29 Grammy nominations and 12 Grammy wins. He’s four for four with some of the greatest albums of all time. His discography has grown throughout the decade and it’ll only continue to grow. At the age of 30 some would say not only is he the best rapper alive, but he’s the best rapper of all time. Kendrick Lamar week may have come to an end but we’re ending it on a high by picking our top 50 songs from his astounding discography.
50. Michael Jordan
Featuring Black Hippy member ScHoolboy Q, Michael Jordan was the biggest track from Kendrick’s popular mixtape Overly Dedicated. This was in 2010, it was long before Kendrick was the superstar he is today, but perhaps it was this out and out banger that elevated Kendrick for his debut album.
Featured on Kung Fu Kenny’s latest album DAMN. this track is for his longtime partner who Kendrick has managed to keep under wraps from the mainstream media. The feature from Zacari gives this track a smooth vocal to match Kendrick’s smooth delivery and the coolness of the production.
48. Sherane a.k.a Master Splinter’s Daughter
In the opening track to his second studio album Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, Lamar sets the scene, as a younger version of himself reflects on his journey to meet a romantic interest, who’s name features in the title of a song. This isn’t the first time Kendrick has utilised this clever reference to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles either, using it to suggest Sherane’s status as a hoodrat, and relations with her can only spell trouble for him.
47. You Ain’t Gotta Lie (Momma Said)
Produced by LoveDragon, You Ain’t Gotta Lie is a a track about the eccentric world of rap and how it’s not needed. “You ain’t gotta lie to kick it” is a reference towards how people will act different to fit in. Momma said is a reference to the fact that this lesson has been taught to Kendrick by his mother. The hook is a catchy one and the production is just as rhythmic as anything on the TPAB album.
46. Untitled 06 | 06.30.2014.
Untitled Unmastered was a 2016 short album released by Kendrick made up of songs that missed the To Pimp A Butterfly cut. This track has a surprisingly good feature from CeeLo Green, a strange feature which was a welcomed sight. It follows a similar production style to TPAB but this track lacked the spark to make it onto the album.
45. All The Stars
2018 saw Kendrick Lamar dip his feet into Hollywood as he presented the soundtrack to Marvel blockbuster, Black Panther. With the announcement of the album came the release of this track as the lead single, which is also featured during the end credits of the film. Whilst doing a great job of summarising the plot of Black Panther, All The Stars is strong enough to stand as its own body of work. Throw in a stellar vocal performance courtesy of R&B songstress SZA and you have what is easily one of the best tracks on the record.
44. Good Kid
Featuring both production and vocal credits from Pharrell Williams, Good Kid is certainly one of Kendrick’s most poignant tracks to date. Good Kid, M.A.A.D City follows the tale of a young Lamar’s upbringing in Compton, one of the primary themes being how he often fell victim to peer pressure. Lyrically, this song highlights an epiphany that K-Dot has: if this talented young rapper were to continue hanging around the wrong crowd, he could spend a life being manipulated by others- or even worse- his life could be cut tragically short.
The story behind this song is that no matter how successful Kendrick becomes his past will always haunt him. There’s themes of institutionalization of race and particularly class and wealth. Having Snoop Dogg on the bridge was a stroke of genius here, he suits the beat and the overall production of To Pimp A Butterfly.
42. Ab-Soul’s Outro
This song showcases Black Hippy rapper Ab-Soul off to perfection. He’s one of the most underrated rappers in the game and Kendrick gives him a couple verses to prove that. Perhaps we’ve ranked it so low because of how little Kendrick is showcased on it, but this pair jel so well whenever they come together on a track.
Kendrick is a master of a lot of things, his delivery and his musical IQ are immense, but perhaps his ability to write and lyrically tell stories is his greatest power. This track is proof of that as Kendrick details how his Dad had an altercation with Top Dawg before Kendrick was even born. It’s a crazy story full of turns and shocks, if you haven’t heard it I suggest you listen right away.
40. King’s Dead
Some people might not say this is a Kendrick song, I’d disagree. He’s on the hook and has a quality verse on this latest Black Panther anthem. Jay Rock does a phenomenal job on his verse which is often overlooked because of Kendrick’s outstanding work as well as Future’s completely wacky high pitched moments. Mike WiLL Made-It did the usual excellent job on production which made for one of the biggest bangers on the entire album.
39. Complexion (A Zulu Love)
This cut from the latter half of To Pimp A Butterfly, features, to little surprise, a clever bit of lyricism from Lamar; the slick grooves found on this instrumental, courtesy of Thundercat and Sounwave, complement the somewhat romantic messages conveyed by Kendrick on this one, but this isn’t the only topic that he tackles on Complexion (A Zulu Love). As the title implies, K-Dot is of the belief that beauty transcends the colour of one’s skin. Rapsody’s verse is also a definite highlight, as she talks on the same subjects mentioned previously.
38. Poetic Justice
There’s some really cool production on this track with the cool backing vocals. A Drake feature is always a massive deal, especially on a Kenny song. There’s a solid argument that when this song was released these guys were number one and two in the world, that argument still stands. It’s one of the more popular songs from GKMC for the reasons I’ve mentioned, that along with a pretty cool and catchy hook.
One of the more popular and commercially successful tracks on DAMN. features relatively low on our list here. Kendrick and Rihanna have good chemistry that I’m hoping to see more of in the future as this was the first time the pair had ever featured together. It’s star studded and it’s going to be featured on a lot of playlists for it’s memorable hook and popular flow.
36. Hood Politics
Funk legend and Parliament-Funkadelic member George Clinton, who appears earlier on To Pimp A Butterfly, claimed that this was his favourite track on the album- and while it isn’t the most obvious or popular choice, Clinton’s opinion is one that demands to be appreciated. Featuring an energetic and infectious hook, Lamar speaks on multiple subjects in this single song, including politics and the current state of hip-hop, the latter of which cajoles Kendrick into delivering one of his finest couplets, tipping his hat to a seasoned Atlanta MC, and currently half of rap collective Run The Jewels (“Critics want to mention that they miss when hip hop was rappin’; Motherfucker if you did, then Killer Mike’d be platinum”).
35. Kush & Corinthians
This track came from Kenny’s debut studio album Section.80 and featured the great BJ The Chicago Kid. This track shows glimpses of what we loved so much on To Pimp A Butterfly as Kendrick questions religion and sinning. The production lacks what TPAB has but it’s certainly a great song which relies on Kendrick’s quality delivery.
34. Keisha’s Song (Her Pain)
This is deep and intense storytelling at it’s finest. The song goes through the story of a young prostitute who ends up being murdered. The vivid imaginary in the song and the dark lyricism gives you an insight into that life, the storytelling draws powerful emotions. The song was made for his younger sister to show her that kind of world and the paths she should avoid. This track links in heavily with Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst and the judgement that Kendrick made on prostitution.
33. Untitled 07 | 2014 – 2016
When Untitled Unmastered was first released, producer Swizz Beats garnered a great deal of attention on one of his Instagram posts, claiming that his 5-year-old son, Egypt Dean, had assisted in producing this track. It’s unsure as to what extent young Dean contributed to it, but it’s certainly one of the best tunes on Lamar’s 2016 release. Delving deep into subjects we know Kendrick all too well for (overcoming adversity, reflecting on his ever-growing success etc.), Untitled 07 | 2014 – 2016‘s catchy refrain has helped cement its place on the setlist for his live performances.
32. Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe
One of the bigger and more well known anthems of GKMC addresses the current state of the music industry and in particular the state of rap music. The slow yet memorable hook made this track one of the most well known of Kendrick’s songs, one that will be on playlists and in clubs for years to come as a rap anthem.
31. Backseat Freestyle
The idea behind this track is that it’s a younger version of Kendrick Lamar rapping for his friends. It’s not views he believe’s in now but what he believed in as a teen, hence the ignorant lyricism. It’s a fun flashback to what teenage rap was about, with all the skill and delivery of a prime Kendrick Lamar. It’d be interesting to see more of this at some point because it’s a unique standpoint that not a lot of people take.
30. These Walls
“I remember you was conflicted, misusing your influence, sometimes I did the same” is the point we reach in Lamar’s poem, which can be heard throughout To Pimp A Butterfly, before this track is introduced. As such, Lamar spends this song reflecting on the times he has abused his status, in this particular scenario, to sleep with a woman who’s partner is in prison for the murder of one of Kendrick’s friends. The sultry premise of this track is fits very well with the slick, jazzy instrumental (featuring additional vocals from Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat), and elaborates perfectly on part of this modern classic’s expansive narrative.
29. Mortal Man
The final track on To Pimp A Butterfly, and whilst the actual song is solid enough, it isn’t quite what makes this one so special. Throughout the album, Lamar recites the same poem before near enough each song, getting slightly longer as TPAB progresses. At the end of Mortal Man, this is the first time we hear the poem in full, summarising all of the themes discussed on the record. Once Kendrick is finished, he offers a question to another person in the room. Who replies is none other than Tupac Shakur. Lamar proceeds to have a natural conversation with a man who passed away almost 22 years ago (through the genius use of old interview footage of 2Pac), giving such a masterful album a fitting conclusion.
One of the smoothest tracks off of DAMN. here. It was produced by BADBADNOTGOOD which explains so much of it’s brilliance, and it even includes a crazy sample from RAT BOY’s track Knock Knock Knock. The track explores Kendrick’s vice’s and the vice’s that come with fame and money. The magical production makes it feel like the song is almost being played in reverse. The second verse addresses the American election and is a diss to Donald Trump.
27. For Sale? – Interlude
A recurring character featured in To Pimp A Butterfly is one “Lucy”, a reference to the Devil, Lucifer, who is explored further in this interlude. The feminine representation of Lucy is a clever move from Lamar, signifying the seductive nature often associated with the Devil. Kendrick speaks a lot of his value as a rapper and a musician on TPAB, and how he has often experienced temptation to “sell his soul”, relinquishing his artistic integrity for riches, which is emphasised most in For Sale? – Interlude. Religious parallels are nothing new to Lamar’s lyricism, but this is certainly one of the most striking examples he has ever penned.
26. The Art Of Peer Pressure
One of the tracks from GKMC with the most meaning here. The track explores K-Dot at a younger age being forced into breaking the law because of peer pressure. The narrative of the album really picks up and tracks three and four of the album, this being number four. The beat was one of the first picked up for the album as Kendrick personally took a liking to it and wanted to tell a story through it.
Nobody in the world can use repetition this well. Kendrick runs through a number of different feelings he’s having in the current music industry. The repetition allows for a killer flow and some deep lyricism. Arguably the deepest song on DAMN. that questions Kendrick’s faith in religion, his family, his friends and his livelihood.
24. Untitled 08 | 09.06.2014.
Sometimes when you put to artists together it’s always a quality result. That’s what happens yet again here when Kendrick worked with Thundercat to make a funk masterpiece. This track explores the financial struggles of black people in America. Truthfully I feel like this track could’ve easily made it onto To Pimp A Butterfly, everything from the message to the production to the delivery all works on this one, big ups to Thundercat.
Long story short, this a track about Kendrick killing the rap game, and killing your favourite rapper. What better way to do that than to prove it in this track? His flow is something silly and the rhyme scheme on the second verse is out of this world. It’s a track that you literally cannot rap along to, it shows how absolutely insane Kendrick is, if he really wants to, he’ll crush anyone at any time.
22. Money Trees
What an incredible verse from Black Hippy Member Jay Rock on this track. I remember this song for a lot of reasons. First off this was the opening track to a set I saw Kenny do in 2015, so it holds a lot of memories. It’s somewhat of a recap of the previous four tracks on the album with references to many different stories. Jay Rock is beyond underrated in mainstream rap, he proves his worth on this track with a Kendrick worthy verse.
21. Untitled 02 | 06.23.2014.
As the title of this track implies, Untitled 02 | 06.23.2014., along with the subjects discussed on it, dates back to June 2014, almost an entire year before the release of To Pimp A Butterfly. It’s unsure as to whether this is a song that didn’t end up making the final cut or not, but it certainly fits nicely within some of the messages featured on the record. Being one of hip-hop’s most esteemed figures, even at this point, Lamar explores the duality of being a rap superstar, as well as the young man from Compton he depicted on Good Kid, M.A.A.D City.
20. Fuck Your Ethnicity
The opening track to Kendrick’s debut album, Section.80, sets the scene with a call to arms: regardless of your skin colour, Lamar welcomes you in an attempt to unite everyone to tackle issues- such as crime, drugs and government corruption, all of which are touched on throughout the duration of the record- that run far deeper than one’s race.
While DAMN. may favour super-contemporary instrumentals throughout the record, this does nothing to dampen the sharp-tongued lyricism we all know and love Kendrick Lamar for. Perhaps emphasised most on this cut, FEAR. sees Lamar recall 3 accounts where he has experienced fear in its most visceral form. His first verse depicts everything he was terrified of at the age of 7, and as each verse progresses, 10 years passes, as he reflects on aspects of his entire life he feared. Not only is this one of Kendrick Lamar’s most stirring lyrical works to be found on DAMN., but it is one of the greatest to feature in his entire discography.
Following on from the track U, Kendrick raps about how everything’s going to be alright and what he needs to do in order to get to where he needs to be. The track also delves further into racism in America, the line “we gon be alright” is a reference to how African American’s will fight through racism and police brutality. The track was a Grammy winner picking up two awards, large in part to the sublime Pharrell Williams production.
Kendrick Lamar made his 2017 return with The Heart Pt. 4 where he prophesied: “Y’all got ‘til April the 7th to get y’all shit together”. Right on cue, Lamar dropped HUMBLE., his lead single to his 4th studio album, DAMN.. Kendrick was back with a bang. Long gone were the esoteric, jazz-inspired instrumentals that featured on preceding projects To Pimp A Butterfly and Untitled Unmastered, as he favoured a bouncing trap beat, courtesy of Mike WiLL Made-It. An apt change, as this is the most in your face we have seen Lamar in quite a while. This track sees him challenge all of his competition as it soared to the top of the charts, proving that Kendrick can produce a multi-faceted piece of work, without scrimping on pop appeal.
One of the standout tracks from Lamar’s debut album Section.80, A.D.H.D is one of the earlier examples of his astute lyricism and social commentary. Lamar spends a large section of the record illustrating the effects that Ronald Reagan’s presidency in the 1980’s has had on places such as Kendrick’s hometown, Compton, particularly the crack-cocaine epidemic. As such, many hood residents turned to prescription drugs to get their fix, which has had a damaging effect on the resultant generation that Kendrick Lamar was a part of, highlighted in the couplet: “How old are you?, She say 22, I say 23; Okay, then we are crack babies.”
One of Kendrick’s catchiest hooks to date here, it’s one of those tracks that when you hear it you go back to it. This track oozes confidence as Kendrick challenges any rapper to step up to him, he’s lyrically superior and has the skill to match the bars. When someone as good as Kendrick starts flexing like this, it’s near enough unstoppable.
14. M.A.A.D City
Acting as the second part of the titular track on Lamar’s major label debut, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, M.A.A.D City takes an even more sinister turn from the preceding track, Good Kid. The themes explored on Good Kid, forces Kendrick to recall a graphic memory from when he was only 9 years old: witnessing a man with his “brains blown out” after falling victim to gang violence. This hard-hitting lyricism and equally urgent instrumental featured are the reason that this is one of GKMC’s elite cuts, and with a brief, infectious cameo from fellow Top Dawg Entertainment and Black Hippy member ScHoolboy Q, it proves to be a fan favourite during Lamar’s live shows.
13. For Free? – Interlude
It’s fair to say that there are plenty of moments on To Pimp A Butterfly that go against the grain, when it comes to what is typically expected from rap music released around this time- and For Free? – Interlude is certainly one of the record’s most eccentric moments. Rapping at speeds beyond comprehension across a cacophonous, free-form jazz instrumental credited to Terrace Martin, it’s a jaw-dropping experience upon the first listen. Residing on the fringes of genius and madness, it’s one of the most entertaining performances you’ll find in Kendrick Lamar’s entire discography.
12. Ronald Reagan Era
Section.80 sees Kendrick cover a myriad of subjects, one in particular being the presidency of Ronald Reagan during the 1980’s, and the effects his actions in office left on the United States. Reagan was criticised for making the rift between the rich and the poor even larger, which is something Lamar highlights on this track with total abandon. He paints a frightening image of his hometown of Compton, ravaged by a drug epidemic and gang-related crime, which Kendrick Lamar attributes to Reagan’s conservative reign.
I remember when the tracklist for DAMN. was announced, U2 featuring stuck out like a sore thumb, but why did we ever doubt Kendrick’s genius? He made the feature work in a massive way. U2 play a part over quite a sombre instrumental, the polar opposite to Kendrick’s speedy flow over a high paced beat. The two went hand in hand and blended beyond belief, what I expected to be the worst song on the entire album ended up being one of his very best ever.
10. The Heart Pt. 4
In early 2017, Kendrick Lamar posted a cryptic photo on Instagram, simply displaying the Roman numerals “IV”, potentially teasing his 4th studio album. What would be released soon after was in fact the 4th entry to his series of tracks titled The Heart– the one before this being released not long before Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. Featuring several snippets of instrumentals that would be eventually used on subsequent album, DAMN., Kendrick returns smelling blood and spitting venom, firing shots at everyone in his path. K-Dot goes on to declare his place atop hip-hop’s throne, with the almost nursery rhyme-like couplet: “Yellin’ one, two, three, four, five; I am the greatest rapper alive!”, confident in the fact that none of his contemporaries would even dare come for his crown- let alone succeed.
In the latter end of 2014, we saw some of the first hints toward a follow-up on Kendrick Lamar’s universally acclaimed record Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, in the form of To Pimp A Butterfly’s lead single, i. To mixed response, this track was a major departure from what we had already heard from Lamar. Instead of the gritty, West Coast influenced hip-hop we know Kendrick well for, i is a funky pop-rap anthem about self-love and overcoming adversity. However, hindsight will tell us that this single did very little when it came to what to expect prior to the release of TPAB– if anything at all. On Kendrick’s third studio album, this sleekly produced single is substituted by a sort of faux live performance, which, in my opinion, was a wise move from Lamar, allowing it to fit into the context of the record much more suitably.
8. Swimming Pools (Drank)
Upon the first few listens, you’d be forgiven if you were to think that this track is simply a drinking album destined for club dance floors. However, it is, as a matter of fact, quite the opposite. Sure, the hook shines a very youthful, hedonistic light on Swimming Pools (Drank), but Lamar’s verses explore the darker side to drinking. Kendrick recalls how living life by the bottle was the only means of coping with life in the hood for close friends and family. There aren’t many rappers around now able to release compelling songs with morals that run far deeper than surface level aside from Kendrick Lamar, and this track is certainly one of the finest examples of his capacity to do so.
7. King Kunta
Kendrick’s funkiest song to date? I think so. It’s one of Kenny’s most commercially successful songs, but regardless of numbers it still serves a purpose on an album themed around racism. References throughout to Kunta Kinte and Kendrick’s own powers modern day keep this song relevant enough to fit the concept of To Pimp A Butterfly, while it’s ability to get you dancing with funky production and cool flow make it one of Kendrick’s best all round pieces.
From Kendrick’s funkiest song to easily one of his darkest. Kendrick has been quoted saying how difficult it was to write and record this track, and when you listen you understand why. It’s such a negative track, the polar opposite to the track i. Kendrick was also quoted saying “from ‘u,’ you will eventually reach ‘i.’. This track really hits it’s stride in the second verse when you can hear the bottles along with Kendrick’s tearful delivery, it’s clear that the purpose is that he’s intoxicated, making for one of the most unique songs he’s ever made.
5. Wesley’s Theory
Kendrick has an amazing track record when it comes to crafting the perfect introduction to an album, and To Pimp A Butterfly opener Wesley’s Theory is perhaps the finest example of this. The bizarre sonic palette of producer Flying Lotus and the immeasurable talents of bass guitarist Thundercat raise the curtain on Kendrick Lamar’s most left-field project to date, and this track makes the album’s message as clear as day- black artists have suffered from a history of exploitation within all branches of the entertainment industry, specifically highlighting the story of actor Wesley Snipes, who was brutally persecuted with legal cases related to tax fraud.
Kendrick absolutely snapped on this one. This track is the first full track from DAMN. as it follows on from the interlude BLOOD. Kendrick shows some quality flow early on, but it’s really the switch up in the beat halfway through where he finds the most incredible, intense flow he’s ever given. There’s a sample of FOX News reporters who previously shunned Kendrick which is, simply put, a piece of genius. An inspiring way to kick of an album which will be seen as a classic in the years to come.
3. The Blacker The Berry
Across so many projects and songs amounting to the hundreds, I guarantee that you will not find Kendrick Lamar as fiery and as militant as you do on this cut from the latter end of To Pimp A Butterfly. During an interview, Lamar credited this to emptying all of his vengeful angst, as a result of the murder of a close friend, into one song. This song takes its title from a line in 2Pac’s Keep Ya Head Up (“The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.”), a track which has a lot more in common with The Blacker The Berry’s preceding track, Complexion (A Zulu Love)– celebrating the beauty of black femininity. Lamar takes the meaning of this and turns it on his head, pushing connotations of violence and hatred to the forefront, as opposed to celebrating one’s race and culture. Kendrick’s explosive delivery, paired with a crushing instrumental, makes this the most eye-popping moment on the entire record, and is a vital reason as to why TPAB deserves to be remembered for a long time.
2. How Much A Dollar Cost
Whilst To Pimp A Butterfly mostly outlines the trials and tribulations personally experienced by Kendrick upon becoming a renowned rap artist, How Much A Dollar Cost? tackles much broader topics such as religion and morality. The narrator illustrates an encounter he has with a homeless man in South Africa. Having been corrupted by the influences of success (personified by Uncle Sam and The Devil “Lucy”), Lamar refuses to give the homeless man 10 Rand- roughly the same as a dollar- convinced that his hard-earned money would only be spent on drugs. To Kendrick’s undoing, the man reveals himself to be Jesus Christ himself and that, in this scenario, this single dollar cost Kendrick Lamar his place in heaven upon his death. There aren’t many other tracks in Lamar’s discography that rival this one in terms of sentiment- bar one.
1. Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst
Good Kid, M.A.A.D City is something of a collection of autobiographical tales taken from Kendrick’s time spent growing up in Compton. None are quite as gut wrenching and as heartfelt as the ones found on this 12-minute track. The first verse sees Lamar take the perspective of a close friend who is grieving the death of his brother, unaware that he is moments away from being murdered himself. Verse 2 takes the point of view of the sister of Keisha, a prostitute who was sadly killed as heavily mentioned throughout Kendrick’s previous album Section.80. Furious by her sister’s depiction, the character goes on to swear to Lamar that her story will be long remembered amongst her family and friends after his work fades into obscurity. This prompts Kendrick to contemplate his own mortality, and if his music is enough to see him written into the history books. Much of Kendrick Lamar’s success has been attributed to his gift of being able to tell a compelling story, something that he has refined throughout his career. Lamar has used his music as a conduit for stories, immortalising his personal experiences into art and Sing About Me… does incredibly to epitomise why Kendrick does what he does.