Kendrick Lamar is as prolific as he is innovative.
The Compton emcee is considered one of the greatest rappers of his generation. He’s covered California gang culture, Black adolescence, and social justice in an almost cinematic fashion. The man known as Kung-Fu Kenny is a favorite amongst his peers, die-hard Hip-Hop fans, and even former presidents.
Lamar’s lyrical ability and ever-evolving creativity separates him from the vast majority of rappers. Not only does he continue to be relevant, but he does so without overexposing himself, either musically or personally.
K-Dot is an enigmatic mad genius who rarely misses the mark when pushing the envelope.
You can make the argument that every album in Kendrick’s discography is a classic. His concept-driven masterpieces are in a class of their own. Each one possesses a level of cultural relevance and commercial success independent of the rest.
However, some albums outweigh the others. Let’s take a look at Kendrick’s albums from worst to best.
6. untitled unmastered. (2016)
untitled unmastered. album cover
Kendrick Lamar’s meticulous nature is the reason his fans both love and hate him: He is revered for his attention to detail, which justifies the long periods in between albums; but, his level of perfection sends them into a frenzy while waiting.
Kendrick threw his fans a bone with untitled unmastered, an album of unreleased material in its rawest form. Instead of rough drafts and demo versions of his infamous songs, Kendrick’s throwaways played like an album that he scrapped and later released anyway.
It’s at the bottom of Kendrick’s discography for its misleading title and for being comparably forgettable.
5. Black Panther: The Album (Music from and Inspired by) (2018)
Black Panther: The Album album cover
The release of Marvel’s Black Panther was a pop culture phenomenon. Anticipation for the film starring the late Chadwick Boseman was at an unprecedented level. Kendrick Lamar became part of the hysteria surrounding the movie when he was named the soundtrack’s executive producer.
Although Black Panther: The Album isn’t an official Kendrick album, his involvement as executive producer is apparent. He appears repeatedly in some form or fashion throughout the album, and it has subtle recurring themes that are synonymous with a Kendrick project.
4. DAMN. (2017)
DAMN. album cover
By 2017, Kendrick Lamar’s stock was at an all-time high. He received endorsements from Hip-Hop royalty, such as Jay-Z , Nas, and Eminem, and proved he could succeed on a mainstream level. Now it was time to prove that he still had the magic touch.
DAMN. is the album that best showcases Kendrick’s lyrical brilliance. Unfortunately, it lacked the same cohesive storytelling as previous albums. Kendrick revealed its sequence was the story in reverse. But this excuse seemed to be a ploy to re-release the album in its intended order to earn additional streams.
Shady marketing aside, DAMN. made history as the only non-jazz or classical release to win a Pulitzer Prize for music.
3. To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)
To Pimp a Butterfly album cover
Every great artist has at least one “experimental” album in their catalog. Often that title is reserved for a project that didn’t resonate with their core audience. But Kendrick’s eccentric detour is one of rap’s most critically acclaimed bodies of work.
To Pimp a Butterfly is a journey through the Black Experience inspired by George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic’s revolutionary sound. Since its initial release, TPAB‘s cultural relevance has been amplified by the heightened racial tension in the United States. The single “Alright” has become an anthem for Black people fighting against oppression.
2. Section.80 (2011)
Section.80 album cover
While good kid, m.A.A.d city had the direction and presentation of a major label album, Section.80 had the hunger and unbridled vision of an independent artist looking to make his mark. Kendrick’s creative bravery produced an album that was unlike a typical West Coast rapper.
Section.80‘s potency and messages of self-awareness and improvement made many feel like Kendrick was already the finished article. He managed to cultivate his trademark sound, despite being in the beginning stages of his career. (Although, given what he would morph into, there was room for growth after all).
1. good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012)
good kid, m.A.A.d city album cover
Kendrick’s signing to Aftermath Records produced another bonafide superstar created under the tutelage of Dr. Dre. His major-label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city was a coming-of-age story reminiscent of movies like Boyz N The Hood and Poetic Justice. A young K.Dot recounts a typical day in the life of a young Black man growing up in Los Angeles.
Hip-Hop got a formal introduction to Kendrick’s brand of storytelling. GKMC is Lamar’s most cohesive story and the standard for what a major-label debut in Hip-Hop should be.
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