Kendrick Lamar is one of the most influential rappers of this generation. The Compton-bred rapper’s 2012 major-label debut garnered him mainstream success with hits such as “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” “Money Trees,” “Poetic Justice,” and many more. However his 2017 album DAMN. really showed how the rapper is like no other artist that has produced in this past decade. Kendrick Lamar won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music for DAMN., becoming the first non-jazz or classical artist to ever win the award. Additionally, DAMN. won “Best Rap Album” and was nominated for “Album Of The Year” at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards. Kendrick’s latest body of work Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, his last with Top Dawg Entertainment, has also gained critical acclaim as it addresses the themes of generational trauma, sexuality politics, and religion.
Take a look at 10 of the best songs by the rapper:
For "Money Trees" Kendrick taps in former TDE labelmate Jay Rock. According to Jay Rock, the track was originally intended for a feature. "Honestly, he was like already done with the album [before I got on it]," said Jay Rock to Complex. "When I heard it that was one of my favorite records. Every time he played it, I'm like, 'Run it back.' He was keeping the album real personal, he didn't want that many features. Not even from us. When bro get in his zone, he gets in his zone. He's so into his craft. He don't do it intentionally." Rock continued: "He just so happened to hit me like, 'I want you to do a verse for 'Money Trees.' I was honored so I took my time with it, wrote it down, and finished it up. When he heard it he was like 'Man, you took it to the next level.'" Jay Rock ended up recording a follow-up song "Money Trees Deuce." The song is certified platinum by the RIAA.
Drake joins Kendrick for "Poetic Justice" off of the rapper's 2012 album 'good kid, m.A.A.d. city.' The two previously worked together on Drake's 'Take Care' cut, "Buried Alive Interlude" and also went on tour with one another. Kendrick spoke to Complex on how he came up with adding Drake the song. "We were talking about what joints we wanted to do," he told the outlet. "When Scoop shot me the track, I immediately came up with the concept of doing that vibe and the first person I had in mind was Drake. Drake killed it and it came out crazy. I think that's going to sit for awhile." The song samples the pop icon who played in the 1993 film Poetic Justice, Janet Jackson. Kendrick uses the legend's 1994 hit single "Any Time, Any Place" for his record. Scoop DeVille, the producer for the original track, told Complex: "That sample flip was a special piece that I was saving for the right artist. I been a fan of what Kendrick has been bringing to the table and it seemed like the right fit and everybody else liked it too. The sample is so crazy so the fact that it was even cleared amazes me." The song is two times certified platinum by the RIAA.
Zacari who is signed to Kendrick's former label TDE joins the rapper on "LOVE." as they test their relationship with their partner. "LOVE." is also an ode to the classic 50 Cent and Nate Dogg collaboration "21 Questions," as Kendrick raps the lines: "If I didn't ride blade on curb, would you still love me?/ If I made up my mind at work would you still love me?" During an interview with Rolling Stone, Kendrick responded to the comment that "LOVE." was the "poppiest" song he's ever done: "We call it ear candy. There's ear candy, and then there's corny. You have to have an incredible ear to recognize it and an incredible team to recognize it, to know the differences. It takes years of experience. Years of making wack s--t [laughs], and knowing what works for you, and also knowing when to step out of your box and try things that feel good and still can remain you."The song is four times certified platinum by the RIAA.
"Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe" is exactly what the title suggests. The music video features Kendrick at a funeral service where rappers Juicy J, Schoolboy Q, and comedian Mike Epps are in attendance. The remix features the G.O.A.T. none other than, Jay-Z . Kendrick spoke to Complex about working with the iconic rapper: "It's one of them things, you know, you live up to and one of them moments to really challenge yourself and say 'OK, that's how I come in. Always looked up to the greats to be a great.' So to actually be on a track with him, it's an accomplishment." The song is four times certified platinum by the RIAA.
"Swimming Pools (Drank)" is the second single from Kendrick's 'good kid, m.A.A.d. city' which was released in 2012. The song is about the rapper facing a potential drinking problem. Kendrick explained to Billboard: "Teenagers don't get it -- we selfish. Go drink, go smoke, go get f---ed up. Why did I do these things? Because I was brought up around it? It d--- sure was in the household. I said, 'I know what happens to my family and certain friends when they get drunk and they smoke. They get out of their minds, they get violent. And that's in my blood.'" "I have little sips on special occasions," Lamar added, "but getting all the way out of my mind may not be a good idea." "Swimming Pools (Drank)" earned a "Best Rap Performance" nomination at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards. The track is four times certified platinum by the RIAA.
Top Dawg labelmates Kendrick Lamar and SZA provided the lead single from 'Black Panther: The Album, Music From And Inspired By' for the film 'Black Panther' starring the late Chadwick Boseman. Kendrick didn't stop there with giving his talents to the Marvel production, it was not the first time an artist spearheaded the soundtrack to a film but it was the first time that Marvel created multiple original recordings specifically for a superhero film. Director Ryan Coogler reached out to Kendrick personally to have him involved in the project. "All The Stars" was nominated for "Record Of The Year," "Song Of The Year," "Best Rap/Sung Performance," and, "Best Song Written For Visual Media," at 61st Annual Grammy Awards. Additionally, the album, 'Black Panther: The Album, Music From And Inspired By' was nominated for "Album Of The Year." The song is two times certified platinum by the RIAA.
In "DNA.," the Compton-bred rapper celebrates his Black heritage and keeps the reoccurring religious theme. "I think now, how wayward things have gone within the past few months, my focus is ultimately going back to my community and the other communities around the world where they're doing the groundwork," the rapper said to The New York Style Magazine. "To Pimp a Butterfly was addressing the problem. I'm in a space now where I'm not addressing the problem anymore. We're in a time where we exclude one major component out of this whole thing called life: God. Nobody speaks on it because it's almost in conflict with what's going on in the world when you talk about politics and government and the system." The song is three times certified platinum by the RIAA.
Kendrick enlists Rihanna on "LOYALTY."; the first time the pair has worked together on a song. Producer Terrance Martin recalled to Fader that Kendrick specifically asking for Rihanna once he heard the beat: "Right there, on my mama, Kendrick said: 'Imma get Rihanna on this.' That day. Right when the drums started, he looked at me saying, 'Aye, I'm gonna get Rihanna on this record.'" "LOYALTY." won "Best Rap/Sung Performance" at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards. Kendrick's 'DAMN.' won "Best Rap Album" and was nominated for Album Of The Year." The song is two times certified platinum by the RIAA.
"Alright" was one of the records from 'To Pimp A Butterfly' that was inspired by Kendrick's time spent in South Africa. "When I got to Africa and saw other people's problems, their struggle was 10 times harder, and was raised crazier than what I was," he recalled to MTV News. "Going out there really inspired - I wrote a lot of records off the album just by visiting South Africa. That was the moment I knew, OK, I could either pimp this situation or fall victim to it. That was a turning point." The song's opening lines ("Alls my life I has to fight, ni—a. Alls my life I...") is in reference to Alice Walker's Pulitizer Prize-winning novel 'The Color Purple.' Oprah Winfrey relays these lines as Celie in the film of the same name. "Alright" won "Best Rap Performance," "Best Rap Song," and 'To Pimp A Butterfly' won "Best Rap Album" at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards. The song is certified platinum by the RIAA.
"HUMBLE." is one of Kendrick's best and most recognizable songs from his Pulitzer Prize-winning album 'DAMN.' Kendrick raps about how his fellow rappers need to be humble and recognize that he is the greatest. Kendrick spoke about the inspiration behind the track to Rolling Stone: "All I could think of was [Marley Marl's] 'The Symphony' and the earliest moments of hip-hop, where it's complex simplicity, but it's also somebody making moves," he said. "That beat feels like my generation, right now. The first thing that came to my head was, 'Be humble.'" "HUMBLE." won "Best Rap Performance," "Best Rap Song," and "Best Music Video" at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards. The song was also nominated for "Record Of The Year." He opened the ceremony by performing "XXX." and "King's Dead." The song peaked at No.1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop. The song is seven times platinum by the RIAA.