Looking at the past decade: Kendrick Lamar’s albums


Photo courtesy of Spotify

Good Kid M.A.A.D City is Kendrick Lamar’s first major study album and released October 22nd, 2012.

By Liam Klein, Opinions Editor

Kendrick Lamar, K.Dot, Oklama, or Kung Fu Kenny is a man of many names and albums. The 14-time Grammy Award winner is one of the most influential figures in the entire music industry. However, Lamar’s most influential album is “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City”, a 14-track masterclass in rap, which was released 10 years ago this month. 

To celebrate this milestone, it only seems fitting to see how the iconic album holds up to some of Lamar’s newer works, such as “DAMN.,” which was released just over five years ago and Lamar’s latest album “Mr. Morale, and the Big Steppers,” released in May of this year. 10 years vs. five years vs. five months. Which of these three records from Lamar’s catalog is the best? 

Let’s start with the oldest of the albums, “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City”. Told from the perspective of a younger Lamar, the record tells a story of youth in the hostile environment of Compton, Calif., where Lamar grew up. He uses this to explore universal themes like life, death, family, community, addiction, growth and faith. 

This album follows Lamar evolving throughout the course of his life, painting a picture of what the world around him is like as well as the people and lifestyle that surround him. Throughout the album, it becomes clearer that Lamar’s dream is to break free and succeed which then leads to people chasing money and lavish lifestyles at the expense of anything, including others. This is a theme prevalent throughout the entire album, but it evolves to become more grounded. The album notably comes to a close with a spiritual rebirth in “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.” On the last track, “Compton,” Lamar looks back retrospectively on how he turned his life away from crime, alcoholism and the overall destructive lifestyle that once surrounded him. 

In between the release of “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” and “DAMN.” Lamar only further grew his superstardom and cemented his legacy as one of the greatest rap artists of all time. During that time he released two more projects: “To Pimp a Butterfly” and a collection of demo tapes named “Untitled Unmastered”.  

All of this led up to arguably his most ambitious project yet “DAMN.” Lamar’s most famous album is certified three times platinum certified by the RIAA and won the 2018 Best Rap Album award at the Grammy Awards. While the album is beloved by many, very few know that it is actually intended to be listened to backward. Doing so reveals the true themes of the album: the role of faith, fate, identity, destiny and how all of these are intertwined with one’s life. 

Stylistically, this is one of Lamar’s more unique records. Throughout the album, he uses impressive beats and quickens the tempo. This, mixed with some of Lamar’s most braggadocious lyrics, creates an album that is much more abrasive than his previous works. 

That being said, the album possesses some of Lamar’s best storytelling and discusses some tricky topics. The main root of the album is Lamar’s retrospection and internal thoughts. Throughout the album, Lamar brings up points in life where he feels fate played a role. This is exemplified most notably on “DUCKWORTH” which tells the story of Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, a friend of Lamar’s father, planning a robbery at a local KFC where Kendrick’s father, nicknamed “Ducky,” was working. The robbery goes wrong and could have resulted in Ducky’s death, but his friendship caused Top Dawg to refrain from harming him. “DUCKWORTH.” lays the groundwork for the theme of fate that is present throughout the the album. 

However, this belief in fate also leads Lamar internally to question his personal relationships, as well as the importance of loyalty, trust and love. This is represented in  “LOVE” where Lamar finds himself questioning his love for a woman in his life, presumably his fiance at the time, Whitney Alford. The lyrics “If I didn’t ride the blade on the curb, would you still love me? If I minimized my net worth, would you still love me? Keep it a hundred, I’d rather you trust me than to love me,” repeat throughout the song to show Lamar’s internal conflict. By the end of the song, he realizes that the most important thing in his relationship is love. 

The theme of internal struggle is also heavily present throughout the album. Mainly, Lamar battles with the duality of religion: give into your weaknesses and be considered unholy, or resist temptation and submit yourself to God. 

Lamar’s newest album and possibly his most anticipated is “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.” This record is full of thought-provoking lyricism and complex production choices that show Lamar at his most vulnerable. With a heavy focus on difficult topics such as on trauma, vulnerability, personal growth, struggles with relationships and the pressures of the world and less of a focus on his childhood, the album becomes much more philosophical.. It deals with much more of his emotional pain and distress than his previous albums. 

The album is divided into a first and second disc. The start of the album is much more upbeat but it is still filled with reminders of the pain and vulnerability that grip him to this day, setting the precedent for the themes presented throughout the album. 

This is clearly seen on the first track on the album is “United in Grief.” The track starts off slow, but gradually evolves into an energetic and drum-centric song. Throughout the track, there are moments in which the piano returns and Lamar repeats the line “I grieve different,” a somber reminder of the issues that still afflict him.

One thing that stands out in the album is the stellar set of features. Features from Summer Walker, Kodak Black, Baby Keem, Sampha and Amanda Reifer only accentuate the album’s ideas. “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” is difficult to compare to Lamar’s previous albums due to its difference in style and theme.

While each of the albums is stylistically diverse, focusing on different ideas and on different parts of Lamar’s life, they are all excellent albums. However, when considering the commercial success, impact on Lamar’s career and impact on the rap industry it becomes clear that “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” is without a doubt the best of the three albums. It is a timeless classic that will be listened to for years to come, setting the scene for the superstar that Kendrick Lamar has become.