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Music / Kendrick Lamar

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"I'm no mortal man; maybe I'm just another nigga."
"Mortal Man"

Kendrick Lamar (full name Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, born June 17, 1987) is an American rapper and songwriter born and raised in Compton, California. Known for his progressive musical influences and socially conscious, story-driven lyrics, he is regarded by many fans and publications as one of the greatest rappers of his generation if not of all time.

Kendrick released his first mixtape at the tender age of sixteen. Having signed to Top Dawg Entertainment, he continued to pump out acclaimed mixtapes and finally released his debut album in 2011, titled Section.80. The album won him great critical acclaim and revealed to the public the great potential the young MC had, including Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, who crowned him the "New King of the West Coast" at a concert.

With this recognition, Kendrick signed to both Interscope and Aftermath and in 2012 released his second full-length album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, an album about his teenage years and experiences with drugs, alcohol and gang violence. It was highly regarded as one of the best albums of the year, which led to mass controversy when it lost all of its Grammy Award nominations. Most of the outcry came from its loss of Best Rap Album to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' The Heist, considered one of the greatest snubs in modern Grammys history, which was an opinion echoed even by Macklemore.

In August of 2013, Kendrick featured on the Big Sean song "Control". His verse, in which he managed to call out the entirety of the rap game's current artists while simultaneously claiming that he is the best in the game and urging the others to catch up, was widely considered to be the year's best display of raw lyricism. Kendrick's verse became so popular that some are surprised to learn that there are two other artists on the song. That verse can be heard here.

On March 15, 2015, Kendrick's third full-length album, To Pimp a Butterfly, was unexpectedly releasednote  to widespread critical acclaim. Similarly to GKMC, the album saw controversial loss at the Grammys, losing Album of the Year to Taylor Swift's 1989, although it did win a number of other awards. A compilation of demos that were created during the production of TPAB was eventually released in March 2016 under the name untitled unmastered.

Kendrick began hinting towards a fourth album in late March of 2017, with the release of promotional single "The Heart Part IV" signaling an upcoming return and notably ending with the line, "Y'all got 'til April the 7th to get your shit together."note  Following the release of lead single "HUMBLE.", the album, titled DAMN., was released on April 14 to widespread critical acclaim, becoming the best-selling rap album of the year with 600,000 units sold. On April 17, 2018, DAMN. also became the first non-classical or jazz album to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Following the release of the album, Kendrick took a five-year hiatus from music, reportedly partially caused by a two-year period of writer's block while also giving him time to executive produce the soundtrack for Black Panther (2018), become a father of two children with his longtime partner Whitney Alford, and found the entertainment company pgLang with creative partner Dave Free. He announced work on a new album, his last under Top Dawg Entertainment and first under pgLang, in August 2021. The album, titled Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, was released on May 12, 2022.


  • Y.H.N.I.C. (Hub City Threat: Minor of the Year) (mixtape; 2005)
  • No Sleep 'Til NYC (mixtape; 2007)
  • C4 (mixtape; 2009)
  • The Kendrick Lamar EP (EP; 2009)
  • Overly Dedicated (mixtape; 2010)
  • Section.80 (2011)
  • good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012)
  • To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)
  • untitled unmastered. (compilation; 2016)
  • DAMN. (2017)
  • Black Panther: The Album (2018)note 
  • Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers (2022)

good kid, m.A.A.d tropes:

  • all lowercase letters: untitled unmastered.
  • Angel Unaware: The old beggar Kendrick insults in "How Much a Dollar Cost" reveals at the end of the song that He is the son of Jehovah, the Holy Spirit, the higher power, or most simply, God. Kendrick's greed and lack of humility has cost him his spot in Heaven, all for a single dollar.
  • Arc Number: The three verses of "FEAR." center around the number 7 by illustrating Kendrick's fears at the age of 7, 17, and 27 (respectively, being beaten by his mother, dying a premature, unfulfilled death, and losing all that he had built in his career thus far).
  • Arc Words:
    • Every song from "King Kunta" onwards on To Pimp a Butterfly ends with an expanding monologue that begins with "I remember you was conflicted, misusing your influence."
    • "Ain't nobody prayin' for me" is a recurring phrase on DAMN., appearing in some form on "ELEMENT.", "FEEL.", the album version of "HUMBLE.", and "FEAR." It ended up getting its own song on Black Panther: The Album in the form of "Pray For Me", which doubles as a tragic Villain Song.
  • Anachronic Order: The narrative of good kid, m.A.A.d city jumps back and forth between Kendrick getting jumped on his way to meet Sherane, hanging out with his friends, and voicemails from his parents. The story ultimately begins at the end of the second track, when K.Dot (Kendrick's younger self) is invited to come along with some friends.
  • As the Good Book Says...: The old man in "How Much a Dollar Cost" cites Exodus 14 to remind Kendrick about the value of humility. In addition to foreshadowing that the old man is God, mentioning Exodus 14 implicitly compares Kendrick to the opulent Pharaoh, who was killed in an action of divine justice.
  • Boastful Rap: "HUMBLE.", a deliberately irony-filled song over an uncharacteristic trap beat where Kendrick elevates himself while telling others to sit down and be humble. It has been analyzed by some as a quasi-parody of the trope's popularity in trap music.
  • Book Ends:
    • Due to good kid, m.A.A.d city's Anachronic Order, "Compton" functions both as the opening and ending credits to the narrative.
      • A variant of the Sinner's Prayer opens the album proper, and is heard again with context before the penultimate song.
      • "Backseat Freestyle" begins and ends with the same break.
    • The first and final line of DAMN. spoken by Kendrick is "So, I was taking a walk the other day." We hear it first in the opening track "BLOOD." and then again in "DUCKWORTH.", after the song ends with several sounds from previous songs on the album being played in reverse as if the whole album is being reversed back to the very start.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Happens three times on good kid: once when he refers to producer Hit-Boynote  on "Backseat Freestyle", another when Keisha's sister refers to Section.80note  on "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst," and lastly when Just Blazenote  inserts his name into "Compton," the one song on the album he produced.
  • Call-Back: The video for "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe" stops mid-song at one point and Kendrick is shown being baptized in a swimming pool full of liquor. This is an obvious reference to "Swimming Pools (Drank)."
  • Caps Lock: Every single song title on the album DAMN.
  • Casting Gag: A rather audacious example with Florida rapper Kodak Black (Dieuson Octave), who is a recurring feature throughout Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. Prior to the album's release, Kodak had been caught up in very public scandals and legal troubles (from rape accusations to jail time from multiple firearm-related crimes), even amidst the commercial success and critical favor in his music career. His inclusion is meant to help illustrate the point by Kendrick that he is an imperfect man guilty of his own crimes not too dissimilar to Kodak as people would like to believe, tying into Kendrick's exhaustion of being hailed as a flawless savior expected to save the world.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Used to tragic effect in "We Cry Together", which is framed as an intense and uncomfortably personal argument, with all the unfettered profanity and sheer hatred that entails.
  • Coming of Age Story: good kid, m.A.A.d city's plot seems to be a version of this.
  • Concept Album:
    • good kid, m.A.A.d city is a somewhat fictionalized account of Kendrick's teenage years in Compton. After a night of robbery and drugs with friends, K.Dot (young Kendrick) heads to Sherane's house for sex. Upon arrival, two gangbangers outside her house beat K.Dot up as his gang affiliation (or lack thereof) is not welcome. K.Dot's friends get word of what happened and decide to involve these two gang members in a drive-by shooting. This goes awry as K.Dot's friend Dave is shot and killed in the process. K.Dot reassess his life, allowing him to become the Kendrick Lamar we know today.
    • To Pimp A Butterfly is also a concept album, following Kendrick after he becomes successful and starts dealing with depression, institutional racial inequality, and the various facets of black culture in America.
  • Darkest Hour: "u" is this for To Pimp a Butterfly, as it's a song that deals with depression and aggressive self-hatred.
  • Deconstruction: Ultimately, GKMC is one for Gangsta Rap and the more unhealthy aspects of today's rap. There's nothing glamorous about the thug lifestyle, instead coming off as bloody and pathetic. Partying and excessive drinking is ultimately destructive and hollow. Even sex, represented through K.Dot hooking up with Sherane, leads to an STD and some very poor choices in the name of getting laid. K.Dot eventually is set straight but at a very high price.
    • DAMN. can also be a deconstruction of the modern rap and pop scene with songs like "GOD." and "DNA." being deconstructions of the pop-rap and trap genres respectively.
    • Arguably Kendrick himself. He comes off as a typical rapper you'd see on the radio/music videos and using the same tropes as they do (complete with money show offs) but his lyricism in regards to the current era of rap music and more of the struggle of a normal person living life (as seen through DAMN.) adds more depth to his content and character.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The album cover of To Pimp a Butterfly, and from that album, the music video for "Alright".
  • Digital Head Swap: The music video for "The Heart Part 5" features Kendrick using deepfake software to replace his face with those of O. J. Simpson, Kanye West, Jussie Smollett, Will Smith, Kobe Bryant, and Nipsey Hussle in that order, corresponding with the lyrics that reflect on each man's experiences.
  • Distinct Double Album: Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers broadly covers Kendrick's journey through his various traumas and personal grievances that pass by in his mind, split across two nine-track sections. The first half (The Big Steppers) is the more openly volatile of the two, depicting his thoughts in a more destructive, toxic way, but the second half (Mr. Morale) is much more guided by his desire to overcome and heal from his demons in the name of peace. Structurally, both playlists are directly meant to mirror each other and reflect on each other's general themes in their respectively cynical or idealistic way — for one example, "United in Grief" starts the double album on a rumination on processing grief through unhealthy external means, while "Mirror" ends on looking inward and making the tough decisions in the name of moving on. In a way, the structure carries the frontwards/backwards Duality Motif of DAMN., but actually processed as a two-part album.
  • Divinely Appearing Demons: The "God is Gangsta" video doesn't depict Lucy's temptation of Kendrick as overtly lustful and demonic, but rather with a group of ethereal women so covered in light that they almost look like angels. Despite being nude, the women are hardly sexualized, making it easy to mistake Lucy's empty promises of happiness for the real thing.
  • Doing It for the Art:
    • invoked Explicitly spelled out in "King Kunta":
      Something's in the water
      And if I gotta brown-nose for some gold
      Then I'd rather be a bum than a motherfuckin' baller
    • In an interview, he stated that he could've easily made an album full of hits with Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, but he felt compelled to speak as honestly as possible instead.
  • Duality Motif:
    • Explored in various forms throughout DAMN., up to and including the album having an alternate storyline when played in reverse.
    • Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers has a more straightforward execution of the idea, being a double album whose playlists directly reflect each others' themes of processing grief, familial conflict, celebrity culture, etc., with one half addressing it in a dark, cynical way, and the other half in a more constructive, affirmative light.
  • Electronic Speech Impediment: Emulated in the chorus of "Cartoons and Cereal".
  • Epic Rocking:
    • Several of the songs on good kid, the most obvious being "Money Trees" (6:26), "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst" (12:03) and "Real" (7:23).
    • To Pimp a Butterfly gives us the 12:07 album closer "Mortal Man". Worth noting, though, that both "Mortal Man" and "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst" feature multiple minutes of spoken word.
    • DAMN. gives us the 7-minute-long FEAR., a song about Kendrick's fears during different stages of his life. Just like "Mortal Man" and "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst", it ends in a spoken word portion by Kendrick's cousin Carl.
  • Expecting Someone Taller: He's 5'5".
  • Foreshadowing: Kendrick's mom tells him to stay away from Sherane.
  • Fake-Out Fade-Out: His "Black Friday" freestyle contains one about 30 seconds before the end, as well as a fake second one at the actual end, where Kendrick starts going into another line, stops himself, and says "No, I'm just fuckin' with ya".
  • Freestyle Version: He freestyled over Kanye West's "Monster" in 2010 and created a brilliant Villain Song out of it.
  • Fun with Acronyms:
    • A working title for To Pimp A Butterfly was To Pimp A Caterpillar, because if you change "to" into "2", then initialize the rest, you get 2PAC.
    • The "m.A.A.d." in good kid, m.A.A.d. city has a double meaning; it means both "my angry adolescence divided" and "my angels on angel dust".
    • "DNA" from DAMN. stands for "Dead Nigga Association".
  • Gamebooks: When it comes to DAMN. one can play the tracklisting forwards, to show Kendrick's narrator's ascent into discovering self-love and self-worth during a life of hardship; playing it in reverse (as seen on the COLLECTORS EDITION) follows the narrator's descent into fear and loathing that ultimately ends in his death as another statistic.
  • Gangsta Rap: good kid, m.A.A.d. city is Type 1 of an extremely disillusioned nature, even compared to other albums with a similar introspective style.
  • Genre Throwback: The video for "King Kunta", to classic West Coast hip-hop videos, right down to the aspect ratio.
  • Gratuitous Spanish: On his feature verse on Schoolboy Q's "Collard Greens", he starts out in English, then transitions seamlessly into Spanish.
  • How We Got Here: "Sherane, a.k.a Master Splinter's Daughter" to the skit after "Poetic Justice" on good kid, m.A.A.d city.
  • Humble Hero: Kendrick himself is this in real life for many people: He focuses a lot on returning love and care to his hometown of Compton and has said he'd never lose sight of where he came from and what he represents to the West Coast. He also believes this with regards to his family. He provides for them but doesn’t want them to get spoiled. When his sister Kayla graduated from high school, he bought her a very sensible Toyota Camry rather than a flashy car. Kayla defended him on social media and said that she’s glad he’s still got a good head on his shoulders.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • "HUMBLE." has a chorus that says "Bitch, be humble" while the rest of the song is a Boastful Rap.
    • During an interlude in the "Backstreet Freestyle" video, Kendrick's father complains about how his son constantly going on about "that Compton shit", and compares it to the street life in Chicago. He says this as he's wearing a black Compton hat, which his wife lampshades.
  • If It Bleeds, It Leads: now crawl your head in that noose, you'll wind up dead on the news
  • Kubrick Stare: The cover art for DAMN. shows Kendrick himself doing one of these.
  • Jump Scare: A minor one near the end of "BLOOD.", as Kendrick tells a story of him helping a blind woman on the sidewalk.
    Kendrick: "Hello, ma'am, can I be of any assistance? It seems to me that you have lost something. I would like to help you find it." She replied: "Oh yes, you have lost something. You've lost... your life.'" [gunshot]
  • Leitmotif: Sherane has one, a pitched-up vocal melody that appears in her titular song and "Poetic Justice."
  • Letting the Air out of the Band: "Poetic Justice" ends like this, just before the skit where Kendrick gets jumped upon arriving to Sherane's house.
  • Listing Cities: In "Recipe". Rap Genius points out that all of the locations mentioned are important to the history of hip hop.
    You might catch me in Atlanta looking like a boss
    New Orleans and then Miami, party in New York
    Texas I be screwed up, Chi-town I be really pimping
    But nothing like my hometown I'm forever living
  • Love Hurts: "Opposites Attract" implies this, and that's not even getting into the crap he went through with Sherane in GKMC.
  • Love Martyr: Kendrick unusually applies this philosophy in "The Heart Part 5" not to a person, but his whole audience. The song is Kendrick breaking down the major problems surrounding "the culture" that he's a part of as a symbol of worship, assessing that the modern world is toxic, exploitative, and ready to turn celebrities into pariahs at the flick of a switch, but still genuinely yearning for its love in the hopes that whatever impact he brings to it will be for the better.
    I want, I want, I want, I want
    (But I want you to want me, too...)
    I want the hood...
    Look what I done for you...
    Look what I done for you...
  • Madness Mantra: In "u", the hook consists of the phrase "loving you is complicated" ten times with huge jumps in volume and pitch to heighten how unstable Kendrick's self-hatred is making him, culminating in a bridge where he can't even finish the phrase "loving you."
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: He's one of six kids and one of almost 80 first cousins on his mom's side of the family.
  • Messianic Archetype: A subtle and, of course, humble example. Kendrick himself said he feels he's spiritually inspired by God himself with his music, and also credits Him as the reason he was able to survive the violence of Compton during the '90s. In fact, religion is a reoccurring theme throughout his music.
    • This is deconstructed in Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers. While Kendrick himself understands the idea of him being viewed as a "savior" to some, in regards to the music scene as well as to those struggling, he himself is a human being and can't always save everyone, as much as he wants to. This is exemplified in the final track "Mirror", where he chooses himself in the end and apologizes to the listener for not being the "savior" they truly wanted.
  • Minimalistic Cover Art
    • The dark green cover of untitled unmastered with just the title in small print in the upper left corner.
    • The cover art for DAMN. has a photo of Kendrick with the large, red album title above him.
  • Motor Mouth: Seen in a lot of his songs, "Rigamortis" from Section.80 being a good example.
    • Also m.A.A.d city, which is full of motor-mouthed tongue-twisters.
  • No Ending: To Pimp a Butterfly ends rather darkly with Kendrick reciting a secondary poem to Tupac Shakur that relates to how the Butterfly and Caterpillar aren't so different and when asking for Pac's perspective, he gets no reply, tying to the theme of breaking the cycle, with Tupac unable to do so due to his death.
  • No, You: A dark example occurs in "BLOOD."
  • Odd Friendship: With Lady Gaga, who appeared on the original version of "Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe" (the final version was just Kendrick) on good kid.
    • Also with Taylor Swift, who was perceived (by some people) as having robbed him of the Album of the Year Grammy for To Pimp A Butterfly with her own album 1989: she posted herself on social media lip-syncing to "Backstreet Freestyle", which he found charming, and he made a cameo appearance on the remix of "Bad Blood".
  • Ode to Intoxication: "Swimming Pools (Drank)" deconstructs this trope; it superficially presents itself as this, but is really about the danger and downsides of alcoholism.
  • Once More, with Clarity: Throughout To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick progressively recites more and more of a poem, adding lines after the end of each song. The album concludes with The Reveal that the whole poem is being recited to Tupac Shakur.
  • One-Word Title: DAMN. and all of its tracks.
  • Parents as People: Thoroughly discussed in "Father Time", with Kendrick delving into what he freely admits are his "daddy issues". He calls out the dissonance of looking up to his own father as a paragon despite instilling in him what may have been toxic values (i.e. "Men should never show feelings, being sensitive never helped"). Despite this, Kendrick sympathizes with him and his attitude as a consequence of the environment he himself was raised in, and he parses his Tough Love as born out of genuinely wanting Kendrick to learn to fight for himself and avoid the same mistakes he made.
  • Perfectly Cromulent Word: In the skit following "m.A.A.d city":
    Nigga, pass Dot the bottle, damn! You ain't the one that got fucked up, what you holding it for? Niggas always acting unsensitive and shit.
    Nigga, that ain't no word.
    Nigga, shut up!
  • The Perils of Being the Best: A recurring narrative theme following Kendrick's rise to superstardom and critical adulation has been his struggles in dealing with the idea of being a "savior" to hip-hop as a genre, American race relations, or even black culture in its entirety. To Pimp a Butterfly repeatedly grazes on his feelings of insecurity and depression keeping up with his reputation ("u" is an extended rant against himself for "failing" to save those he left behind in his ascent), and Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers sees Kendrick fully confessing to his savior complex and accepting that — as much as he seriously wants to — he is a mortal man who can't carry the responsibility of singlehandedly leading the causes he wants to fight for, and simply can't save everyone.
  • Plot Parallel: Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is a Distinct Double Album structured as a thematic chiasmus (the first track of disc 1 directly parallels the final track of disc 2, the second track parallels the second-last track, etc.), each reflecting on a general topic on Kendrick's mind. While each song approaches their topics in a respectively cynical or idealistic fashion depending on the disc, the main focus is to illustrate Kendrick's whole sense of being regarding complex cultural and moral issues that he feels strongly about in both sides.
    • "United in Grief" and "Mirror" bookend the double-album about processing grief and the stresses of his fame, but while "United in Grief" details doing so through unhealthy external means (including disassociation through high spending), "Mirror" is a vastly more introspective piece about accepting his shortcomings and making the tough decisions in the name of healing and growth.
    • "N95" addresses insecurity strictly through external means (from designer materials to engaging with flagrant political discourse like cancel culture), while "Mother I Sober" is a very detailed admission of Kendrick's own personal battles with trauma and the mistakes he's made in life.
    • "Worldwide Steppers" and "Mr. Morale" are tracks about parenthood and Generational Trauma, the former depicting him as uncertain and at times unfaithful as a newly-christened patriarch, the latter being more honest, faithful, and hopeful towards everyone's future.
    • "Die Hard" and "Auntie Diaries" revolve around letting go of past traumas to maintain lasting relationships with with family and loved ones, the former being honest with his insecurities and choosing to pursue a loyal lover, the latter about prioritizing love and the family over the prejudices of society and religion.
    • "Father Time" and "Savior" are both about deconstructing the concept of personal idols, the former as an unsettling reality imposed on him in his youth (learning that his father is only human), the latter as a crucial personal revelation to the audience (Kendrick explaining that he himself is only human too).
    • "Rich" and the "Savior" interlude (both are even categorized as separate interludes in the tracklist) are guest-based passages on the struggles of growing up. "Rich" features Kodak Black dwelling on his dark and fraught checkered past leading up to the wary present, while the "Savior" interlude features Baby Keem reminiscing on his recent personal experiences, overcomings, and hopes for the future.
    • "Rich Spirit" and "Silent Hill" are detail different reactions towards dealing with widespread targeted criticisms, the former about standing up to critics and calling out bad-faith actors, the latter about silent integrity and the value of rejecting haters to preserve your mental health.
    • "We Cry Together" is an uncomfortably extended argument, illustrating the inability for even supposed loved ones to properly communicate with each other. "Crown" conversely illustrates what appears to be a stable life, but through a conflicted psyche unable to accept peace in not being able to please everyone around him.
    • "Purple Hearts" contemplates the sacrifices made in the name of love of others, namely family, while "Count Me Out" contextualizes the value of family and loved ones through self-love.
  • Power Trio: There is one between Kendrick, and his two alter-egos;
    • Kendrick himself is The Kirk, being the person who sees fit to speak his mind when he feel like he should about what is important in life.
    • K-Dot, from good kid m.A.A.d. city, is, until "Poetic Justice", The McCoy, being the emotional, self-indulgent one of the trio who looks beyond the risks and potential harms of his lifestyle that wind up humbling him later on in the story.
    • Kung Fu Kenny, from DAMN., is The Spock, being the figure who, beyond all of his bombastic qualities, knows how to control himself and speak of the right way, no matter how forcibly he has to say it.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "THIS. DICK. AIN'T. FREEEEEEEE!"
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: Averting this trope was the point of "The Blacker the Berry".
  • Quarreling Song: "We Cry Together" is an infamously brutal take on the trope, consisting of Kendrick introducing the song as "what the world sounds like," kicking off a loud, messy argument between a couple (played by himself and Taylour Paige). Both of them are so heated and the language so profane and angry that the only stylisms that keep it a Quarreling Song is the flow and the fact that it rhymes — it otherwise plays out like a genuinely toxic domestic dispute set to music.
  • Rearrange the Song: The version of "untitled 03" that was performed on The Colbert Report differs notably from the album version; the final verse is left out, and there's not as much buildup for certain parts of the song.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: "u" is a self-directed diatribe by Kendrick denying that he's ever done anything worthwhile in his life. His music, his fame, and his compassion are all called into question until the final verse climaxes as Kendrick admits his money can't overcome his "suicidal weakness."
  • The Reveal: On To Pimp a Butterfly:
    • "How Much a Dollar Cost" ends with the old man who keeps asking Kendrick for a dollar (only for Kendrick to refuse to help each time) revealing that he is God, and Kendrick's greed has cost him his spot in heaven.
    • The whole album ends with Kendrick reciting a poem and getting a little bit further each time. The final track, "Mortal Man", reveals that Kendrick is reciting the full poem to Tupac Shakur.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: One verse in "The Heart Part 5" comments on the controversy surrounding Will Smith's slapping of Chris Rock at the Academy Awards just six weeks prior.
  • Running Gag: "Where my mothafuckin dominoes at?!"
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: In "Auntie Diaries", a young Kendrick stands up to his pastor as he's being transphobic towards his cousin Mary-Ann and calls him out. In the narration, Kendrick even calls this "the day I chose humanity over religion".
  • Self-Empowerment Anthem: "i", which is especially powerful considering its heavy contrast with "u".
  • Shout-Out:
    • good kid contains several to establish its mid-2000s setting.
      • Its first song is named "Sherane, a.k.a. Master Splinter's Daughter".
      • When Kendrick meets Sherane, she's dancing to Ciara.
      • When Kendrick is driving to Sherane's house, he references Curtis Jackson.
      • In "The Art of Peer Pressure," Kendrick and his buddies are riding round listening to Young Jeezy (who featured on Kendrick's song "Westside, Right on Time", released as a non-album single just prior to the release of good kid).
      • "I fucked Sherane and went to tell my bros / then Usher Raymond 'Let it Burn' came on."
    • He shouted out Rihanna and Nicki Minaj on the remix to Ab-Soul's "Black Lip Bastard".
    • At one point during "Hood Politics", Kendrick shouts out Killer Mike, both in the sense of a name-drop and spotlighting him as an artist; he is used as a current example of the lyrical talent that people often complain is missing from modern hip-hop.
      Critics want to mention that they miss when hip-hop was rappin'
      Motherfucker, if you did, then Killer Mike'd be platinum
    • See Fun with Acronyms above.
  • Silent Protagonist: A rare musical example with the outros in good kid, m.A.A.d city. Kendrick isn't actually heard speaking in any of them, even when addressed, until the end of Compton, where he lets his mother know that he's borrowing her car.
    K. Dot: Mama, I'm fit'na use the van right quick! Be back...15 minutes!
  • Survivor Guilt: As detailed in "u", Kendrick went through a depression that was onset by personal guilt from making it out of Compton and seemingly abandoning his roots, and watching a lot of his Compton friends get killed.
    A friend never leave Compton for profit
    Or leave his best friend, little brother
    You promised you’d watch him before they shot him.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: In "m.A.A.d city":
    Seen a light-skinned nigga with his brains blown out
    At the same burger stand where *beep* hang out
    Now this is not a tape recording sayin' that he did it
    But ever since that day, I was lookin' at him different
  • Take That!:
    • "King Kunta" takes shots at rappers who use ghostwriters, rappers who didn't actually earn their success and just hopped on the latest trend, and people who blindly follow the next big thing (i.e., Kendrick) just because they're popular.
    • "The Heart Part 4", meanwhile, is absolutely loaded with shots at Drake and Big Sean.
  • Textless Album Cover: To Pimp a Butterfly and Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.
  • Trailers Always Lie: The meaning of "Backseat Freestyle" (a super arrogant and vulgar rap by a very ignorant young K.Dot who's yet to have his eyes truly opened to the consequences of the hedonist/thug lifestyle he follows) is essentially lost outside of the rest of the album. That didn't stop it from becoming a sequel where listeners would be prone to take its lyrics on its own merit without the context of later songs like "Money Trees" and "Real."
  • This Loser Is You: If you still want to live the gangsta lifestyle after listening to GKMC, you have some problems.
  • Troll: Listen to his ad libs on Jay Rock's "Win". He's mentioned quite a few times before that he has a "Gemini's sense of humor".
  • True Companions: Him and his Black Hippy clique, consisting of himself, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock and Schoolboy Q. The four of them comprise probably the best young rap group out there right now.
  • Villain Song: "Pray For Me" is a tragic one, as Kendrick and The Weeknd sing from the perspective of Erik Killmonger, who laments the fact that all he knows in life is violence, the fact that he's made himself completely alone, and that no one will mourn him when he dies.
  • Wham Line:
    • The Reveal of the identity of the old man in "How Much a Dollar Cost" changes the entirety of the song before it.
      "You're lookin' at the Messiah, the son of Jehovah, the higher power
      The choir that spoke the word, the Holy Spirit
      The nerve of Nazareth, and I'll tell you just how much a dollar cost
      The price of having a spot in Heaven, embrace your loss.
      I am God."
    • In "The Blacker the Berry," Kendrick repeatedly tells the listener that he's "the biggest hypocrite of 2015" and hints that "once [he] finish[es] this," it will be clear to the listener why he's saying this. The song ends with the following lines:
      So don't matter how much I say I like to preach with the Panthers
      Or tell Georgia State "Marcus Garvey got all the answers"
      Or try to celebrate February like it's my B-Day
      Or eat watermelon, chicken, and Kool-Aid on weekdays
      Or jump high enough to get Michael Jordan endorsements
      Or watch BET cause urban support is important
      So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street
      When gang banging make me kill a nigga blacker than me?
    • At the end of "Mortal Man":
    • In "DUCKWORTH.", after telling an extensive story between two characters (Kendrick's father and Top Dawg; Top Dawg, robbing a KFC, decided not to kill Kendrick's father since he gave him free and extra food), Kendrick brings it all together with the final lines.
      Then you start remindin' them about that chicken incident
      Whoever thought the greatest rapper would be from coincidence?
      Because if Anthony killed Ducky, Top Dawg could be servin' life
      While I grew up without a father and die in a gunfight.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: "How Much a Dollar Cost" is essentially God sending this message to Kendrick in the midst of his fame-induced greed.
  • A Wild Rapper Appears!: He does this in the remix of Imagine Dragons' "Radioactive", in The Lonely Island's "YOLO", and on the single version of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood", which few were expecting.
    • Completely inverted with his song "Money Trees", in which his friend Anna Wise sings the bridge, which makes it A Wild Singer Appears.
  • Worth Living For: In "YAH.", he describes his niece as this.