Every generation is impacted by the collective efforts of the people. There has always been a chosen few who’s words and actions are transcendent and can break the mold or set the tone for the people to follow, sparking progressive movements and new, refreshing ways of thinking. Both can be said of Kendrick Lamar, rap’s preeminent poet of the moment, who has emerged as one of the more significant artists to rise to power in quite some time. With a decade of rapping under his belt and a body of work that includes standout P’s (Kendrick Lamar EP), mixtape (Overly Dedicated), and albums (good kid, m.A.A.d. city, To Pimp a Butterfly), the Compton native has build a track record for excellence since catching the rap world’s attention in 2009.
Far from your token rapper, Kendrick Lamar is an MC in a class of his own, with all of the skills and wrinkles that comprise the make-up of a legend, a role which he’s prepared himself to step into. Shunning the materialism, incessant misogyny, and nihilism that has once again become more of the norm in the mainstream, K.Dot offers a refreshing alternative, although he is as apt as delivering party-centric tunes of his own as he is with leaving listeners in a spellbound stat after on of his rhyme spills. However, Kendrick is at his best when tapping into his more cerebral and introspective side, as he does on many of his more celebrated compositions, where he tackles inner demons and idle thoughts while giving the public a piece of himself. Whereas many artists are content with charades of invincibility and what manhood means, Kendrick Lamar has found power in his vulnerability, enabling him to speak to the hearts of men without sacrificing his ability to move the needle.
With the release of his long-awaited third studio album, now is as good as a time to look back at a few of the instances where Kendrick was transparent in his view of himself and the world around him. Here are 10 of the most introspective moments in Kendrick Lamar’s career thus far.
1. Cut You Off
“I’m tryna learn something new/I’m tryna find myself, I’m searching deep for Kendrick Lamar,” the Compton native spits on “Cut You Off,” a standout selection from the rapper’s 2010 mixtape, Overly Dedicated. Produced by Tae Beast, “Cut You Off” finds Kendrick lamenting the negative energy that engulfs his everyday life and his desire to free himself from it and those who possess it. Giving a rundown of family and friends that he finds particularly draining, Kendrick processes his thoughts about himself and his own desires while juxtaposing that with the concerns of others, before concluding that although family can sometimes take a toll on his mental, he remains loyal to those he has loves, for better of worse.
To Pimp A Butterfly was received as a universal classic upon its release, with a murderers row of high-powered material, but among the more intriguing songs on the album was “U,” which captures Kendrick Lamar in a highly vulnerable state. Chanting “loving you is complicated,” a charge that is directed at himself, Kendrick gradually barks at himself, listing his shortcomings and perceived failures in life while downplaying the significance of his success. Drunk and on the brink of suicide, Kendrick turns in his most striking performance on “U,” cutting beneath the surface and getting to the root of his depression and survivors guilt.
3. Vanity Slaves
His first release after adopting his birth name as his rap moniker, Kendrick Lamar EP amounted to the calm before the storm that would be the rapper’s rise to prominence. One of the project’s most intense offerings is “Vanity Slaves,” a track that tackles his own materialism and how the ostentatious ways of black Americans can be explained as a byproduct of slavery, equating our need to floss and how it can control us to the chains that left us physically captive. Lines like “I care about my pride too much, if my clothes is new, if my ride is plush/If my hair is cut, if my diamonds is crushed, I look in the mirror, I’m trendy enough?” speak to the insecurity and shallow ways of black Americans today, which Kendrick himself also owns up to while noting his own hypocrisy in the process.
4. Poe Mans Dreams
“I used to wanna see the penitentiary right after elementary/Thought it was cool to look the judge in his face when he sentence me,” Kendrick reveals on “Poe Mans Drams”, from his breakthrough project, Section 80, which helped put his career on the fast track. One of the more subdued moments on the Section 80, “Poe Mans Dreams” is a trip through the mind of the lyricist, which touches on incarcerated relatives and friends, the influence his father has on his artistry, and the mental and spiritual fatigue that life can bring. Produced by Willie B, “Poe Mans Drams” captures Kendrick in his analytical zone and stands as one of his more visceral moments of introspect.
5. Bi**h Don’t Kill My Vibe
One of Kendrick Lamar’s signature songs to date is “Bi**h Don’t Kill My Vibe,” from his debut album, good kid, m.A.A.d. city that also doubles as one of his most cerebral efforts. Produced by Sounwave, “Bi**h Don’t Kill My Vibe” finds Kendrick baring his spiritual wounds and rapping “fell on my face and I wok with a scar, another mistake living deep in my heart/Wear it on top of my sleeve in a flick, I can admit that it did look like yours.” He also shares his disdain for the addiction that is fame. Despite not initially being tapped as a single, the song’s organic popularity among Kendrick’s fans created the demand for it to be put in rotation, making it one of the more thoughtful hit records to find a haven on the Billboard charts.
On “Momma,” a sublime number from To Pimp a Butterfly, bombastic bass and off-kilter snares serve as the canvas Kendrick Lamar creates on. Going into his memory bank and giving accounts of past experiences and emotions K.Dot draws from the lessons his mother and the streets of Compton instilled in him, such as wisdom, generosity, and healthy spiritual values. Showing his sentimental appreciation for home, Kendrick Lamar reflection is internal on “Momma,” a masterful outing from the trusty wordsmith.
7. Good Kid
Kendrick Lamar’s debut album, good kid, m.A.A.d. city, was full of insightful moments. “Good Kid” is another trip through the mind of the Compton rap deity. Produced by and featuring Pharrell, the track captures K.Dot making sense of his constant struggle for survival in his gang-infested stomping grounds, and the pressure that comes with. “I got animosity building, it’s probably big as a building/Jumping off of the roof is me just playing it safe,” Kendrick muses, as he acknowledges the turbulence of his environment and how he copes with it all.
8. Kush & Corinthians (His Pain)
Purpose and spirituality are the topics at hand on “Kush & Corinthians (His Pain),” a deep cut from Section 80 on which Kendrick does a bit of soul-searching and questioning his role and destiny in life. Powered by a brooding backdrop, courtesy of producer Wyldfyer, and featuring vocals from BJ the Chicago Kid, “Kush & Corinthians” is an often overlooked, but essential selection that delves into the mentality of Kendrick Lamar.
9. The Heart Pt. 2
Kendrick Lamar utilizes a clip from a Dash Snow interview for the intro to “The Heart Pt. 2,” the introductory section from his Overly Dedicated mixtape. Borrowing an instrumental from The Roots to do his bidding over, K. Dot delivers one of the definitive stanzas of his rap reign thus far. A mix of stream-of-consciousness and introspection, “The Heart Pt. 2” is comprised of various observations about the world around him and himself, and his desire to understand it all. “Really I’m just caught up in the loop of understanding the truth because it seems like it’s always clashing with science” rhymes while voicing his hopes that his rhymes make an impact beyond the streets of Compton. Kendrick wowed the crowd with “The Heart Pt. 2,” a pivotal musical moment for the young MC.
A guitar-laden standout from Overly Dedicated, “ROTC” is a frenetic cut that captures a pre-stardom Kendrick Lamar voicing his impatience with his path to greatness and the ill-advised temptations that occasionally entice him. “This is me, frustrated, battling my own ego,” he admits as he breaks down his grind and the lack of income he’s garnered in comparison to his dope-dealing and gun-toting homies as well as conjured thoughts of his plight. Ultimately diminishing that status and promising to stay the course, Kendrick Lamar scores another thought-provoking selection, as he delves inward yet again, with effective results.