The Early Years
Kendrick Lamar, born Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, was born in Compton, California on June 17th, 1987. He is an American rapper, songwriter, and music producer. He has a prolific solo career and has been regarded as one of the most influential artists of this generation and one of the greatest lyricists and rappers of all time.
Kendrick started his musical career under the stage name K-Dot when he was a teenager, and he was signed with Top Dawg Entertainment after releasing a mixtape and gaining some local recognition.
Kendrick grew up in Section 8 housing on welfare, and although he didn’t join a gang himself, he had friends in the Piru Bloods and his father, Kenny Duckworth, was a member of the Gangster Disciples. At eight years old, Kendrick got the opportunity to see Tupac Shakur and Dr. Dre film the music video for “California Love” when they were shooting the driving scenes in the streets of Compton.
He recalled in a video on YouTube that Tupac stood up to curse at a police officer who drove carelessly close to the car while Dr. Dre just drove and laughed at the incident.
The Beginning of Something Huge
In 2004 Kendrick, who had taken on the name K-Dot, released his first full-length mixtape titled “Youngest Head Nigga in Charge (Hub City Threat: Minor of the Year). According to RapTV.com when writing on Kendrick’s beautiful lyricism, “It’s thought that in “Poetic Justice,” Kendrick is referring to himself as the flower and his rough home environment in the city of Compton as the dark room.”
Kendrick was rather young to show so much promise, with the ability to boast that he released a full-length album and, due to his talent and the release of his mixtape, K-Dot was signed on to Top Dawg Entertainment, securing a record contract at the age of sixteen.
He immediately started recording and by 2006 he had recorded and released a 26 track mixtape called “Training Day (2005)”. During 2006 and 2007 K-Dot started spreading his brand and working alongside other up-and-coming West Coast rappers. He released the mixtape No Sleep ‘Til NYC in 2007, and in 2008 K-Dot was featured heavily in the music video “All My Life (In the Ghetto) by Jay Rock and featuring Lil Wayne.
Soon thereafter, Lil Wayne cosigned Kendrick Lamar, and Kendrick released his third mixtape in 2009 titled “C4”, which was themed around Lil Wayne’s album “Tha Carter III”. After dropping his mixtape, Kendrick decided to drop the pseudonym K-Dot and to use his own name. He released a self titled EP (Extended Play) in 2009 and then formed a Hip Hop Group called “Black Hippy” with Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, and ScHoolboy Q. He dropped his last mixtape “Overly Dedicated” in 2010.
The Awards and the Albums
In 2011Kendrick Lamar dropped his first ever studio album named “Section.80” It was released through Top Dawg Entertainment and featured GLC, Colin Monroe, Ashtrobot, BJ the Chicago Kid, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, and Alori Joh.
The album touched on the themes of the crack epidemic from the 1980’s, racism, and medication tolerance. The lead single “HiiiPoWeR” was released in April of 2011. The album received mostly positive reviews from critics and it started at number 13 on the Billboard 200. The album went certified gold according to the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America)(Recording Industry Association of America).
Like many debut albums this one seemed to show how Kendrick had raw talent and was still trying to find his voice.
In 2012 Kendrick dropped his second full-length studio album “good kid, m.A.A.d city.” Kendrick signed on with Aftermath Entertainment and Interscope Records, making this album Kendrick’s first major label debut, after independently releasing his first studio album “Section. 80” in 2011. “good kid, m.A.A.d city.” was produced by Dr. Dre, Just Blaze, Pharrell Williams, Hit-Boy, Scoop DeVille, Jack Splash, and T-Minus, along with others.
The album follows the story of Kendrick’s teenage experience in the drug-infested streets and explores the gang lifestyle in the streets of Compton, California. It earned four Grammy nominations including Album of the Year and debuted at number two on the Billboard 200. It was later certified triple Platinum by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) in June of 2018.
The album had five singles; “The Recipe”, “Swimming Pools (Drank)”, Backseat Freestyle”, “Poetic Justice”, and “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe.” Lamar also went on a world tour between May and August 2013 with his bandmates from “Black Hippy”
In 2015 Kendrick dropped the full-length album “To Pimp a Butterfly.” According to RapTV.com “There is just something truly special about To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar’s third studio album, that puts it slightly above as one of ther greatest hip hop albums of all time.”
With its mixture of chaos and beauty, Kendrick’s clever lyricism, clarity, and rhythm, “To Pimp a Butterfly” really is a work of art. “To Pimp a Butterfly” incorporates traditional jazz, funk,soul, spoken word, and avante- garde. Kendrick explores themes including politics, racial inequality, depression, and institutional discrimination. “To Pimp a Butterfly” topped the Billboard 200 in its first week and became Kendrick’s first album to hit number one in the UK. It was certified Platinum by the RIAA and sold over a million copies by 2017. “To Pimp a Butterfly” received widespread acclaim from critics and it earned Kendrick 11 nominations at the 2016 Grammys, including Best Rap Album and Album of the Year nominations.
In 2017 Kendrick Lamar released his most recent album “DAMN”, which according to RapTV.com was “a major turning point in Hip Hop and arguably the TRUE album of the year. DAMN changed Hip Hop in major ways.” “DAMN” received widespread critical acclaim and topped the US Billboard 200 within its first week on the charts. “DAMN” topped the Canadian charts and reached number two in Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
There were three official singles for “DAMN”: “Humble”, “Loyalty”, and “Love”. Kendrick’s “DAMN” was certified triple platinum by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) in May 2018. “DAMN” was the first non-jazz or classical work to earn a Pulitzer Prize for Music. It also won the Best Rap Album at the 2018 Grammys and it was nominated as Album of the Year.
Kendrick took on the role of music producer when the movie Black Panther came out and his soundtrack was released as “Black Panther: The Album” by Interscope Records in 2018. It had gigantic sales numbers for a soundtrack and it hit the top position on the Billboard 200. It was praised by critics as a milestone for film soundtracks due to the same talents that brought Kendrick so far in the music industry.
His lyrics and ideas were excellent for the soundtrack, but it still seemed to hit weaker than his solo work. Nevertheless, the song “King’s Dead” from “Black Panther: The Album” won a Grammy.
The Fight Against Censorship
In May of 2018, it was announced that Kendrick was departing from Spotify. He had heard the news that his fellow rapper XXXTentacion was being banned from the musical platform due to his acts of violence against women. XXTentacion and R. Kelly were both removed from the editorial and algorithmic playlists due to Spotify’s new “Hate Content & Hateful Content” policy, which was conceived in light of the #MeToo movement.
They made the decision to remove any content that may promote, advocate, or incite hatred or violence against an individual or group based on characteristics. Kendrick’s representatives reached out to Spotify to explain that he was frustrated due to the policy promoting censorship.
In response to the criticism, Spotify reversed their policy and reinstated XXXTentacion’s music back onto playlists after other artists followed suit in threatening to pull their music from the Spotify library.
Kendrick has listed Tupac Shakur, The Notorious B.I.G., Jay Z, Nas, and Eminem as his top five favorite rappers. During an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in 2011, Kendrick said Mos Def and Snoop Dogg were some of the most influential rappers that he listened to in his early years. He has also said that DMX and Easy-E were large influences in his musical career
It is easy to see how much influence the great musical artists of Hip Hop have had on Kendrick, and how, in turn, he has been able to turn around and influence the up and coming musical artists of today.
When speaking on Kendrick’s discography Olivia Ovenden from Esquire UK wrote, “even if you’re not overly familiar with Lamar’s back catalog, his influence in music is everywhere, from the West Coast hip-hop now being made by Anderson Paak to the trap of Gucci Mane. He is—and we’ll brook no argument here—the greatest rapper making music today.”
Looking Toward the Future
As of August 2020, it has been almost three and a half years since Kendrick Lamar released his last studio album.
His fans have been anticipating his next project, and on August 18th, 2020 a leaked track titled “Gotta Love Me” featuring Baby Keem was released via social media. The leaked track raises questions on when the fans can expect a new studio album to drop. Kendrick was expected to headline at several different festivals over the Summer of 2020, but with the ever-looming Coronavirus pandemic stopping all social gatherings in their tracks, he was unable to fulfill his business obligations.
Kendrick was supposed to appear at Lollapalooza in Stockholm, Sweden, the Longitude Festival in Dublin, Ireland, the Rock Werchter Festival in Belgium, the NOS Alive Festival in Portugal, and the WOO HAH! Festival in the Netherlands.
The last time Kendrick toured was in the Summer of 2017 when he dropped his album “Damn”. He took his album on the road with the intention of performing 17 shows, including but not limited to Coachella and the Quebec City Summer Festival, but he started adding additional shows when he decided to hit up Los Angeles and Brooklyn along the way.
In September of 2020, Kendrick’s team announced that he was adding an additional 15 performances to his tour, and then in April, he added Oceania to his tour as well. It was as if once his momentum got started, he just couldn’t stop performing, and his fans loved him for it.
Kendrick Lamar employs the styles of jazz, blues, and soul in his music. In 2018 he won the Pulitzer Prize for music. He sold over 18 million albums, been nominated for 29 Grammys, and he has won 12. According to musician/producer Pharrell, who worked alongside Kendrick on “Alright: and “good kid” told Vanity Fair magazine “He’s the Bob Dylan, the Miles Davis of our time, but he’s his own thing.” Due to these qualities, Kendrick’s work has been archived in the library at Harvard University and he has collaborated with some of the best artists of our time: Pharrell Williams, Beyoncé, Dr. Dre,, Jay Z, Eminem, Bono, and Rhianna.
His work reflects his experiences growing up young, black, poor, and gifted. He entertains and educates while being completely candid about his history and his expectations for the future.
Kendrick stated it best when he said, “The minute I hear good news, it just motivates me to do more. I don’t want to get complacent. If you asked seven out of ten people, ‘What would you do if you got the Pulitzer Prize?’ they’d say. ‘I’d put my feet up.’ But that would make me feel I’d reached my pinnacle at 30 years old and that wouldn’t make me feel good.”
As talented and inspired as Kendrick has been up until this point, it’s completely doubtful that he has reached his pinnacle. Hopefully, we will see much more from him in the near future!