The Decaturian is Millikin's student-run newspaper. The opinions reflected may not be those of Millikin as an institution.

The Decaturian

The Decaturian is Millikin's student-run newspaper. The opinions reflected may not be those of Millikin as an institution.

The Decaturian

The Decaturian is Millikin's student-run newspaper. The opinions reflected may not be those of Millikin as an institution.

The Decaturian

Record Retrospective: Kendrick Lamar


I’ve been thinking about starting a series like this for a while, so why not start with one of the best rappers in the game and one of my personal favorite artists ever, Kendrick Lamar? Today I’ll be taking a closer look at all of Lamar’s core studio projects and talk about my feelings towards them, their cultural significance and what they mean to Lamar artistically and personally.

Section.80 (2011)

Lamar’s debut album has never been one I constantly go back to. Don’t get me wrong, there are some definite highlights all over this thing. “A.D.H.D” and “Rigamortus” especially are early showcases of Lamar’s one-of-a-kind technical and storytelling ability. You also have “HiiiPower” which remains one of Lamar’s biggest hits. As an overall album though, it can feel a bit dated with some of the songwriting tropes and production decisions. Still a good and fun album to have on, but compared to what’s to come for Lamar, it’s nothing too crazy. 7.7/10

good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012)

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I still remember the first time I heard this album. Only hearing DAMN. and To Pimp a Butterfly before this, I knew what I was hearing was good but I don’t think I was able to fully grasp what I was listening to. Until I heard good kid, m.A.A.d city that is. This full-fledged concept album was able to paint the entire story of the record, Lamar’s life and upbringing, perfectly in my head, something I can only say about a few albums at this point. This record truly opened my eyes to the world of Kendrick Lamar and hip-hop as a whole. From listening to this record I was able to fully appreciate Lamar’s other works as well. This should definitely be your starting point if you have yet to get into Lamar’s music fully. Songs like “Money Trees” and “Swimming Pools” are stone cold radio rap classics while “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” and “The Art of Peer Pressure” might be some of the best storytelling I’ve ever heard. Not just in music but in all forms of media. This record is truly special and showed the world that Lamar is one of the greatest. It might not be my absolute favorite, but it’s pretty damn close. 9.9/10

To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)

This is the one. If good kid fully got me into hip-hop and Lamar as an artist, To Pimp a Butterfly solidified him as one of my favorite artists of all time in any genre. I will say it didn’t click with me all the way at first though. After getting more acquainted with Lamar and other big rap artists in general, I was able to come back and fully appreciate what Lamar was able to craft on this beautiful album. To this day I’m still floored at how he was able to pull an album of this caliber off. Everything from the lyricism, storytelling, production and a plethora of different genre influences, it’s all near perfect on this record. Standouts like “u,” “How Much a Dollar Cost,” “The Blacker the Berry,” just to name a few, aren’t just songs to put on in the background, they’re songs to truly listen to, dissect and mull over. This album truly feels like you just read a Pulitzer Prize winning book or watched an Oscar-winning film by the time it’s over. The album’s themes of systematic and institutional racism, gang violence and the overall struggles of being a black man in America are all omnipresent throughout the whole record, giving it an overarching theme that never fades into the background. The record’s flow is also nothing short of masterful. Lamar weaves in bits of spoken-word poetry throughout the album, only revealing the full poem, which encapsulates all the record’s central themes, at the very end. This album is nothing short of a master stroke. While it was praised upon release, I think it’s only become more topical and relevant with age and remains Lamar’s magnum opus. Flawless in every sense of the word. 10/10

untitled unmastered. (2016)

With an album as incredible as Butterfly, of course the B-sides are good too. Untitled is constantly overlooked in Lamar’s discography, which is understandable given its unconventional release and song titles, but the actual music here is still second to none. Some songs I can see why he scrapped but others like “untitled 02,” “05” and “08” are absolutely worthy of being seen on a proper album. If you’re a diehard Lamar fan and still haven’t heard this, do yourself a favor. 8.2/10

DAMN. (2017)

Lamar’s commercial peak might also be his weakest release since his debut. But wait, that doesn’t mean it’s bad in the slightest. DAMN. will always hold a special place in my heart as it was how I first got into Lamar’s music. This album is also home to some of the most vulnerable and personal tracks he has ever put to tape. “FEAR.,” “DUCKWORTH.” and my personal favorite “FEEL.” are all top tier Lamar songs in their own right with how he reflects on his life, decisions and demons. The main reason why I don’t think DAMN. comes close to the level of good kid or Butterfly is really just how commercial and safe some of the production and melodies can sound at times. The album’s biggest hit “HUMBLE.” is the prime example of this. I do really enjoy this song in context still, but at the same time it’s such a radio ploy and can feel lifeless and sparse when removed from the record’s personal prowess. I still think DAMN. was a monumental moment for Lamar and perfectly set the stage for where he would go on his next studio effort, it’s just not super groundbreaking. 8.9/10

Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers (2022)

1,855 days later Lamar would release his long-awaited 5th album Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers. This album would do all of what DAMN. did well and then some. Constructed as a double album, each track feels less like a rap song and more like a therapy session. Diving deep into Lamar’s trauma and personal life on tracks like “United in Grief,” “Mother I Sober,” “Auntie Diaries” and many more, this wasn’t an album for the radio or faint of heart. This album is as personal as Lamar has gotten thus far without sacrificing any artistry or integrity. Mr. Morale is Lamar through and through and his best record since Butterfly. 9.4/10

“euphoria” & “6:16 in LA” (2024)

Now I’m guessing this is why you’re all here. The ongoing beef between Kendrick Lamar and Drake has only continued to ramp up since my last article about Future and Metro Boomin. Since Drake’s two promising diss tracks dropped, Lamar has since clapped back and completely demolished the Degrassi veteran. Everything from bringing up old beef that Drake evaded, claiming he only pretends to be black, only embraces Black culture for the profits and just profusely calling him names and degrading him, Lamar does not hold back much on these two new diss tracks. While “euphoria” is the beefier (no pun intended) of the two clocking in at around 6 minutes and change, it targets Drake the most as a person and as an entertainer, bringing up all of what I just mentioned and more. While “6:16 in LA,” which just released this morning as I’m writing this, is another direct jab at Drake, making fun of his recurring “Timestamp” song series. We hear Lamar even mimic Drake’s flow a little in this song while also doubling down on what he brought up in “euphoria” with a bit more generalized disses toward Drake and his label OVO. It’s truly been an hectic week in hip-hop and it might not even stop here. I’m eager to see if Drake will respond once more and what Lamar is able to come up with that will completely put Drake in a casket.

“meet the grahams” & “Not Like Us” (2024)

Yeah, so I shouldn’t have spoken so soon, I guess. Right after I finished writing this piece, Drake dropped another diss that I will honestly give him a lot of credit for. He brings up a lot of questionable accounts of Lamar’s character over this pretty menacing yet danceable trap beat, something that’s pretty safe for him. But, this was all just a part of Lamar’s trap. Not even an hour after Drake’s track, “Family Matters,” dropped, Lamar retaliates with “meet the grahams,” which is less of a diss and more of a deconstruction of Drake’s ego, self-worth and controversies over this sickly, diabolical piano-led jazz-rap beat. I think it’s safe to say that Lamar completely obliterated Drake here, bringing up information that had yet to be seen by the public, most notably claiming that he has been hiding a daughter for 11 years. This track is formatted like a letter to all of Drake’s family members, including his mother, father and 6-year-old son Adonis, addressing everything from his predatory allegations to things I don’t even feel comfortable discussing in this context. And of course that wasn’t even enough, as Lamar dropped yet another diss the next night, titled “Not Like Us,” that goes even deeper into Drake’s many scandals with dating underage girls over a quite more clubby and energetic beat. I don’t know how Drake could possibly come back from this if I’m being completely honest. I’m not even sure if this will be it from either rapper or if they’re just getting started. Just another reason why Drizzy should’ve never started beef with a guy who has a Pulitzer.

To wrap up, Kendrick Lamar has been a prodigy in the hip-hop world for over a decade and this recent activity only further confirms that statement. I look forward to hearing more from the mortal man in the near future and will always hold him in the highest of regards.

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About the Contributor
Eli Bland
Eli Bland, Arts Editor
Eli Bland is a Multimedia Communications major with a minor in English. Eli has had a passion for music and the arts since a young age and writing has always been his favorite way to express that. Being the Arts Editor at the Decaturian, his main focus has been on new album reviews, listicles and keeping up with Millikin's many art programs. He hopes to continue his journalism journey after graduation.

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