Welcome back to Head to Head with Edd, where yours truly goes toe-to-toe with the superfans of the game’s biggest artists. We’ll take a look at the selected artist’s biggest hits and misses and see where we can find common ground.
I often get called out my some of my younger readers for not showing enough love to the young kings of hip-hop in this space.
Well, that’s just because the young “kings” they want me to celebrate are terrible.
For the record, there are scores of young, emerging artists that I enjoy. And today, I’m excited to talk about one of my favorites. I’m joined by my guy Joey Hip Hop – one of hip-hop Twitter’s biggest voices – to discuss the groundbreaking career of Kendrick Lamar. Is he truly the best of his generation though? We’ll talk about that and so much more.
We’ll get it started like we always do: Name Kendrick’s three best albums.
1. To Pimp A Butterfly
2. good kid, m.A.A.d city
To Pimp A Butterfly is a clear choice for me, but Good Kid is not far behind. It took me a while to come to appreciate TPAB, it’s not one of those albums you can breeze through on one listen. The narrative is intricately layered with different themes, and the mix of production from different genres creates a very unique sound. This is Kendrick’s songwriting at its best.
1. To Pimp A Butterfly
2. good kid, m.A.A.d city
You pretty much nailed this one, Joey. I know DAMN isn’t as beloved as the previous two albums but I think all three, while very different, all hover close to 5 stars. To Pimp a Butterfly, is for sure one of the best hip-hop albums of the 2010s. GKMC is just slightly behind, and I understand why some fans may prefer it. It’s more digestible (sorta like how younger fans vibe with It Was Written better than Illmatic these days). DAMN is no slouch either. It’s among the best run of LPs in hip-hop history.
And what’s Kendrick’s worst album?
Section.80 is another clear choice for me here. While this album has some of Kendrick’s best rapping, it still sounds like he’s trying to find his voice in many ways. It has my least favorite Kendrick song in “No Make-Up,” and overall feels a bit unpolished. It’s still good but when you compare it to Kendrick’s later work, it sticks out.
Edd: Untitled Unmastered
I considered mentioning the Black Panther soundtrack here – it’s not awful by any means, it’s just not nearly as creative and thought-provoking as Kendrick’s proper LPs. However, that felt like a bit of a cheat. It’s often credited as a “Kendrick album,” but I never bought that. He’s on, what, four songs? Instead, I’ll go with another slight cheat to annoy stans – his 2016 unreleased collection. Again, this set is very solid but is nowhere near the level of his studio albums. Still, when your scraps are better than your peer’s best LPs, you know you’re operating on another level.
Let’s talk tracks. What’s K. Dot’s best single?
“Alright” is definitely Kendrick’s best single and a top three Kendrick song to me. The uplifting message is great, the lyrics are great, the production is great, everything about it is top-notch. On top of all that, the impact it had in becoming the unofficial Black Lives Matter anthem in 2015 just sets it apart from the rest. “Alright” is one of those special tracks that becomes larger than the music and will definitely play a role in cementing Kendrick’s legacy as one of the greats.
It’s hard to beat “Alright.” The message is sound, the production undeniable, the video is instantly memorable (in an era where memorable videos are few and far between) and it has the good fortune of being intrinsically tied to the Black Lives Matter movement, as Joey noted. That right there, boys and girls, are the ingredients for a classic song.
How about the worst single?
“Humble” is one of those tracks for me that was good at first but got old really quickly. The chorus is pretty annoying, and while I will certainly get up and dance to it at a function, I won’t be throwing “Humble” on when I’m on my own anytime soon. I can’t help but feel like this song doesn’t belong on DAMN and was thrown on for the sales.
Edd: “Swimming Pools (Drank)”
GO AHEAD AND CANCEL ME RIGHT NOW: I never got the deal with “Swimming Pools.” Well, let me clear that up, I DO get it – it’s basically Kendrick’s commentary on alcoholism and depression disguised as party anthem. And it’s also his big breakout hit. But I was never a fan of the production on this one and the monotonous, drunken hook quickly grates on my nerves. Certainly it’s not a disaster of a song – Kendrick doesn’t make bad music – but it’s one of the very few skippable tracks in his catalog.
Name a song that should have been a single.
Loving “Compton” will forever be one of my more unpopular Kendrick opinions. The song would have made for a great single with its energy, catchy chorus, and Dr. Dre feature. I think the song doesn’t get a lot of love because it’s a bonus track but it could’ve been huge.
Edd: “Westside, Right on Time”
This is a tough question because in the streaming era it’s very easy for non-singles to chart. For instance, “DNA” was never released as an official single but it peaked at No. 4 on the charts and is triple platinum. An old geezer like me still struggles to comprehend the rules of the streaming era. Instead, I’m gonna go obscure with “Westside, Right on Time,” an extremely fun flip of the Sylver’s “How Love Hurts” that’s simultaneously soulful and exuberant. It’s a hit for sure.
Kendrick has tons of great feature verses, but which is his best?
Joey: “Holy Key”
“Control” is the obvious pick but I’ll go with my personal favorite verse which is “Holy Key.” Hard to believe this appeared on a DJ Khaled album, but Kendrick spits one of his best verses ever on it, switching flows and changing his vocal tones in the process. Poor Big Sean, who also performed one of his best verses on this song only to be out-matched by Kendrick.
Edd: “Holy Key”
Joey, I’m heated. I assumed you’d go with “Control” since Big Sean is your boy (and because of that I’ll be nice to him today). But you stole my thunder! Yes, “Holy Key” is my favorite Kendrick feature as well. It’s a lyrical tour de force, touching on everything from faith, family, police brutality and his own success in just one breakneck verse. You don’t that much substance in most ALBUMS.
What’s your favorite Kendrick song overall?
Joey: “The Blacker The Berry”
“The Blacker The Berry.” It’s probably his most emotional song, and it’s extremely moving. It invokes a handful of different feelings in a very powerful way. Only someone with Kendrick’s writing skills could make something quite like this.
Edd: “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”
“Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” isn’t just my favorite Kendrick song. It’s one of my favorite songs of all time, across any genre. And if you know me, that covers a LOT of ground and well over 30 years. The storytelling is downright cinematic as Kendrick embodies the personas of these flawed characters, then flips the song on its head to transform it into a spiritual cry for healing. When I heard this song, I knew that Kendrick just wasn’t some hot new rapper. He was an artist.
What’s the first song that made you a fan?
Joey: “Swimming Pools”
“Swimming Pools.” It’s kind of funny looking back on this being one of his breakout singles, because this party anthem isn’t really a great representative of Kendrick’s music as a whole. It still has a below-the-surface message, but it doesn’t quite touch the lyricism that would later make Kendrick a household name.
Edd: “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain)”
It’s tough to pick one song. My cousin put me on to Section.80 back in 2011 and I was thoroughly impressed throughout the project. But y’all know me, I appreciate storytelling and lyricism and “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain)” immediately stuck out to me. Of course “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” would up the ante years later, but at the time, I thought “Keisha’s Song” was incredible and not to be topped.
We can all agree that Kendrick is TDE’s top member. But who comes closest? Who is the best next to K.Dot?
Joey: ScHoolboy Q
ScHoolboy Q is my pick. Q is the perfect blend of lyricism and turn up music. He has proven to be very versatile and hasn’t made a bad album yet. I think he complements Kendrick perfectly and I believe we’re yet to see his best work.
I’ve been pretty lukewarm on Q, honestly. He has some good songs and albums … but his share of unremarkable outings as well. I think Ab-Soul is much more consistent and much more intriguing. Control System still stands as the best non-Kendrick TDE album and his eccentric flow and thoughtful rhymes are always captivating. Q might have the most mainstream appeal and Jay Rock has that everyman vibe down pat, but bar for bar Soulo never lets me down.
What do you consider Kendrick’s biggest strength?
Joey: His songwriting, and I don’t necessarily mean his lyricism, which is obviously fantastic. I’m referring to his ability to craft complete albums, sequence songs, and thread different themes into one singular narrative. Kendrick’s songwriting is impeccable, and he quite honestly does a better job of this than some of the goats.
Edd: If I haven’t made it clear already, I think it’s the storytelling. Kendrick understands that music that stands the test of time has to be bigger than trends of the moment. He does that by weaving stories and messages into his work that will never go stale, even when the sounds evolve. I’ve already sung the praises of tracks like “Keisha’s Song” and “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.” No one can speak to audiences – both his generation and beyond – like Kendrick.
Does Kendrick have a classic album?
Joey: Yes, he has two – TPAB & Good Kid. Both are very easily classics to me. They have the quality, they have the cultural impact, and they have the musical influence. Everyone wants their major label debut to be a good kid m.A.A.d city nowadays.
Edd: I don’t use the C word loosely – in fact, if you ask Twitter, I’m much too stingy with it. But they just say that because I refuse to give their faves participation trophies. In the case of Kendrick, I agree with Joey, To Pimp a Butterfly and GKMC are easily classics. But I’ll also throw DAMN in the mix. It was a great evolution of his sound (one that other artists would borrow later in the decade), tracks like “Humble,” “Loyalty” and “DNA” have become signature songs and it’s the first non-jazz or classical work to earn a Pulitzer Prize for Music. DAMN is of stellar quality, influenced other artists, made legitimate music history and helped cement Kendrick’s legacy. Again, those are the ingredients of a classic. Keep your empty Twitter hype.
Is Kendrick the best artist of his generation?
Joey: Yes, no question to me. I think the only two other names that can compete are J. Cole and Drake. All three carried the mainstream in the 2010s decade, and all represent different lanes in hip hop. The reason why Kendrick sticks out to me the most is because of how complex his albums are, and how consistent his discography is. He hasn’t made anything less than great since his mixtape days.
Edd: I mean who else is even in the running? You can make a case for Drake only if you’re talking about most mainstream appeal. But I’m sorry, those albums ain’t hittin on nothing after 2015 or so. I’m a huge J. Cole fan and his influence is heavy but his catalog is nowhere near the quality of Kendrick’s. And don’t even mention any of those interchangeable autotune guys. There’s only one artist of this era who has combined mainstream success with consistently groundbreaking albums and his name is Kendrick Lamar. I know old heads like to say it’s “too soon” to consider Kendrick one of the greats but come on playa, the man’s career has already spanned a whole decade (and longer, if you count his early mixtapes). We didn’t wait till 2006 to call Jay Z the best or put Biggie’s crown on layway until 2004. Kendrick isn’t just the best of his generation, he’s one of the greatest of all time. I stand by that.
Who did you most agree with? Did Joey bring more facts or did Edd come through? Let us know below in the comments.