs, he is addicted to the mic. All he wants to do is make music and is a possible foreshadow because that could end up breaking him but it's a risk he is willing to take. I like how the first track started with a snippet from artist Dash Snow who died of an overdose showing Kendrick is treating this as an album. He is developing a theme for the entire project and that intro and first track set the table for the rest of the project. I really think that OD is about his relationship with music and he is using the girlfriend theme as a metaphor. It again show progression from the Kendrick Lamar EP because on that he was just spitting without any purpose other than to show his skill and introduce himself to the masses. Since he got a significant buzz off of that he wanted to show us how serious he is about the music thing and examples to point to are Growing Apart (To Get Closer, shout out to Jhene Aiko), P&P, Opposites Attract (Tomorrow Without Her), Barbed Wire, and Cut You Off (To Grow Closer). But don't take my word for it because i am usually terrible at deciphering concepts of albums and whatever, that's just my interpretation. Anyways the importance of it shows his growth as an artist because it is much harder to revolve a whole project around a single concept and make everything flow together nicely. The only thing i didn't like was he could have done without Michael Jordan (Schoolboy looking hella skinny in the video). He just doesn't sound right on those kind of tracks. That's more of a Schoolboy track which is why he sounded WAY more natural on it than Kendrick did. Anyways you couldn't really be mad at one kinda bad track on a project. His hook game was pretty weak too but he had time to improve on that because at the time he was just a spitter and not so much a hit maker. Overly Dedicated was the mixtape/EP/project/album whatever you wanna call it that pushed Kendrick that much closer to stardom. After that he made the XXL Freshmen list in 2011 and later that year he would release his first album for sale.
By this time there was much anticipation for kendrick's next album. He had just dropped a critically acclaimed project, he made the cover of XXL and each of his label mates dropped above average projects in their own right so it was up to Kendrick to keep the ball rolling and he did not disappoint. As a matter of fact he elevated himself as the face of Black Hippy with the release of Section 80. OD saw Kendrick step into the concept realm and on Section 80 he put lyricism, storytelling, subject matter, and a concept all into one. I did not catch the concept for the longest time because i'm retarded but he was speaking on issues that people of his generation grew up with. He spoke on race relations, drug dependence, women insecurities, and girls turning into lesbians just to name a few. Women's issues was a central theme on the album and the reason why people like Kendrick get praised for it and someone like Drake gets lambasted is because the subject matter. Drake talks about how girls are insecure and how he notices their beauty or whatever which is what girls wanna hear. Kendrick on the other hand is talking about REAL shit. Like how girls are pimped out from a young age which sends their life into a downward spiral they can't get out of. You know, stuff no one wants to hear but it actually happens. I loved ADHD because substance abuse is a huge problem in our country so how do we fix it? We give kids amphetamines at a young age if they display too much energy aka being a kid doing kid shit. And then we wonder why these kids who have been on amphetamines their whole lives eventually turn to other drugs. Obviously i'm generalizing here but when we GIVE drugs to our kids why are we expecting anything else. Another thing is that i said Kendrick doesn't do too well on tracks like The Spiteful Chant which is more suited to someone like Schoolboy Q who was on the track but goddam, Kendrick's flow was so crazy and he was talking how he doesn't need a Dre cosign to make it big. That's some powerful words and although he is talented as hell, i don't know if he would have been as big if Dre didn't hop on The Recipe but that's for another day. Then Ab Soul's Outro to close the album out was brilliant. If you didn't know who Ab Soul was at the time you knew who he was for sure after that. If anything those are the two guys most similar to each other on Black Hippy and every time they get together something good happens. Kendrick's verse in that sums up the album too btw so make sure you pay attention to that. Like i said this album pegged Kendrick as the one to watch. It ended up at the top of so many best album of the year lists by years end and ensured that his debut studio album would be the most anticipated in a very long time. He had a ton of pressure on his shoulders anointing him not only the new leader of the West Coast but he was the next savior of hip hop which is like calling someone the next Jordan, it never ends up good.
First off nice homage to Nas and Biggie with the album cover. Both of their debuts, which are on the short list of the greatest hip hop albums ever, have baby pictures of themselves so Kendrick is 1) paying homage and 2) saying his debut is going to up there with them. Right now the album is not up there in terms of greatness but who know maybe in time it will be. I'm sure many of you have already heard Good Kid Maad City by now so i'm not going to break it down like i have been doing with the other three projects. In short it is another concept album detailing him trying to bang Sherane one night in Compton. The cool thing about this is that he is able to put his whole life into one album and fit it into the story. He has mentioned in interviews that he has been writing his debut album his whole life and it showed. Kendrick comes through strong again with the subject matter talking about peer pressure, growing up poor, and life in Compton to name a few. Love the fact that he showed love to E-40 on Money Trees and goddam at Jay Rock's verse. I could get into this way more but the album is so dense and had so much going on that this could go for days and i'm sure everything that could have been said about the album has been said already. I like the fact he didn't have to sacrifice any artistic integrity to make singles either. His two radio hits off the album were Swimming Pools and Poetic Justice and they fit into the story perfectly. Nothing felt out of place and the only thing i could say was that the skits were too much. I know the skits are there to further the story but c'mon man ain't nobody got time for that.
Just amazing how Kendrick progressed from project to project and he kept getting better with each one. We saw GKMC that Kendrick can make a splash on the radio while staying true to his artistic roots which is extremely rare nowadays and the last person i can think to do that was Lupe on his first two albums. Don't be expecting another album real soon though because he has said he is waiting for the right time to start writing again for his next album so in the meantime just watch for him to be on features and promoting his Black Hippy brothers while he is in the lab. I'm not even that big of a Kendrick Lamar fan and that little nerdy goody two shoes kid from Compton amazes me with what he is spitting. We got a true talent on our hands but don't think he is the only dude out there killing it. My man Big Krit just dropped another great tape, Kendrick's Black Hippy brothers constantly push each other to top one another. Schoolboy Q has said numerous times that he isn't releasing his album until he feel it is better than GKMC. Who else we got out right now...Joey Bada$$ and not the rest of Pro Era, Chance The Rapper is making noise and i think he'll have a breakout year and his style could land him on the radio before you know it, Starlito stays true to the underground and is spitting some of the best stuff out no one knows about, Fat Trel is making Chief Keef look like the amateur that he is by doing Sosa's style but instead of sucking he is raw. Man there are too many to name. So when you hear someone say hip hop is wack or whatever, you can always fall back on Kendrick as an example as to why it's not and then mind fuck them by dropping knowledge on all the cats doing their thing and paying their dues underground.