April 7th is steady approaching, and hip-hop fans are still mentally preparing themselves for the fiasco it may very well turn out to be. With the release of his single “The Heart Part 4”, acclaimed hip-hop artist, Kendrick Lamar, announced what seems to be the release date of his 4th album. In honor of this presumed release date, we writers here at Dead End Hip-Hop decided to get together and reminisce on some of our favorite Kendrick projects, and why we held them so near and dear to our hearts. Check out our thoughts below.
Jake Milgate: My all-time favorite Kendrick Lamar project has to be Section.80. As a whole, the album is excellent, in my opinion, from front to back. It’s a great mixture of different sounds, while at the same time, sounds very cohesive. There’s a constant theme throughout the project (80’s generation of kids, vices, crack epidemic, etc.), and Kendrick strengthens this by using the stories of Keisha and Tammy. “ADHD” is arguably my favorite hip-hop song of all time. With a beautiful, nocturnal beat along with the lyrics discussing the many vices of his generation, it makes for an excellent song.
I would also consider untitled unmastered to be a personal favorite of mine. Although it’s simply B-sides from To Pimp a Butterfly, the project comes off as an experience, rather than a concept or story. The way it begins with the ominous bass-line from “untitled 01” will forever be one of my favorite intros to a project. “untitled 02” is easily one of my favorite Kendrick songs along with “ADHD”. Kendrick’s perspective of hip-hop and his current state are clear, and are further enforced with an eerie, bass-booming beat by Cardo. Each song is a representation of several ideas and concepts covered on To Pimp a Butterfly, which is why, to me, untitled unmastered is much more than just a B-side project.
While Section.80 is my FAVORITE Kendrick project, I don’t necessarily think that it’s his BEST project. That title, I believe, has to go to To Pimp a Butterfly, which I think is a modern day hip-hop masterpiece.
Paul Dickerson: I agree with my colleague Jake here that To Pimp a Butterfly has got to be Kendrick’s magnum opus, but it is also not my favorite Kendrick album. That title goes to good kid, m.A.A.d city (GKMC). I remember it coming out my freshman year of college and my mind just being blown at rap that could be so good. GKMC is more than an amazing concept album–it’s essentially a coming-of-age movie. Kendrick tells such a complete empathetic story in a way that no one in hip hop or maybe music in general ever has. And I just can’t stop thinking about all of the perfect moments on this album that made it one of the greatest hip hop albums of my generation. Songs like “The Art of Peer Pressure” and “Swimming Pools (Drank)” are genius looks at the human condition. “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” and “Backseat Freestyle” are bangers to end all bangers. Think about the chaos and geniune fear Kendrick expresses on “m.A.A.d city” and then compare it to the heartbreaking, haunting epic “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst”. And how about Jay Rock’s unbelievable verse on “Money Trees”? Even the skits don’t annoy me! Easily in my top five favorite hip hop albums of all-time. To Pimp a Butterfly is close behind though. Section.80 is probably top 20-25 ever.
Terrence Sage: To Pimp a Butterfly might have been the album that brought together and put on a united front for Kendrick fans and aligned everything under one banner but it’s not as hard hitting as good kid, m.A.A.d city, my personal favorite. I forget when exactly I got the album heavy into what I was listening to on a daily basis, but it stuck with me. From the grim introduction, “Sherane aka Master Splinter’s Daughter” that clearly lays out the story from beginning to voice mail, the album captures highs and lows of an ill-fated night masterfully. He just takes you on the ride with himself and the homies that puts you right in the action with him. You get the hits with calm and sensual Poetic Justice and the exhilarating feeling of rapping all the verses of “m.A.A.d city” while you play it in the car. GKMC is just a work of slamming realistic of a kid from Compton and things changed and stayed the same. The songs and story on this album make it a complete package. “Swimming Pools”, “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst”, and “Real” are a trilogy of songs that embody what I loved about the album. I was put into someone else’s shoes and felt what he was trying to get at. The pain, hurt, and coming to terms with death. I can relate to that testament. I have Section.80 in league with GKMC with how they cover topics and how Kendrick conveys heavy material and is able to make you sit and think about what’s happening over a beat. Hail the good kid from the m.A.A.d city. It’s King Kendrick Season.
I.S. Jones: Similar to my colleagues, I too thought To Pimp a Butterfly would have been my favorite Kendrick album, for its sonically rich & funky instrumentals, as noted in favorite tracks such as “Institutionalized”. Even as a poem to the late rap legend Tupac, I truly thought that this would be my favorite album of Kendrick, but in the end it was good kid, m.A.A.d city.
Before the release date of GKMC, I had all but given up on mainstream hip-hop and any hope of originality…then a 5 foot, something miracle happened. GKMC was a concept album, complimented with connecting skits and samples from pivotal figures such as the late Maya Angelou. It follows the story of a young Kendrick borrowing his mom’s van to engage in sex with a young woman named Sherane. Through a non-linear narrative, and the assistance of well-placed interludes, the song’s content addresses retributive gang violence, economic disparity, unfortunate women, and even some humor is sprinkled with his father smoking weed and going on about his “motherfuckin’ Dominos”.
Some of my favorite tracks on the album are “The Art of Peer Pressure”, “Poetic Justice”, “m.A.A.d city”, and “Swimming Pools”. I found the bonus track “The Recipe” to be one of the most innovative tracks for its heavily, yet clever, sampling of “Meet the Frownies” by Twin Sister. Maya Angelou recording at the end of “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst” already added to such a sobering track. “Why are you young men so angry?” she demands in the only way an older black woman can. I felt that deeply as someone who is angry often. Angry seeing Black men gunned down in the street. Angry seeing black women disrespected and exploited by mainstream media. Angry at white feminism. Angry at everything that wishes to see my people fail. While she may not address me, I find myself in these words “Why are you so angry?”. Kendrick on this album is a reflective person as much as he is spiritual, hence the ‘m.A.A.d’ part of the project’s title is both “My Angry Adolescence Divided” and “My Angels on Angel Dust”.
The conclusion of the album is very satisfying as the young Kendrick promises he’ll be back with the van in 15 minutes. While To Pimp a Butterfly is undoubtedly a masterpiece and will be the center of discussion of literary discussions of hip-hop generations to come, GKMC is a more lighter, easier project to bump, to laugh to, to lose it with, and to meditate over in solitude.