One of the great young talents in rap music, Kendrick Lamar (full name Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, born June 17, 1987) is a Compton-born rapper known for delivering politically charged, story driven, and often nostalgic lyrics, drawing on his experiences growing up in a bad neighborhood.
He released his first mixtape at the tender age of sixteen. Having signed to Top Dawg Entertainment, Kendrick 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 all about his teenage years and experiences with drugs, alcohol and gang violence. It has been highly regarded as one of the best albums of 2012 and caused mass controversy when it lost all of its Grammy Award nominations and some of the awards went to Macklemore (who even admitted that Kendrick should've won).
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 is 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 released (due to an error on Interscope Records' behalf which caused the album to be released a week earlier than scheduled) to widespread critical acclaim. Similarly to GKMC, the album was infamously snubbed for an Album of the Year Grammy that went to Taylor Swift, although it did win a number of other Grammys. 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 on March 22, 2017, where he deleted all of his pictures on Instagram and uploaded a since-deleted picture with nothing but the word "IV". The following day, "The Heart Part IV" was released as a promotional single, signaling an upcoming return of Kendrick, supposedly taking shots at Big Sean and Drake, and hinting the date of his fourth album with the line "Y'all got April the 7th to get your shit together."
A week later, the album's lead single, "HUMBLE.", was released ahead of schedule due to the cover art being leaked online. On the announced date of April 7, 2017, the new album was not released but merely made available for pre-order, to the dismay of fans. On April 14, 2017, Kendrick's fourth studio album, DAMN. was released to widespread critical acclaim, beating out Drake's More Life for best selling hip-hop 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.
- 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
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 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."
- 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.
- 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.
- Due to good kid, m.A.A.d city's Anachronic Order, "Compton" functions both as the opening and ending credits to the narrative.
- 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 in the album DAMN.
- 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".
- 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 woman 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: Explicitly spelled out in "King Kunta":Something's in the waterAnd if I gotta brown-nose for some goldThen I'd rather be a bum than a motherfuckin' baller
- Dream Team: Really, Kendrick and pretty much anyone, but some noteworthy ones include
- Kendrick and Dr. Dre on "The Recipe" and "Compton"
- Kendrick and Jay-Z on the "Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe" remix.
- Kendrick and Lady Gaga on the original version of "Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe".
- Kendrick, Big K.R.I.T. and J. Cole on DJ Khaled's "They Ready".
- Kendrick and J. Cole in general.
- Kendrick and Pusha T on "Nosetalgia".
- Kendrick and Eminem on "Love Game".
- Kendrick and Kanye West on "No More Parties In L.A.".
- Kendrick and Danny Brown, Ab-Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt on "Really Doe".
- Kendrick and Travis Scott on "goosebumps".
- Kendrick and Rihanna on "LOYALTY."
- Kendrick and U2 on "XXX."
- Kendrick and The Weeknd on "Sidewalks" and "Pray For Me".
- Kendrick and Lil Wayne on "Mona Lisa".
- Duality Motif: Explored in various forms throughout DAMN., up to and including the album having an alternate storyline when played in reverse.
- 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 nothing, 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.
- 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 doesnt 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 shes glad hes 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."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.
- Love Hurts: "Opposites Attract" implies this, and that's not even getting into the crap he went with Sherane in GKMC.
- 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 one and of course, humble one. Kendrick himself said he feels he's spiritually inspired by God himself into his music. He also credits Him as the reason he was able to survive the violence of Compton during the 90s. In fact religion becomes a reoccurring theme throughout his music.
- Mind Screw: To Pimp A Butterfly. It's definitely about something, but nobody's quite sure what. There's a general message about black violence in there, but it doesn't seem to be the only one.
- 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.
- 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.
- Perfectly Cromulent Word: In the skit following "m.A.A.d city":
- 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".
- 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.
- Running Gag: "Where my mothafuckin dominoes at?!"
- Self-Empowerment Anthem: "i", which is especially powerful considering its heavy contrast with "u".
- Shout-Out: Several to establish good kid's mid-2000s setting.
- A song 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".
- 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 youd 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.
- 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.
- 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."
- 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.
- 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 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?
- The Reveal of the identity of the old man in "How Much a Dollar Cost" changes the entirety of the song before it.
- What Could Have Been: A song version of this plays out in R.O.T.C. (Right On Time Conscience). Kendrick is weighing out the pros and cons of the fast money a return to the drug-dealer lifestyle would have, since his rap career isn't taking off as fast as he'd like. Right as he's about to go back to it, he has a moment of conscience kicking in and decides against it.
- 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.