As the Compton rappers 33rd birthday was yesterday, what better way is there to celebrate is belated birthday than by ranking his albums!
5. Section.80 (2011)
Kendrick’s debut album was the perfect starting point for the man who would become the king of hip hop. Section.80 captures every single element of Lamar we would go on to love him for in the decade to follow. His equipped lyrical arsenal is shown off on “Rigamatororus,” while his top-notch storytelling ability is shown on “Keisha’s Song”. In addition, Kendrick shows his ability to pick apart society and vent his thoughts out on the corrupt world he feels hostage in on tracks such as “Poe Mans Dreams” and “Ab-Souls Outro”. There are not many debuts better than Section 80, and I’m sure it will stay that way for a long time.
4. Untitled Unmastered. (2016)
After his decade-defining To Pimp A Butterfly, fans were pleasantly delighted to see Kendrick Lamar back with another album less than a year later. Untitled Unmastered. is a compilation of throwaway tracks from his previous LP, but it’s still conceptually stronger than most artists’ best work. The entire album revolves around one phrase this being “Head is the answer”. This saying may seem dense at the surface, but it can be applied to every topic the compilation discusses. In the beginning, it is used more naively to represent sexual actions and drugs. As UU progresses, it appears to be a lesson that teaches that the more knowledge an individual can acquire, the better chance they have of making a change in their everyday lives. Sonically, the album shares the same jazzy production, which was renowned on TPAB but, it has a darker, more mysterious tone to it, which differentiates the two. Even though it is one of Kendricks’s smaller releases, Untilted Unmastered is still another powerful and thought provoking release from King Kunta himself.
3. DAMN. (2017)
Kendrick Lamar’s last album may have been his most commercially appealing record but, it’s also his darkest to date. DAMN. loosely covers the elements which make up every individual. These principles are reflected in the tracklist with song names such as “LOYALTY,” “LUST,” “PRIDE,” and a handful of others. As Kendrick addresses these ideas, he also depicts the view that with age, comes sadness and pain. This idea is strengthened when thoroughly analyzing the tracklist, but it would take a whole article to decode the true meaning of this piece. Musically, most of the beats are relatively accessible, yet they are complex and challenging to grasp. There are a few questionable stylistic choices from Kendrick on this record but, DAMN’s dark theme and complex songwriting make it another decade defining release from Compton’s finest.
2. good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012)
Kendrick’s second album feels like a cinematic journey into the world he grew up in. From hearing about his crazed love with his high school sweetheart Sherane or listening to him reflect on the time, he tagged along on a robbery with his friends; it is a true adventure listening to Lamar paint pictures from his past. Musically, we see Kendrick tap into an array of sonic pockets, which gives each track its own distinct feel. The listener hears glimpses at his crazed aggressive alter ego on “Backseat Freestyle” and “m.A.A.d city” yet we also hear from Kendrick the poet who we would see more of on his follow up LP To Pimp A Butterfly on the songs “Sing About Me’ I’m Dying of Thirst” and “Good Kid”. In retrospect, good kid m.A.A.d. city is the perfect depiction of the chaotic world, Kendrick was thrown into a young age.
1. To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)
To Pimp A Butterfly isn’t just Kendrick’s best album its the best rap album of all time if you ask me. Lamar goes deep into analysis on the government’s corruption, the riches arrogance, the poors victim mentality, and a handful of other social issues. The production is elegant and jazzy, which gives it a sound no other project this decade could match. To address the themes previously stated, TPAB follows the story of a naive teenager who has just signed to a major label. As the album progresses, we see this young artist (presumably a young Kendrick) crumble internally due to the mass amount of pressure on his back. After crashing down mentally, we see this same character build himself and his community back up as he blossoms into someone stronger and wiser then anyone could have ever imagined. To Pimp a Butterfly is so special because it’s meaningful on multiple levels. Its an attack on the corruption embedded in our society, which also captures the painful journey of becoming a true man.
Only five albums in and Kendrick Lamar already has one of the most profound discographies to date. At this point, I think Kendrick will continue to release quality projects and take the goat title in a few years!