From KDot to Kung Fu Kenny, Kendrick Lamar is a man of many names. But whatever his nom de plume may be, one cannot discount that he is a genius. In light of his historic Pulitzer Prize win, we explore why the politically-charged rapper had this in the bag from the get-go.
As the first ever rapper to bag the prestigious award and first non-classical or jazz artist since the establishment of the music prize in 1943, Kendrick’s success breaks all the barriers and the institution’s dusty ways of giving away the highly-coveted award. Oh, and did we mention that he also has over 12 Grammy trophies?
Kendrick may produce countless club bangers and curate commercially successful soundtracks, but it’s his complicated artistry and activism that brings him all the victories in the world. You can argue with the antithetical ways of the institution, but this time, the Pulitzer Prize definitely got it right.
In light of this milestone for hip-hop and Black culture, we give you the 10 chart-topping tracks from Kendrick’s old and new albums that prove why he deserves all the honor (and champagne) in the world right now.
B*tch Don’t Kill My Vibe
In B*itch Don’t Kill My Vibe, Kendrick rejects all norms of the rap game and expresses his disappointment in the state of the industry-the said “vibe” that he wants to kill. The lyrically powerful opening hook is a nod to his religious roots, pleading God to forgive him for all his mistakes and calls himself a self-proclaimed sinner in a world where the only thing that matters is money and fame.
“Martin had a dream, Kendrick have a dream.” A play on Martin Luther King Jr.’s infamous “I Have A Dream” speech, he aspires to achieve the same impact the civil rights activist has made in history. Ironically, his “aspirations” contradict his desire for money and power. A recurring theme throughout all his works.
Poetic Justice ft. Drake
Despite their longstanding complicated relationship, Kendrick enlists fellow rapper Drake in this track from good kid, mA.A.d city. The single has achieved mainstream success and talks about the beauty and complexities of every female.
All The Stars ft. SZA
Adding to the magnificence of Black Panther is the official soundtrack, with All The Stars as the lead single. Blockbuster Superhero films may have the rep of bringing out the worst of pop music but the Kendrick-produced album defies all odds. As if the glorious Afro-American music video isn’t enough to showcase its beauty.
Loyalty ft. Rihanna
Who else can you talk to about loyalty other than resident bad gal, Rihanna? On LOYALTY., Kendrick and Rihanna muse on the importance of maintaining faithfulness in both platonic and romantic relationships. In the last hook, they question each other, who are they really faithful to?
On King Kunta, Kendrick discusses the proverbial weight of being ‘The King’ as his peers and fans continuously crown him as the ‘King of Hip-hop.’ He takes inspiration from Kinta Kunte, a fictional 18th Century slave that refused to accept his masters’ offer to whitewash him and rename him as ‘Toby.’ Kendrick plays on the lowest and highest levels of society by presenting his name as ‘King Kunta.’
Money Trees ft. Jay Rock
K.dot samples Beach House’s track Silver House for Money Trees and weighs in on doing the right or wrong thing. “It go Halle Berry or Hallelujah” will go down as one of the most memorable hooks from hip-hop with ‘Hallelujah’ representing the good in Kendrick and Halle Berry as the actual vice that goes down on him.
M.A.A.d city ft. MC Eiht
Kendrick grew up in Compton, a place in California notorious for its gang wars and violence. m.A.A.d is an acronym for ‘my Angry Adolescence divided.’ The rapper shares his childhood innocence and how Compton’s harsh realities changed his views of the world.
Aside from the highly influenced Gordon Parks music video, a recreation of the photographer’s best works that portray the hardships of black people, Kendrick takes himself on a self-introspection. He delves on his personal sacrifices and family tribulations that accumulated as his fame grew and grew.
Last but not the least, we crown Alright as Kendrick’s best single to date. Nominated as Song of the Year at the Grammy’s, the track became the anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement and puts Kendrick as one of the, if not the industry’s most politically-conscious rapper. The powerful imagery and anti-police lyricism may be controversial, but this further highlights the song’s purpose of stopping inequality and racism.