Despite what some people think, there’s no reason to compare J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar. They’re two completely different artists, and moreover, comparing Cole to Kendrick is just unfair. Anyone should be able to tell that Kendrick is miles ahead of what Cole is able to do, and insinuating otherwise is just radically false. But that’s a bit unfair to Cole, since Kendrick can rap circles around almost every other mainstream rapper out there. Kendrick’s skill has been evident for a while. So many hip-hop heads have known for quite some time now that Kendrick Lamar truly is an unstoppable beast.
Sure, Drake is making so much more money (ridiculously so) than Kendrick, and Aubrey is certainly at the top, as far as monetary success, but he isn’t making music that can even come close to what Kendrick is making. You’ve got President Obama letting everybody know that Lamar is a better rapper, because he is, and then Drake takes a shot at Obama in one of his songs – but not at Kendrick. It’s laughable at this point, Drake could win all the Grammys and earn all the endorsement deals, but Kendrick is truly Drake’s Achilles heel. Drake knows how good Kendrick is, he’ll just never say it out loud.
Really, all of TDE (Top Dawg Entertainment) is just killing it right now, with Ab-Soul, ScHoolboy Q, Jay Rock, Isaiah Rashad, SZA and probably more to come. But it is clear that Kendrick’s the golden child. Kanye West may be more controversial, for the wrong reasons, but Lamar stirs up a fair amount of conversations and arguments and for all the right reasons. To Pimp a Butterfly got reviews and respect that no other rap album got in 2015. On top of being outstanding to listen to, it inspired countless think-pieces and online publications that discuss the many layers of that project. Only true talent can inspire that kind of public discourse.
It is these reasons and so much more, as to why it is clear that Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper in the world.
This song from To Pimp a Butterfly has become an important anthem for many protesters within the Black Lives Matter movement. Moreover, the song was recently chanted by protesters at a Donald Trump rally. The song deals with the rapper battling to find a higher purpose and overcoming his own depression. His faith allows him to accept his failures and keep pressing onward, knowing that he is going to be okay. And whenever you’ve got Pharrell Williams in the producing chair, with this much bass, you’re guaranteed to have a surefire hit on your hands. Not to mention that this song earned Kendrick the Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song Grammys.
9. The Positivity
Kendrick has been consistently weaving in positive messages on his albums, and this is more evident now then ever before. From listening to a number of his older projects, you can gather that Kendrick experienced some pretty rough things while in Compton. He’s alluded to some pretty dark stuff, but he’s come out the other end of it trying to be a better person. To be honest, in mainstream hip-hop, there just aren’t enough rappers who are trying to do this. Songs like “Swimming Pools,” “i” and “Real” are just a few examples of Kendrick looking to deliver a message that is meant to benefit your life.
8. His Music Videos
Kendrick’s artistic flair does not stop with his music, and can also be seen in the visuals that accompany his music. As the years have passed, Lamar has grown more and more creative and artistically-driven, delivering music videos that are really outside of the box. In a string of his more recent videos for tracks from To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick has been incredibly bold in his social/political messages that are represented in various images. Kendrick Lamar’s videos are distinctly his and are unlike any other videos from any other rappers currently in the game, speaking to his level of individuality.
7. How He Alters His Voice
This is something some singers like to claim that they do, even though they don’t. In hip-hop, there aren’t a whole bunch of rappers changing the pitch or inflection in their voice for different effects, but Kendrick is definitely one who does. In the 16-track To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick employs a different vocal pitch and inflection on almost every song, switching up his flow so that no one song sounds like the one before it or after it. He uses his voice to create different characters that are part of his story. Lamar will even spit two verses sounding as if he had just been crying for the last several hours, like on “u.” Very, very smart and effective.
Pick any beat in the world and Kendrick can ride it extremely well. Even in his good kid m.A.A.d city days, Kendrick did a number of guest features on songs with other rappers, R&B singers and pop artists. Whether it’s A$AP Rocky‘s “F***in’ Problems,” Solange Knowles‘ “Looks Good with Trouble” or Robin Thicke‘s “Give It 2 U,” Kendrick always brings his A-game and never sounds uncomfortable or out of place. Even within the hip-hop genre, Kendrick can sound good over a trap beat, some New York boom-bap and even some experimental production – like what is showcased on his latest project “Untitled Unmastered.” It’s safe to assume he’ll be doing more experimentation and genre-bending in the future.
5. Live Performances
Plenty of rappers give amazing live performances – Big K.R.I.T. and Tech N9ne, just to name a couple. Kendrick Lamar goes out of his way to give the audience everything he has, with a full band backing him up. This is of course something he has gotten better at over time, and it always looks like he is completely in the zone whenever he is performing. Earlier this year in February, Kendrick pretty much won the whole night after his amazing performance at the Grammys. He didn’t win Album of the Year, which was disappointing, however his performance was easily the most talked about the next day. And he’s not even 30 years old yet, so imagine what he has in store for the future.
There are monstrous lyricists in the rap game right now, and plenty of them are often slept on. Black Thought, Royce da 5’9″ and many more. You don’t even need to look at his studio albums to see how good of a lyricist Kendrick is. Take his “Black Friday” project with J. Cole, where they both rapped over the other person’s beats. Cole made the mistake of giving Kendrick what was probably the best beat on his latest album, and Lamar wasted no time letting Cole know that. And of course, his infamous “Control” verse, which broke the internet years ago when it was released. His pen game is unquestionable.
3. To Pimp a Butterfly
While the critically-acclaimed project didn’t earn Kendrick that Album of the Year Grammy, it did rightfully win Best Rap Album. To Pimp a Butterfly, in so many different ways, was a complete game-changer for the hip-hop genre in 2015. No other rap album that year was as bold, original or as emotional as this one. Even David Bowie said the project had an influence on him while he was completing his final album, Blackstar. That’s saying something. Kendrick dealt with fame, money, depression, faith, hatred, love and enlightenment. This was incredibly meaningful for so many hip-hop fans, and will continue to be for years to come.
2. Untitled Unmastered
This is how good Kendrick Lamar is: even his unused, B-side tracks can be compiled into an album that will outshine most other albums surrounding it. On Untitled Unmastered, a lot of the same elements are carried over from “TPaB” – mainly free-jazz, soul and funk. The introduction to the album, “Untitled 01 | 08.19.2014.,” is attention-grabbing, dark and apocalyptic. It almost serves as a warning to all of mankind, painting a vision of chaos reigning down upon the world, as a reaction to our bad actions. His storytelling skills have not gone away, and have continued to improve over the years. And “Blue Faces” is just infectious.
1. He Is Relentless
The man is dedicated to his craft like no other, and the evidence you need is everything I’ve listed above. Kendrick is on a mission, he’s said so himself. Rather than taking one or two songs and making socially/politically conscious – which is what most rappers tend to do – Kendrick will take the entire album and make every song a statement. And there just aren’t many rappers who are willing to do that, especially those that are within the mainstream. Lamar seems to constantly be working, whether it’s on music videos, or special tours and concerts and even new material for future projects. All of this is what makes Kendrick Lamar the best rapper in the game right now.