- Keisha’s Song (Her Vice) – Ashtro Bot provides a catchy hook for this Kendrick classic, which features the lyricism, meaning, and vivid narration that has made Lamar such a lauded artist. Lamar seems uncannily able to tell the stories of society’s castaways, and “Keisha’s Song” is perhaps the most poignant example of that.
- Rigamortus – Unrelenting bars, a straightforward beat, and braggadocio are markers of Lamar’s latest single, “HUMBLE.” but also mark “Rigamortus” as one of the most underrated tracks on Lamar’s first album, Section 80. Lamar finishes the track with a full forty-five second-long verse that he spits in one breath.
- Swimming Pools – One of Lamar’s breakout hits, “Swimming Pools” is worthy of revisiting because of its unexpectedly magnetic hook, Lamar’s ice cold delivery, and how it masks the spiral of addiction and dependence in a party banger. This dissonance makes the story all the more real, and truly evokes the soaring highs that precede addiction’s lows.
- Money Trees – Good Kid, M.a.a.d City in a single track, “Money Trees” sums up the ambitions, vices, and daily lives of the young people Lamar grew up with, and gives audiences an insight into a human experience that many of us have never come close to. From rapping in a friend’s back seat to musing about street violence, “Money Trees” is insightful and fascinating, and features an exceptional verse from fellow TDE member, Jay Rock.
- King Kunta – Playing off of the racist stereotype of Kunta Kinte, Lamar brings a funk-inspired beat and unforgettable hook to this anthem, touching on black power, self-love, and the undeniable power of funk to create an instant classic.
- u – Opening with screams, “u” is one of Lamar’s most moving songs, delving into depression and suicide with raw honesty and realism. The song is chaotic and confusing, much like the mess of emotions that depression conjures, and Lamar brings his unparalleled narrative skill to this oft-forgotten topic. The Whoarei beat sample and Lamar’s tone match perfectly, and show the Compton-bred rapper at his finest.
- i – The more than five-minute album version of “i” is an absolute self-love romp, reviving live jazz rap and conjuring the community that it created. The instrumentals are huge fun, and are followed by a thought-provoking acapella verse that delves into rap terminology and explains “negus,” an Ethiopian term for king, which has been adopted by Lamar as a form of empowerment and reconnection with his roots.
- The Blacker the Berry – An unapologetic black anthem, “The Blacker the Berry” deconstructs the contradictions that riddle American racism against African Americans. “I’m the biggest hypocrite of 2015” Lamar asserts, as he assumes the stereotypes imposed on black men such as himself, and points out how these contradictions are established by the very system that uses them as justification to subjugate black people. “I know you hate me, don’t you/You hate my people I can tell,” he spits, encompassing the frustration that was brought to light around the murders of Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin.
- Untitled 05 | 09.21.2014 – Overwhelmingly urgent, “Untitled 05” is an experimental rap conversation over a rich jazz background. Saxophones, trumpets, and drums support Lamar’s vivid description of life as a gang member. In the midst of casing a house, Lamar describes seeing his target hug his child, overwhelming Lamar and making him call off his planned robbery. A chaotic and forceful track, “Untitled 05” rewards multiple listens.
- Control – A legendary seven and a half minutes, “Control” features standout verses from Jay Electronica, Kendrick Lamar, and Big Sean—who technically owns the song. However, Lamar’s infamous verse is now part of rap legend, asserting his place as the king of both the East and West coast (a formerly unbridgeable divide), and calling out by name a dozen of his competitors (including both of the other rappers on the track). “What is competition? I’m trying to raise the bar high” Lamar asks. In 2013, his dominance in the game was still in question, and he was widely shunned for his arrogance. In 2017, and on the cusp of his fourth studio album, his verse is nothing but self-aware.
The Weekly List: Best of Kendrick
April 3, 2017