Kendrick Lamar was born in a largely impoverished and violent city, as often portrayed in the media. His parents had relocated to Compton to flee a violent environment in Chicago. As a teenager, he sought solace in hip hop and began writing rhymes. At seventeen, he began to take rap seriously, and by the time he was twenty-one, he released his debut album, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. By twenty-five, he was being hailed as the greatest rapper alive. His command of language and lyricism is simply unparalleled, and his production choices are always fascinating and multi-layered. Kendrick Lamar hasn’t been in the rap game for long, although he has managed to move from strength to strength in that time, with each project sounding distinctively different from the last. In terms of commercial success and critical acclaim, his four albums have been a mixed bag of hit rap songs. His debut album, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, is widely considered a classic with Lamar’s lyricism at its finest. His 2015 follow-up album, To Pimp a Butterfly, is regarded by many of his fans to be better than Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. The album was seen as a fierce social commentary on the African-American experience in the US and was also hailed as an artistic masterpiece thanks to its intricate production and Lamar’s incredible lyricism. Kendrick Lamar’s next album, DAMN., released in April 2017, was another commercial success and topped the Billboard 200 chart — although many fans were disappointed by what they saw as a more shallow effort than its two predecessors. Here is our list of the ten best tracks from Kendrick Lamar, which we hope you enjoy listening to as much as we did.
10. New Freezer ft. Rich the Kid
The song features guest vocals from Atlanta rapper Rich the Kid, known for his commercial mumble rap stylings, and it peaked at position 57 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart while reaching number 12 on the US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. The track features samples from “La Di Da Di” by Doug E. Fresh, and it takes tenth place in our countdown of the best Kendrick Lamar songs of all time.
9. How Much a Dollar Cost
The album that followed To Pimp, a Butterfly, was 2016’s Untitled Unmastered. In this album, Kendrick Lamar pulled together fragments of songs left off his third major-label album to create something new — much in the same way he made Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. Linking up with producer and frequent collaborator Terrace Martin, Lamar created a beautiful album that showed what he was capable of when he wasn’t bogged down by the expectations surrounding an album with his name on it. This song, in particular, is a masterful piece of storytelling where Kendrick Lamar touches on gentrification, English colonial history, and the Black Lives Matter movement.
8. These Walls ft. Bilal, Anna Wise & Thundercat
Each song on the album To Pimp a Butterfly tells its own story, but “These Walls” is probably one of Lamar’s finest examples of storytelling within his music. It details the story of an incarcerated man trying to see the best in his situation and make it work. He attempts to do this by (successfully) seducing a correctional officer and having a rendezvous in the warden’s office. Lamar himself has said that he didn’t want to give too much away about what truly happens in this song because listeners can reach their conclusions. Regardless of how you interpret the music, though, it’s a real treat for your ears.
7. King Kunta
The lead single from To Pimp a Butterfly, “King Kunta,” is one of Lamar’s fiercest songs to date. With a monster of a beat produced by Sounwave, Lamar takes on the role of Kunta Kinte, an 18th-century slave who rebels against his owner and is caught, tortured, and has his foot chopped off. The Guardian described this song as “a joyous showcase for Lamar’s most virtuosic talents.”
Despite only reaching number 86 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart, “Alright” became an anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement after its release in March 2015. Kendrick Lamar performed the song during the B.E.T. Awards, and it was widely talked about for its lyrics “We gon’ be alright,” which resonated with many people.
After teasing fans with an ad-libbed intro on S.Z.A.’s “Doves in the Wind” and a brief snippet on his Nike song, Lamar finally released “HUMBLE” as the lead single from his fourth album. Mike WiLL Made-It produced the trap beat, and it’s been talked about for its politically charged lyrics, which critics say is a return to Lamar’s roots. It reached number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart, making it his second number one hit in the country after 2015’s “Bad Blood” with Taylor Swift.
While the song has been compared to some of club music’s biggest tunes from the early 2000s, Lamar said that “U” was made for his fans and not a specific demographic or generation. The song reached number 11 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and is perfect for less-than-ardent hip hop fans.
3. Swimming Pools (Drank)
“Swimming Pools” was the lead single from Lamar’s second studio album, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. It peaked at number 17 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and is a party anthem that details drinking to excess and its consequences on society.
“D.N.A” is the lead single from the album DAMN. and is a track that gets better every time you listen to it largely due to the song’s hook, “I got loyalty, I got royalty inside my D.N.A.” The song also proves that King Kendrick can excel in any rap subgenre. This song combines trap beats with a James Brown-inspired funk instrumental. The song debuted at number four on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and was later nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Rap Performance category.
1. I’m Dying of Thirst
This track is my all-time personal favorite Kendrick Lamar song, and it’s probably one the most profound songs in hip hop history. In the song, Kendrick Lamar tells a sad story where he touches on several social problems, telling them from the mouth of people who have lived through them. Kendrick Lamar gained critical acclaim for his lyricism and creative approach through the song. The track was featured as a soundtrack in the 207th episode of America’s hit TV series, Grey’s Anatomy, and is the best song from his 2012 album, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City.