Like most people, I’ve been waiting on Kendrick to release new music. The last project he’s done was the Black Panther soundtrack and that was two years ago. He’s mostly stayed under the radar since then and new music from him would be great in these trying times. Until then, I thought it would be great to share with you what I think are his best songs so far. Before we begin, here are the honorable mentions.
- Complexion (A Zulu Love)
- The Blacker The Berry
- Ignorance Is Bliss
- Backseat Freestyle
- Untitled 07 | Levitate
- King Kunta
- Swimming Pools (Drank)
- For Free (Interlude)
- Cartoons & Cereal
- Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe
- Untitled 08 | 09.06.2014
It’s the unofficial theme to Black Lives Matter. Alright quickly became a standout track from To Pimp A Butterfly thanks to Pharrell and Sounwave’s production that leans into a breezy jazz sound and a message of hope and perseverance in hard times and injustice. The chorus proclaims, “we gon’ be alright,” which is both timeless and timely as it could apply to any time period. It’s why Black America latched onto the song quickly and embraced it as an anthem. It captures a moment in time and is only growing stronger in relevance each year.
One of Kendrick’s greatest asset as an artist is his ability to tell stories within his rhymes. This brings us to DUCKWORTH., which is the final track on DAMN. Over some stellar 9th Wonder production, Kendrick tells a story of Anthony, a gangbanger, and Ducky, a regular dude working at a KFC that Anthony had robbed a few years ago. To stay on his good side and make sure the store never got robbed, Ducky would give Anthony some extra chicken and biscuits every time he stopped by. The real twist of the story is that Ducky is Kendrick’s father and Anthony is the boss of TDE. This all took place before Kendrick was even born. It shows how crazy coincidences could be and what they might lead to. It’s a great way to end an album as it ends with a gunshot and rewinds all the way back to the first track.
When I saw the tracklist for DAMN, this was one of the songs that caught my attention. Kendrick collaborating with U2. That could either be awesome or a complete mess. Fortunately for all of us, XXX. is the former that strangely works. The switch-ups in the production were crazy and it’s one of the hardest-hitting tracks on the album. All for a deconstruction of America’s social-political climate and its contradictory nature expressed when Kendrick advises a friend who lost a son to seek out revenge before giving a speech on gun control. U2 don’t really show up until the second half of the song delivering the chorus, but it’s a good use of their talents. Overall, great song.
HOW MUCH A DOLLAR COST
President Obama called this his favorite record of 2015. How Much A Dollar Cost is another example of Kendrick’s vivid storytelling abilities. It tells the story of Kendrick running into a homeless man at a gas station asking for basically a dollar. Initially, Kendrick refuses, but the homeless man persists and berates him for his refusal. At the end of the track, the homeless man reveals himself to be God and that the cost of selfishness was a spot in Heaven, ending the track with a plea for forgiveness performed by the legendary Ron Isley. The vivid pictures that Kendrick is able to paint with his words is amazing and How Much A Dollar Cost is no exception.
One of the qualifiers of a genius writer is creating something with multiple interpretations that are valid and not heavy-handed. The groovy R&B slow jam These Walls is one of those tracks. In it, the walls have a triple meaning spread out through the verses. The first verse is obviously about vaginal walls as he poetically describes the feeling of sex. The second verse addresses the mental and psychological walls that are formed when you’re at your lowest point. The third and final verse is aimed at the person who killed his friend and is in prison for it, the walls in this case being a prison. Again, genius writing.
Money Trees is a song that became one of my favorites from good kid, m.A.A.d city the moment I first heard it. I like how chill the beat is and the way it flipped this sample was dope. One of the most creative uses of a sample I’ve heard in a modern rap song. Kendrick spends most of the song summarizing the events that occurred in the album to this point; kicking it with the homies, getting laid, reflecting on the people he’s lost, etc. There’s a lot of quotable lines on this track like, “but the one in front of the gun lives forever,” and this is where the phrase “ya bish” came from. Jay Rock comes in to deliver a verse that pretty much stole the show. Recognize greatness, ya bish.
I’ve talked about this song three times on this site. I named it the best hit song of 2017 and the entire 2010s decade overall. You already know how much of a banger it is and how much heat Kendrick was spitting on here. I have nothing new to say about it, so let’s move on.
If you’re going to start an album, you better make a damn good impression and boy, did To Pimp A Butterfly started running out the gate immediately with its first track Wesley’s Theory. After this sampled intro, we get slapped in the face with infectious funk grooves and melodies that continue the legacy of George Clinton, who’s featured on the track. It’s a cautionary tale for black people making it in the entertainment industry, of how a lifestyle of excess spending and celebrity could result in Uncle Sam knocking at your door demanding their share. For most of us, we weren’t taught how to manage finances or pay taxes as kids, so being presented an opportunity to make millions (legally) is very tempting if you didn’t have a lot of money growing up. It’s why this song is named after Wesley Snipes, who famously served time for tax evasion. A great intro to a legendary album and one of my favorites.
Some songs just need no introduction. m.A.A.d city is one of those songs that you just play and watch the whole place go nuts as they recite every line. It’s Kendrick navigating the gang-infested streets of Compton with some of the hardest production of the past decade. Half of the song has the knock of a trap beat before transitioning to a vintage West Coast beat where Kendrick is assisted by the legendary MC Eiht. Eight years later and this song is still a crowd favorite. If you ever watch performances, the energy being exuded is unlike anything else, which is why it has stood the test of time and will continue doing so. So which song beat this out for the number one spot on this list?
And finally, the best Kendrick Lamar song of all time IS………
SING ABOUT ME, I’M DYING OF THIRST
Damn near everyone sang their praises for this track and consider it to be a highlight of the album it’s on. Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst is just art. It gives two perspective stories: one about the brother of Kendrick’s friend Dave who was killed and him wanting revenge for the death and the other is from the perspective of the sister of Keisha, who didn’t like the fact that he made a song after her on Section.80 and gives her life story where she was a prostitute. The third verse is where Kendrick offers his take where he tells stories about himself and the people that he knew and hopes that those stories would continue on. All of that was just the first part of the song Sing About Me. The second part of the song is Dying Of Thirst, which is more religious-based and speaks on being baptized, which explains all of the Christian imagery in Kendrick’s music. It’s a bleak song, but it’s also very powerful in the imagery it paints and it shows how far rap can go artistically. This is why Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst is, in my opinion, the best Kendrick Lamar song of all time.
And that was my list of the best Kendrick Lamar songs. What do you think? Comment below and let me know.
SONG OF THE WEEK