It’s not really hit me yet, but in just a few weeks I’ll be seeing the mighty King Kendrick Lamar, so as you might imagine, it’s all I’m listening to at the moment. For those of you also lucky enough to be at Reading or Leeds festival next weekend alongside me, this makes for essential reading and preparation. Despite only having two studios albums under this belt, we all know of Kenny’s impact outside of Good Kid and TPAB. From guest appearances, mixtapes, singles and everything in between, here are Kendrick Lamar’s Best Songs.
20. The Recipe (ft Dr Dre) – Good Kid, Maad City (Deluxe)
The Recipe was the very first Kendrick song I’d heard. I’d seen the name float around the internet for a while, and Section80 remained on my hard drive praying for a listen, but I simply hadn’t got round to it. I remember vividly listening to The Recipe what with the Twin Sister sample, a Dre co-sign, production and guest verse, which wasn’t something easily attained. The track acted as a lead single-come-promotional single for Good Kid, Maad City, are paved the way for a classic rap debut.
19. Collard Greens – ScHoolboy Q featuring Kendrick Lamar
One of the many occasions in which TDE representatives come together, and more often that not it’s a match made in heaven, Collard Greens was no different. I wasn’t all that convinced by Oxymoron, and I quickly became tired of the same bragging subject matter and there’s only so many times I can hear Q rap about sexually assaulting a woman in some way, however, Collard Greens was the album’s saving grace.
18. These Walls – To Pimp A Butterfly
From the haunting intro courtesy of Anna Wise, These Walls was a memorable anthem within an album of anthems. Once again enlisting the help of in-house producer Sounwave, responsible for the likes of Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe and ADHD, it proved to be another diamond combination.
17. Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe – Good Kid, Maad City
Arguably one of the biggest hits in Kendrick’s catalogue. While the track was a colossal success commercially, and with the song title becoming something of a catchphrase within pop culture nowadays, I think a lot was said about the magnitude of the track when none other than JAY Z hopped on the official remix. With the famous image of Kobe and Jordan used for the album’s artwork, it not only said a lot about Kendrick’s intentions and position in rap, but also said a lot about Jigga’s stance on it too.
16. Alright – To Pimp A Butterfly
Alright began life as a sort of ipso-facto follow up single for To Pimp A Butterfly. Kendrick seemed to have sworn off from i, and Alright from the off became one of the most accessible tracks on the album. Produced by Pharrell, Alright examines the idea of positive outlook and that whatever happens, i.e. ‘Nigga, and we hate po-po // Wanna kill us dead in the street of sho // Nigga, I’m at the preacher’s door // My knees gettin’ weak, and my gun might blow // But we gon’ be alright.’
15. Swimming Pools – Good Kid, Maad City
K Dot has an incredible talent of making iconic tracks, as apposed to colossal chart toppers- most of Kenny’s hits feature infectious/catchy/memorable elements such as Money Trees’ ‘Ya Bish’, Maad City’s ‘YA YA YA’s, or in this case, Swimming Pools’ ‘Drank’s.
14. Fuckin’ Problems – ASAP Rocky featuring 2Chainz, Drake & Kendrick Lamar
I know I know, not a Kendrick Lamar song per se, but a mammoth hip-hop track either way, and Kendrick was vital to its popularity. Fuckin’ Problems came at the perfect time in rap, one of rap’s hottest prospects was about to drop his debut- ASAP Rocky, Drake was still reaping the benefits of Take Care, and 2 Chainz was hot off the back of his Mercy guest verse. However, all of these were quickly forgotten when Kendrick rounded off the hip-hop hit with an show-stealing finale.
13. i – To Pimp A Butterfly
I love i, and for some reason I’m slightly embarrassed to say it. When you have the enormity of To Pimp A Butterfly and everything it exists to be, a feel slightly ‘unappreciative’ to look after i when tracks of The Blacker The Berry’s magnitude sit on the same disc. Either way, i was a colossal hit, featuring an Isley Brothers sample and glorious guitar-infused production, the song was everywhere: it was used in adverts, movie trailers, NBA picked it up for use, and was found just about everywhere else.
12. Poetic Justice (ft Drake) – Good Kid, Maad City
For one reason or another, the entire rap world is gasping after and praying for a coming-together-of-heads between Drake and Kendrick Lamar. It’s been thought that the two have exchanged ‘difference in opinions’ in the past, and recently Kendrick was thought to have fired shots via material found on Dr Dre’s Compton, but as of yet, we haven’t really seen a true clash. Which is why one of their few collaborations should be appreciated for the anthem it is. Drake’s verse particularly is absolute fire, and may be the reason why this song isn’t higher on this list, but either way, for me it’s one of the most essential Kendrick Lamar songs.
11. King Kunta – To Pimp A Butterfly
I’m not going to lie, it took me a while to get to grips with King Kunta. Upon first listening, for me it really didn’t jump out at me. However, now I’ve had a few weeks to let it fester, I realise what a track it is. King Kunta is based on the fictional story of slave Kunta Kinte, who as Kendrick raps on the hook ‘had his legs cut off’. Content aside, as the song’s various ad-libs suggest, King Kunta is a funk-fueled hip-hop jam that really has grown on me as of late.
10. Compton (ft Dr Dre) – Good Kid, Maad City
I’m a huge huge fan of Just Blaze, for me one of the most underrated producers in the game, and some of my favourite artists’ best songs have been crafted by the brains of Just Blaze- Eminem’s No Love, Kanye’s Touch The Sky, JAY Z’s You Don’t Know, and now Kendrick Lamar’s Compton rounds off the list. Again enlisting mentor Dr Dre for a guest verse, the unforgiving relentless cascade of production left absolutely no doubt when the then-prodigal rap star proclaimed himself as ‘King Kendrick Lamar’.
9. Hood Politics – To Pimp A Butterfly
Once more, Sounwave crafts something utterly perfect for Kendrick Lamar, Hood Politics rewinds us back to when the hood was all K Dot knew, when he was too young and naive too know anything apart the hood life he was thrust into. ‘From Compton to Congress, set trippin’ all around // Ain’t nothin’ new, but a flu of new Demo-Crips and Re-Blood-licans // Red state versus a blue state, which one you governin’? And of course it was as political as you would expect by now.
8. ADHD – Section80
Another essential Kendrick listen. Besides The Recipe, ADHD was one of my first Kendrick Lamar experiences, and from my first listen I was utterly hooked, spouting ‘fuk daat’ for weeks to come. The song was trademark West Coast, with its airy vibes and chorus-stemming hooks, and while Section80 could possibly be classed as a past effort, ADHD has still managed to stand the test of time.
7. Control – Big Sean featuring Kendrick Lamar & Jay Electronica
Do I really need to say anything? Obviously Kendrick’s guest verse on Control practically stopped the world spinning, but, Kendrick aside, this song is absolute fire anyway. Jay Electronica provided something that people simply couldn’t get their hands on, No ID brought such an underrated beat that was so unforgiving and ‘not to be fucked with’ that Kendrick simply had to deliver the knockout-blow that he did.
6. Money Trees (ft Jay Rock) – Good Kid, Maad City
The song that gave birth to a catchphrase a shade off Yolo, ‘Ya Bish’ was the infectious coining found on Money Trees. Featuring TDE label-mate and close collaborator Jay Rock, the hypnotic jam wedged within the early stages of Good Kid, Maad City was a certified hit despite not being released as an official single. Besides Kendrick’s expected excellence, Money Trees solidified opinions of not just Jay Rock, but also of the power of TDE as a hip-hop heavyweight.
5. Maad City – Good Kid, Maad City
Those deranged ‘ya-ya-yas’ are enough to send any crowd, room or club into stratosphere, and when me and Kendrick finally become acquaintances in a week or two, then I plan to react no different. Besides the blood-pumping ‘Pirus and Crips’ intro, the song is just as solid lyrically with lines like: ‘Brace yourself, I’ll take you on a trip down memory lane // This is not a rap on how I’m slinging crack or move cocaine.’ It tells you everything you need to know about the album and sat between the fairly mellow good kid, and one of the biggest singles Swimming Pools, it had to make a big impression, and that it certainly did.
4. The Blacker The Berry – To Pimp A Butterfly
Arguably one of the most politically-powered, civil-rights-charged proclamations of abhorrence in popular music from the last few years. ‘Came from the bottom of mankind // My hair is nappy, my dick is big, my nose is round and wide // You hate me don’t you? // You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture // You’re fuckin’ evil I want you to recognize that I’m a proud monkey // You vandalize my perception but can’t take style from me’ or ‘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? // Hypocrite!’ It gets to the point where I don’t need to say anything anymore, just listen.
3. Sing About Me – Good Kid, Maad City
I’m not the only one who agrees with me that mid-point within Good Kid, Maad City is one of Kendrick Lamar‘s best songs. Storytelling is an element of rap that really has dried up as of late, and the proclamation of riches has surpassed a song based on imagery in the last few years. Sing About Me is a heartbreaking track that tells the story of the gang culture and crime-ridden underworld of which K.Dot was just about lucky enough to escape from.
2. The Art of Peer Pressure – Good Kid, Maad City
In my opinion the most slept on song within Kendrick’s discography. An example of exquisite storytelling and incredible lyrical delivery. You feel engaged within the ‘one lucky night’, that you’re actually there ‘hitting the back in search of any Nintendos’, you hold you breath when the police take ‘another right’, thus resulting in the escape of Kendrick and his ‘hood niggas with bad intentions’.
1. Backseat Freestyle – Good Kid, Maad City
Backseat Freestyle is Kendrick Lamar‘s best song, no more epitomised by one of the closing lines ‘I look like OJ, killing everything from pussy to a mothafuckin’ Hit-Boy beat’. The hook was crazy infectious, the jangling bells and those heavy-driven drums explode into ‘Martin had a dream’ s. The song also largely epitomised Good Kid, Maad City’s concept and story and pulled you into the album at track 3 on the project- an essential part of his debut, and an essential part of his catalogue.
Need more Kendrick? Check out a Live Review of his performance at Reading Festival in August.
Like this list? Check out more ‘Best Songs’ lists below: