Kendrick Lamar is not only considered one of the fastest rising artists on the music scene, having headlined major music festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo, he is also regarded as one of rap's strongest lyricists. While his early mixtapes and albums showed flashes of serious lyrical content, it was his 2012 breakout album good kid, m.A.A.d city and his 2015 album of the year candidate To Pimp a Butterfly that took Lamar's socially conscious and politically charged lyrics to the next level. These five lyrics show off the broad talents that have made Kendrick Lamar the star he is.
Not many rappers could pull off a twelve minute track. Fewer still could pull off a two-act suite that tells a complete story. But that is what makes Kendrick Lamar special and “Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst” is a highlight track on good kid, m.A.A.d city. The song is so respected in musical circles that it has been covered twice by jazz pianists.
“I'm not sure why I'm infatuated with death.
My imagination is surely an aggravation of threats
that can come about 'cause the tongue is mighty powerful.
And I can name a list of your favorites that probably vouch.
Maybe 'cause I'm a dreamer and sleep is the cousin of death.”
“Cartoon & Cereal” was leaked online in 2012 as the expected first single from good kid, m.A.A.d city. But the song featuring Gunplay never made it to the album. The song is a great preview of themes Lamar would further explore as his career progressed, the nature of good and evil and its relationship to innocence and loss thereof. Because of its status as an unreleased track, it has become a cult favorite among Kendrick Lamar's fanbase.
“Now I was raised in a sandbox, next to you and her.
You was holding the handgun, she was giving birth,
To a baby boy to be just like you, I wonder what that's worth.”
While not a single from Kendrick Lamar's landmark To Pimp a Butterfly, “Wesley's Theory” gets plenty of attention due to being the album's first track, as well as featuring lyrical and instrumental help from Parliament's George Clinton and bassist Thundercat respectively. The song takes its name from actor Wesley Snipes, who served jail time for tax evasion and its lyrics are critical of a criminal justice system that Lamar feels targets black entertainers for financial crimes more than white business men.
“Get it all, you deserve it Kendrick,
And when you get the White House, do you.
But remember, you ain't pass economics in school.
And everything you buy, taxes will deny.
I'll Wesley Snipe your ass before thirty-five”
The title track from Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d city is a stark portrayal of the tug of war between a desire to make something of your life and the pull of criminal and gang life. Lamar worked with Compton's Most Wanted alum M.C. Eiht to pen a gritty look at the effects of an upbringing surrounded by violence and corruption.
“Would you say my intelligence now is great relief?
And it's safe to say that our next generation maybe can sleep
With dreams of being a lawyer or doctor
Instead of boy with a chopper that hold the cul de sac hostage”
There's no shortage of racially charged material on To Pimp a Butterfly but no song hits the mark quite as hard as “The Blacker the Berry.” The second single from the album is a no holds barred boom bap take on racial stereotypes, with Lamar daring the listener to face their racial stereotypes head on. From exaggerated anatomy to kinky hair, from derided ethnic names to slurs about watermelon and chicken, Kendrick Lamar throws it all on the table and dares anyone to pick it up. It's the lyrical high point of an album full of them.
“This plot is bigger than me, it's generational hatred
It's genocism, it's grimy, little justification
I'm African-American, I'm African
I'm black as the heart of a fuckin' Aryan
I'm black as the name of Tyrone and Dareous”