Late last night, Compton’s human sacrifice Kendrick Lamar released his fourth studio album, DAMN. Conspiracy theories rushed through Twitter about whether or not this album is going to be quickly followed by another on Sunday, an idea brought about after TDE producer Sounwave tweeted, “But what if I told you… that’s not the official version..” with a picture of Morpheus from The Matrix.
— Sounwave (@SounwaveTDE) April 14, 2017
If Mr. Duckworth can pull off the musical mimicry of Jesus by “dying” with DAMN. on Good Friday and resurrecting with another album drop on Easter Sunday, there’s no question he’s going down in the history books. This album–or multiple albums–is an important step for Kendrick, and what a lot of people have deemed as the project(s) to decide whether his place as one of the greats is cemented or disregarded.
Before last night, however, Lamar was already cemented at the helm of many people’s top emcee lists. Just a few days ago, fellow Southern California native, Vince Staples told The Cruz Show that he thinks Kendrick is the best rapper alive. It’s always a battle to get “new school” artists even entertained in all of the “best” conversations with so many greats who have a whole body of work behind them to showcase, but Kendrick has been creeping his way in since his second studio album, good kid, m.A.A.d city.
One of the most enticing things about Kung Fu Kenny’s endless ability is his flow versatility. Whether he’s mocking another rapper’s token flow or introducing an other-worldly intricate rhyme scheme, Kendrick is someone who’s predominant style is tough to pin down because he so effortlessly switches it up.
Let’s take a look at some of K.Dot’s most earth-shattering, one-of-a-kind flows that prove you don’t have to be 10 years past your prime to be considered a legend:
“Hol’ Up” – Kendrick Lamar (2011)
Off of his debut studio album Section.80, this song is like a linguistic exercise that could go head-to-head with the classics like “Do Re Mi.” With what has since grown to be one of Kendrick’s strong suits, the alliteration that effortlessly skips across his tongue is still to be unrivaled. Within the first few lines, we’re greeted with bars like, “Fast money and freedom, A crash dummy for dollars…” all delivered with an enunciation crisper than a 2 Chainz verse. On paper–well, on Genius–all three verses of this song are relatively short, but in true Kendrick fashion, they’re all packed with both expertly manipulated language and a whimsical storyline about him sleeping with the plane’s stewardess and forcing them to land early.
“Vice City (feat. Black Hippy)“ – Jay Rock (2015)
Black Hippy (which consists of TDE labelmates Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, Schoolboy Q, and Ab-Soul) is one of the most enigmatic rap groups in the game today. Known to only bless us with one-offs and remixes on one another’s respective solo albums, every day a Black Hippy track drops is a day for the history books. One of the most recent editions to their collection is off Jay Rock’s 2015 release 90059, which features the whole team doing an identical delivery. Lovingly referred to by some as the “Obama flow,” each bar starts off with high energy and drops off with the last few words, much like the rhetoric of our 43rd President. Having four different rappers deliver their verses while mimicking the same style is a feat within itself, and this song was perfectly executed.
“Look Out For Detox” – Kendrick Lamar (2010)
This song is the primary example of just how well Lamar can turn a very rudimentary beat into something larger than life–and this song proves he’s been doing it for almost 10 years. With no offense meant to producer Childish Gambino, this isn’t the most sophisticated beat of all time–but throw some elaborate bars in there and baby, you got a stew going. Kendrick is the king of finding the pocket of a beat and mastering weaving in and out of it throughout his verses. When he gets to showcasing his literary agility, it is definitely reminiscent of Eminem’s predominant sound, only less jarring. “Look Out For Detox” is just one of those songs where you discover a nuance each and every time you listen, while you’re in your room trying to flawlessly rap along.
“Poetic Justice (feat. Drake)” – Kendrick Lamar (2012)
Conceptually, “Poetic Justice” is one of the most thoroughly planned out hip hop songs in recent memory–all beginning with the Poetic Justice inception achieved by sampling the movie’s star Janet Jackson with her song, “Any Time, Any Place.” On top of that, the whole song is considered to be the love letter of a literary genius, which is solidified by each verse (even Drake’s feature) ending with “P.S” or post-script as a device to segue into the hook. This track is filled to the brim with metaphors, many of which parallel the woman in focus to poetry or writing in general. One of the highlights is the metaphor at the beginning of the third verse, which is capped off with the playfully self-referential “living my life in the margin and that metaphor was proof.” Though this song features Drake’s star power and was the fourth single on the album, it showcases complexity that most hit singles don’t even dream to.
“HUMBLE.” – Kendrick Lamar (2017)
The second the visuals for “HUMBLE.” dropped, it became crystal clear that Kendrick was coming for the crown–even if that meant taking it away from someone else (though, arguably, Big Sean never really had any type of crown to begin with). The techniques used in this instance are nothing new; In the past, Lamar has parodied flows of people like Drake in order to make hit shots blatant without having to name drop. By utilizing token Sean ad-libs like “hol’ up” and “lil bitch,” he is taunting his competition–who formerly threw bullets in his direction throughout his song “No Interviews”–by using his own signature sayings against him. In the second verse, he also takes a play on a flow that is dominating today’s radio waves from people like Lil Uzi Vert and most recently, Drake on “KMT.” While a majority of rappers have a signifying flow that makes them who they are, this is one example of how versatile Kendrick is with his abilities. Not only can he make up his own techniques, he can learn yours, and master them.
“No More Parties In LA (feat. Kendrick Lamar)” – Kanye West (2016)
The most commonly used slander against Kenny is that he doesn’t know how to make music ignorant enough to play at parties–though that’s barely an insult, the apparent point is that his versatility does not seem to stretch to the “banger” category. Blessed with a Madlib beat and one of Kanye’s best verses since Tyler, The Creator’s “Smuckers,” the storyline of both emcee’s verses is nothing but ignorant (while still being a genius because, you know, it’s Kendrick Lamar). One device K.Dot has mastered is internal rhymes: not only do the words at the end of each bar rhyme with one another, but the words in the middle of the bar do, too. A prime example being: “The opportunity, the proper top of breast and booty cheek, The pop community, I mean these bitches come with union fee.” His verse on “No More Parties In LA” is the most elegant way anybody has ever talked about “promoting pussy” on Instagram, all while using wordplay graduate English professor would drool over.
The arguments over which of his albums are to be considered classics will surely continue, but no matter the verdict, the truth remains that we have never seen any rapper like Kendrick Lamar before. He embodies the skills, rhetoric, and surely the influence of the great Andre 3000, though he puts his own mark on everything he creates. Most rappers have a specific flow, sound, or all-encompassing style that makes it simple to identify them; Kendrick is one of the only artists who not only manages to capture a unique sound for every album (shout out to Kanye West, undeniably) but also manipulates his flow with every beat he touches. The argument of Kendrick being one of the greatest rappers of all time always comes to the, “but he doesn’t have enough material to prove it,” conversation…but it shouldn’t. Kendrick Lamar has proven time and time again with his beautiful flows and unmatched rhymes that he is a poet like no other.