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The student news site of Antioch Community High School.

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Top picks Vol. 3: Kendrick Lamar discography ranked

Every officially released project from Kendrick Lamar ranked from good to greatest.
Kendrick+Lamar+circa+2015
Kendrick Lamar circa 2015

Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar has long cemented himself as one of the most important and skillful artists of his generation, slowly building a discography unrivaled by any of his contemporaries. Lamar’s records have been celebrated around the world for both their introspective and often profound messages and their significance towards political and social movements. Despite being notoriously ambiguous, demanding multiple years of patience between each release, when Lamar speaks, the world listens.

 

7. Overly Dedicated (mixtape 2010) 

Overly Dedicated album cover. Genius

Overly Dedicated can be a refreshing call back for many long-term Lamar fans, as the record shy’s away from the gargantuan topics and concepts of later records and opts for a more casual listening experience. The then 23-year-old hints towards his inexplicable pen game to come, but fails to fully embrace it until his 2011 debut album. Despite its largely universal reputation as the weakest link in Lamar’s discography, many listeners would be pleasantly surprised at the level of quality Overly Dedicated offers in regard to the typical hip-hop record, flaunting earworm choruses, acrobatic flows and silky smooth instrumentals; Lamar undoubtedly impresses with his high floor of quality.

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Rating: 8.0/10

Best Song: Ignorance Is Bliss

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6. untitled unmastered (compilation album 2016)

untitled unmastered album cover. Genius

Untitled unmastered has the pleasure of opening with the most uncomfortable 80 seconds in all of Lamar’s discography, leaving listeners utterly confused and downright terrified as to what exactly they clicked into. However, those who soldier through the disagreeable and sleazy opening skit find that they have stricken gold in what is Lamar’s very own “throwaway” album. The jazz-hip-hop fusion that TPAB masters is found to be further expanded upon through eight tracks that didn’t quite make the tracklist for 2015’s masterpiece. While one would expect an obvious drop in quality for such a project, it is alarming how a collection of scrapped concepts prove to be richer in quality and subject than most other rappers’ best records. To this day, it is still a mystery as to how the masterpiece of “untitled 02” didn’t make TPAB’s final cut. Seriously, this record is well worth the listen. 

Rating: 8.6/10

Best Song: untitled 02 | 06.23.2014

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5. Section.80 (2011)

Section.80 album cover. Genius

There is something so infectious about the atmosphere of Lamar’s debut album. Section.80 shows Lamar reaching for ambitious new highs, both sonically and conceptually, as he guides us through the tumultuous lifestyle of his generation—children of the 80s—weaving a loose narrative throughout each track that would establish the blueprint for his conceptual masterpiece following only one year later. The instrumentals are polished, and Lamar’s delivery is refined, delivering a mixture of hard-hitting, aggressive flows and wavy, laid back soulful cuts. In terms of versatility, Section.80 is rivaled by only that of DAMN., offering a handful of tracks for listening in any situation. Despite not reaching the same commercial success that the rest of his discography would go on to achieve, Lamar’s debut record is the beginning of a remarkable and iconic career, well worth going back and listening to in its entirety.

Rating: 8.8/10

Best Song: ADHD

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4. Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers (2022)

Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers album cover. Genius

Lamar’s most recent release is possibly his most polarizing to date, straying away from the previous staples that made his previous records so great, and bringing something new and exciting instead. Mr. Morale sticks out like a sore thumb next to the others, an album that almost feels intrusive to listen to as Lamar pours out all of his internal thoughts onto each track. For the first time in his career, Lamar doesn’t hope to save the world with his music but instead recognizes that he needs to be saved, writing each track as if it is a page torn out of a diary, read aloud out of a necessity to heal rather than the want to entertain. Despite being such a drastic step away from past releases, Lamar proves that his artistry continues to thrive while being so far out of his established “comfort zone.”

Rating: 9.0/10

Best Song: Mother I Sober

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3. DAMN. (2017)

DAMN. album cover. Genius

Weaving a tight-knit concept through a record while still delivering quality tracks that stand on their own is difficult enough; however, it has been something Lamar pulled off multiple times in the past. Weaving two tight-knit concepts through a record though, that’s something entirely unique to DAMN.. Front to back, the album is a story of hope and redemption, as Lamar strays away from a life of fast money, sex and violence, and instead connects to and finds himself within his faith. When played backward, DAMN.’s conceptual genius sprawls out in all of its glory. The story is flipped on its head as it depicts an adolescent’s slow descent into street life until their eventual death in track 1, “BLOOD.” Oh, and also the music is really really good. While it would be hard for most musicians to ever top a project like DAMN., Lamar, of course, flaunts two albums that are even better.

Rating: 9.8/10

Best Song: DNA

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2. good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012)

good kid, m.A.A.d city album cover. Genius

There has never been another album like good kid, m.A.A.d city. From front to back, the project is a visceral, intimate and magnificently executed account of a young Lamar growing up in Compton, California. Lamar’s dedication to detail and storytelling drops the listener into the middle of each scene, visually experiencing the events Lamar raps about as his lyrics paint an inexplicably vivid picture. A drive-by, a police chase, a robbery, the death of a friend, the acceptance of religion—every moment comes to life, instilling emotions of panic, rage and sorrow. To tie the ribbon upon what is arguably one of the best hip-hop albums ever made is arguably one of the best hip-hop songs ever made. No, one of the best songs ever made; Lamar’s 12-minute epic, “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” highlights the most important moments in good kid, m.A.A.d city’s narrative, Lamar battling with the concepts of mortality and the meaning of life while observing those close to him falling victim to his hometown. Only Lamar could do himself one better.

Rating: 10/10

Best Song: Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst

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1. To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)

To Pimp A Butterfly album cover. Genius

To Pimp A Butterfly is quite possibly the culmination of everything there is to love about hip-hop—the genre’s quintessential album. It’s provocative, political, powerful, purposeful and poetic; it’s perfect. Lamar is at the very top of his game on each track; the flows and rhyme schemes are mind-bending and unpredictable; the jazz instrumentation swirls to life and flows with a rich cohesion; the concepts and themes are so conceptually rich that hours upon hours of digging into the material would still leave one scratching the surface. While reaching far and wide with his intent and messages on the record, Lamar still manages to retreat inwards and explore complex, intra-personal themes as well. A poem expanded upon after a number of tracks on the album follow the record’s particular and intricate narrative, Lamar speaking both outwards and inward as the recited words sprawl out into a tale of reflection and discovery. It isn’t until the last track, “Mortal Man,” that the entirety of To Pimp A Butterfly’s overarching message is revealed in the form of the finished poem. The record’s grandiosity is truly a marvel of the craft.

Rating: 10/10

Best Song: u

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About the Contributor
Brett Brose, Tom Tom Staff
Brett Brose is a senior that has been on staff for three years. He enjoys reading, listening to and playing music in his free time. He spends most of his money on records, books and coffee. Brose especially loves to write about music, as well as work on creative writing projects of his own.
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