On Good Friday, countries all across the world will stop working in light of the Christian holiday which honors the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Similarly, on the same day, millions across the world will stop what they are doing, and immerse themselves in the new Kendrick Lamar album DAMN., expected to drop at 1:00 A.M. Eastern time. The anticipation for DAMN. has built ever since Kendrick dropped “The Heart Pt. 4” a few weeks ago which teased the album’s release date. After a slight delay, we now have an album cover, tracklist, and a list of producers, (and a leak…) – and we’re all just waiting to listen. In the meantime, though, we’ve revisited Kendrick’s collection to keep us occupied and try and answer a highly contested question: what is Kendrick’s best album? Officially, his collection features 3 full-length LP’s (not counting DAMN.), one EP, and one b-side compilation. We make the case for how each project could be considered his best, as we hope his next project will also be in the conversation for years to come.
Overly Dedicated (2010)
I’m not exactly sure if there are people on this who actually would pick this album. Maybe a far out hipster who doesn’t listen to “commercialized” music or something… But this isn’t a slight on the EP. It planted the seeds for what would come later for Kendrick; pristinely-executed concept albums, and beautiful jazz instrumentation. Overly Dedicated starts off with a Roots-produced jazz track, “The Heart Pt. 2”, which Kendrick goes absolutely ballistic over. It’s arguably the best track on the EP, and it’s a preview of the lyrical acrobatics he would perform in the future like on “Rigamortus” and “m.A.A.d. City.” Other highlights include; the spacey “Night of the Living Junkies”; the airy “P&P 1.5” (assisted by Ab-Soul); the bombastic “Average Bro”; and the blissful “Heaven & Hell”. But the real standout is “Ignorance Is Bliss”, a song that remains significant for two purposes. Firstly, it’s the song that led Dr. Dre to link up with Kendrick. Secondly, it’s an absolutely haunting street narrative that still remains one of the best songs in his catalogue. Overall, the EP isn’t perfect, but it showed us the monster potential that the compton rapper was soon about to unleash.
– Michael Charlebois
Without Section.80, Kendrick would have never blown up. That’s my bold statement for this article. “Swimming Pools” is the song that everyone remembers as his first big radio hit, and this is true. “A.D.H.D.,” however, was the song that earned him a name. It introduced him to more than just underground hip-hop communities, and further extended his fame to the man that would go on the earn universal respect and acclaim. Kendrick didn’t explore the heavier topics in such an organized and thematic manor like GKMC or TPAB, but that doesn’t mean the messages on this album aren’t potent. “HiiiPower” may be K-Dot’s best politically charged song, which gained notoriety for referencing a dream where he spoke to the late Martin Luther King Jr. Producers didn’t slack on the beats for this album either, as it features some excellent production, especially on tracks like “Blow My High” and “Rigamortus.” It’s also safe to say that if people didn’t think Kendrick was already a talented rapper before hearing this material, it would be hard to argue otherwise after hearing the plethora of flows and tones he uses. Section.80 also set the narrative format that his following two albums took, an underused tactic in the hip-hop genre that Kendrick executes to perfection. Don’t sleep on the importance of Section.80 to this man’s career.
– Keelen Wolfe
Good kid, m.A.A.d. City (2012)
If Section.80 was Kendrick’s first great album, good kid, m.A.A.d City was Kendrick’s masterpiece. It took all of the great things we knew about hip-hop, and combined it into one thrilling album. The album is equally ambitious, as it is diverse, as it is West-Coast, as it is conceptual. It’s a bonafide classic in hip-hop circles and there’s reason for it. The array of sounds is wide, but the excellent skits pull everything together into a compelling storyline. The Outkast-influenced “Sherane” sets the theme, “two niggas, two black hoodies, I froze as my phone rang.” The narrative eventually makes it’s way through “The Art of Peer Pressure,” a haunting track vividly describing a ride with “me and my niggas four deep in a white Toyota,” on Rosecrans. The album reaches its sonic climax with “m.A.A.d. City,” an exhilarating ride through Kendrick’s paranoia that is filled with west coast flavour. Ultimately, Kendrick’s most commercially successful song represents the downfall of his ride, as he loses to the vice of alcohol. This opens the door to the haunting self-reflectives of “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst,” and “Real.” Everything is sewn together so tightly, yet none of the content is sacrificed. The album doesn’t tackle the matter in as abstract a form as To Pimp A Butterfly, but it is done in a way that is more accessible and equally as ambitious. Good kid was confirmation that Kendrick isn’t just one of the great rap artists in the game today, it was confirmation that he was one of the greatest rap artists of all time.
– Michael Charlebois
To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)
I vividly remember the day I got To Pimp a Butterfly. I went and bought a copy from Best Buy because I knew this album was gonna be special. I came home, shut my door, and sat on the floor to listen. TPAB has so many strong societal and historical elements to it. From the story about Kunta Kunta, the ode to Tupac, and the self awareness on “The Blacker the Berry.” TPAB is real and raw. The whole thing gave me goosebumps. What Kendrick was saying was truly important. He made me feel. And hearing the extra verse on “I” that’s included in the album; I don’t think I’ve ever experienced so much power. It’s a moment permanently ingrained into my memory. It’s the day that Kendrick Lamar brought tears to my eyes.
– Isaac Biehl
untitled.unmastered is a brilliant album for a multitude of reasons. First, who the hell can put together an album of b-sides in this day and age and have it be one of our favorite albums of the year? The answer is just Kendrick Lamar if you were having trouble. Second, this album was marketed through multiple live performances, each with some unique production element that really brought Kendrick’s performance of a completely unknown song to life (see the Grammys prison performance, or the first time he came out with Terrance Martin and a new hair do). To be honest, these songs might have been a bit better before they were readily available, when K-Dot was just teasing them on television. But the reason this album dropped, and perhaps the last and best reason, is that a tweet from NBA superstar Lebron James begging for an album of these live songs was the catalyst that pushed TDE to drop the album the next day.
— LeBron James (@KingJames) February 23, 2016
untitled is a testament to Kendrick Lamar’s influence and popularity, more so than any of his other full, thematic albums, because it proved that he could whip everyone into a fervor with any kind of new material.
– Keelen Wolfe