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The Lake Park Perspective

The Lake Park Perspective

TOP 5: Ranking the Discography of Kendrick Lamar

I’ve written one album review for this paper before, and that has single-handedly given me the authority to give the objective, authoritative ranking of the arguably best rapper in the industry’s discography.
Kendrick Lamar has never released a bad album. That isn’t an opinion; it is a fact. Every time he releases a new project the world stops and listens. He’s a generational talent, not only in rapping, but especially in writing. It’s rare for an artist to so carefully and thoughtfully craft a story in a way that is sonically pleasing, and to make it into a skipless album. Kendrick has done it multiple times, and has cemented his spot on the Mount Rushmore, not only of rap and hip-hop, but of music as a whole.
Kendrick has released five studio albums, and today we’ll be going through them individually, in order from five to one, five being the worst and one being the best. This ranking only includes his solo studio albums, so Overly Dedicated, Untitled Unmastered, and The Black Panther Soundtrack do not qualify, but Section.80 does. So without further delay, let’s get into what will probably be the most controversial piece this paper will ever publish.

#5: DAMN., released April, 2016

One of them had to be the “worst.” It’s important to note DAMN. is an amazing album. It’s political, it’s powerful, but it’s fun. It even won a Pulitzer Prize for music, the first time a Rap/Hip-Hop album has ever done so. It’s arguably Kendrick’s most fun album. Tracks like HUMBLE., GOD., LOYALTY., ELEMENT., LOVE., are super upbeat and uptempo. They have deeper messages than what’s on the surface, but these tracks appeal to the mainstream trap and drill crowd. The songs are catchy, and easy to follow along with. You can jam to these songs while driving and not be judged. They’re all great.
This album is also not short of the signature conscious and politically charged story driven style K. Dot is most renowned for. FEEL., FEAR., and PRIDE. are slower, emotional tracks that give the listeners a further peek into Kendrick’s personal life and childhood. It also has the extremely gritty darker tone that the Compton MC taps into on occasion on the songs DNA., XXX., and DUCKWORTH., where he expresses his distaste for criticisms thrown against his music by the media and tells the story of his father, Kenny Duckworth. XXX. specifically is one of the most politically charged songs Kendrick has released, where not only did he call out critics, he also lamented the violence of American society and the government as a whole. He called out problems within the Black community, gun control, name dropped Donald Trump and Barack Obama, and asked the listener many thought provoking rhetorical questions. He paints extremely vivid pictures with his lyrics.
That’s why it’s a shame that this album has the dubious honor of being my least favorite, but it’s only because everything else is better. I guess one way I can justify putting this last is that it has arguably Kung Fu Kenny’s second worst song, GOD., which to me is a fun track that’s not to be taken too seriously, but compared to everything else he’s released it’s definitely weak. To give it a little more credit, some have said the track is meant to mock Drake’s style, as the two rappers have been subtly feuding for almost a decade at this point. All in all DAMN. is a 10/10 album in terms of music generally, but for a Kendrick project it’s an 8/10.

#4: Section 80, released July 2011

This album and the Overly Dedicated mixtape are what is defined as the K. Dot era. This album was Kendrick’s first and at this time he was under the independent Top Dawg Entertainment record label. This album is nothing short of incredible for a freshman artist, and looking back on it I have massive nostalgia for the tracks on this record. Kendrick makes a splash as the latest big name rapper from Compton, California, and in the midst of the Obama era he makes his voice known loud and clear. He goes into depth on many sociological subjects on songs like Your Ethnicity, and Ronald Reagan Era (His Evils).
This album also gives listeners a first glimpse at Lamar’s story telling abilities. Keisha’s Song (Her Pain) is a powerful, disturbing story about a woman living life as a prostitute, and the motivations behind her choices. It also tells us the harsh and dark reality of life as a woman on the margins in communities plagued by violence. The song is beautifully done, and deserves all the praise it has gotten.
The most nostalgic song is the third track of the album. A.D.H.D. was the first Kendrick Lamar song I ever heard, and I immediately fell in love with it. It’s hypnotic and soothing. It’s memorable, and it’s also incredibly lyrically profound. This album also shows us some of Kendrick’s technical skill, like on the track Rigamortus, which sees the MC speed up his flow and rap at a faster pace than usual. This album is an amazing debut, and is a classic, especially for our generation and younger millennials, but compared to the rest of Kendrick’s discography, it’s simply not as amazing. They can’t all be number one, and its more conscious style and cohesive story told throughout the album puts it slightly above DAMN.

#3: To Pimp a Butterfly, released March 2015

This is where this ranking really becomes controversial, but I’ll stand by my belief that TPaB is a little overhyped. Don’t get me wrong; I love this album. It has everything you want from a conscious Kendrick Lamar project. It’s political, it tackles social problems, it’s got amazing themes, an overarching story. The rapping is incredible, the features all fit in and add to the songs they are on. This album has received all the praise it deserves and then some. It’s been lauded as the best rap album of all time by many, and has been called Kendrick’s best by many more.
I just don’t feel that way for a few reasons. The main one is that this album doesn’t have a lot of songs that you can just listen to without the full context of the album. Out of the full 16 song tracklist there are only 3 songs that I regularly listen to when I’m not having a TPaB listening session: King Kunta, Alright, and I (notice these are the more “happy” tracks on the project). So the replayability isn’t as high as it is with other projects.
Another thing that contributes to the lack of replayability is that this album is a downer. It’s objectively sad at times. Mortal Man and U are gut wrenching and bleak. They’re works of art for sure, but they need specific circumstances for me to be in the mood to enjoy them and resonate with them, and those circumstances don’t include being in an amazing, cheerful mood. This album from an artistic and musical standpoint is objectively better than DAMN and Section.80, and that’s why it ranks above them, but I can’t in good conscience put it at number one like everyone else does, when I truly believe the two above it are better. To give this album legit praise, I think that this album helped spark a social movement and was exactly what Kendrick needed to say at the end of the Obama era. The jazz and blues samples from this album also make it nostalgic for an older audience, and incredibly timeless for generations to come.

#2: Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City, released October 2011

This album being put in the second slot will no doubt have people messaging me telling me this ranking is trash, but before anyone does that, hear me out.
First off, I have absolutely nothing bad to say about GKMC. Kendrick took a huge risk with his Interscope Records debut and it paid off. This album cemented K. Dot in hip-hop/rap history. If he never released anything again after this he still would’ve been regarded as one of the greatest to do it, and this album would still be regarded as an all-time classic and an amazing work of art. The storytelling and the flows keep this album in every rap fan’s regular rotation. The replayability of several songs throughout the project keep it relevant as well. The melodic Don’t Kill My Vibe, the hard hitting m.A.A.d City and Backseat Freestyle,” along with the catchy Swimming Pools and Money Trees. This album has thought provoking philosophical tracks, it has club bangers, it has head-boppers, and it has tear jerkers. It’s versatile, and it’s beautiful.
There’s a reason that on the album cover it says “A short film by Kendrick Lamar.” This album is a film but with words. While listening to it you feel like you’ve been transported to Compton and you’re riding around in Kendrick’s mom’s minivan with him and his friends. It’s that vivid. It also contains Kendrick’s signature conscious style and messaging, but it’s more ingrained within the music and subtle than in TPaB, which is a key reason why I rank it higher. It would be wrong for me to not note that Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst continues the story of the previously mentioned Keisha’s Song, and to me is the best storytelling rap song of all time, even beating Eminem’s Stan. It’s depressing, yet beautiful and moving. If you’re new to rap music, want to see it at its peak, and get a taste of how versatile the genre is, listen to Good Kid, m.A.A.d city.” You won’t regret it.

#1: Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers, released May 2022

That’s right. I put Kendrick Lamar’s most recent album as his best. Sue me.
Mr. Morale is a journey. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions. In one word, it’s brilliant. I remember waiting for this album to come out, and I remember listening to it right on release. I won’t lie; the first couple times I listened to it I was a little underwhelmed. I liked the album and thought it was good, and knew that it definitely had some messaging and themes that went over my head, but I didn’t love it like I had his previous projects. But then I relistened to it a couple more times, and watched his performances of Father Time, Rich Spirit, and N95 on Saturday Night Live and it clicked for me. This album is exactly why Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper of all time. There’s so much depth to cover within this project that it’s hard to do it justice within this column.
What I can say is that this is Kendrick’s most mature and reflective body of work. It’s his most well rounded. We hear his political side on Savior, his religious side on Purple Hearts, and his brutal, provocative story telling on We Cry Together.
But this album also takes us through Kendrick’s entire life story. Father Time, which features the angelic voice of fellow artist, Sampha, details Kendrick’s relationship with his father, the pressure he felt living up to his expectations, and their emotional distance. It’s an all too relatable story for many, but it’s never been told so personally from a male perspective in this public kind of way.
This album also addresses modern societal issues, especially on the track Auntie Diaries which details Kendrick’s own aunt’s transition from female to male and the complex emotions and feelings he and his family experienced.
This album is also not short of concert and festival bangers. N95 is an energetic fast-paced track that is loud and in your face, and rocked crowds on tour, notably at Lollapalooza.
This album also features an overarching story and theme like most Kendrick projects before it. The story on this album centers around therapy sessions, and Kendrick’s need to vent and rant, despite him feeling like he has nothing to say.
The album takes us through many therapy sessions, the most notable being on the song Count Me Out, which is labeled as “Session ten: breakthrough.” The first verse of this song to me is pure poetry. It’s one of the most beautiful things Kendrick has written.
At the beginning it centers around Kendrick reflecting on his career, and how he’s gotten to the top. Through the uncertainty he’s faced throughout his life, one thing is sure: Kendrick performs best when people doubt him.
Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is the perfect Kendrick album, and that’s why I have it ranked as his best. It’s his most mature and reflective, and it has everything you want, an overarching story, songs to cry to such as Mother I Sober, songs to vibe with like Rich Spirit and Die Hard, and songs to get hype to, like N95 and Count Me Out.
Kendrick has proven time and time again why he’s regarded as the best rapper of all time, and this album ends the debate, and firmly places the crown on his head.

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Jack Fitzpatrick
Jack Fitzpatrick, Senior Staff
LP '24
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    Andy GonzalezFeb 6, 2024 at 7:30 pm

    Another great work from Jack Fitzgerald!