Kendrick Lamar: Albums Ranked Best to Worst
Kendrick Lamar is my favorite music artist by far. It’s rare for me to go a day without listening to at least one of his songs. I’ve been hooked ever since I heard his first album, and it’s been great watching him grow as an artist and become one of the juggernauts of the music industry.
A couple months ago, Kendrick went on an L.A. radio show, Big Boy TV, and was asked to rank his albums from best to worst. Many people, myself included, were surprised by his answer. The order he chose was nearly the exact opposite of what I expected. So, I thought I would take this opportunity and share my thoughts. Here is my ranking:
My rank: 5
Kendrick’s rank: 1
This is Kendrick’s latest release. After dropping The Heart Part 4, one of his best songs ever, as a teaser a few weeks prior, I was hyped out of my skull. That’s why I’m sad to say I was quite disappointed in this album. I felt like he had very little to say and he didn’t tread any new territory. The instrumentation felt uninspired and never stuck with me. I thought the spacey, ethereal singing that was used on a lot of the tracks was overdone and annoying. In all honesty, it was just boring. Loyalty ft. Rhianna may be one of the most “meh” songs I’ve ever heard.
To be fair, it’s not a terrible album. On a technical level, Kendrick still performs well. He maintains a good variety of flow and his rhymes are on point. The two notable highlights, DNA and Humble, are songs I listen to regularly.
My rank: 4
Kendrick’s rank: —
Kendrick didn’t include this album in his ranking, and it’s easy to see why. It’s not like his other full-length projects. It’s a collection of B-sides, including songs that were cut from his 3rd album, To Pimp a Butterfly, and songs that he’d previously only performed live. Most songs don’t even have names (hence the album title) and instead are numbered 01 through 08. My main reason for including this album is to illustrate that even Kendrick’s side project was better than DAMN.
Kendrick comes through with the same lyrical prowess as always. I love the raw, unpolished aesthetic of the tracks. This album’s length plays to its advantage because I can play the whole thing and have a short yet complete listening experience. That being said, untitled 02 and untitled 08 alone carry it the album to greatness.
My rank: 3
Kendrick’s rank: 4
This album showed me Kendrick’s potential as a rapper. He displayed a lot of passion that came through in every song, even among so many different styles of rapping. Despite an attempt at some loose continuity between the songs using skits, Section.80 really thrives off the power of its singles. Rigamortus, ADHD, and HiiiPower are my personal favorites. Lamar makes two major missteps in this album: No Make-Up is cringe-inducing and preachy, Tammy’s Song is a misled attempt at comedy. Finally, there’s tragically underwritten The Spiteful Chant.
Despite its inconsistencies, I still love the album overall.
good kid, m.A.A.d city
My rank: 2
Kendrick’s rank: 2
After Section.80, Kendrick took a crack at a true concept album, and succeeded with flying colors. good kid, m.A.A.d city became an instant classic. He weaves together an excellent story based on his life growing up in Compton and the societal pressures he faced living there.
The overall sound of this album is more mainstream than those before it. No song exemplified this better than his big radio hit, Swimming Pools, with its glitzy trap-influenced production, short verses, and lots of refrain. Some view this as a negative, but I believe it is one of the album’s greatest strengths. The songs are extremely catchy and, despite this being a concept album, they work great as singles. I can always listen to Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe if I want to mellow out and get hype at the same time, or m.A.A.d city for some aggressive, high-intensity bars, or the aforementioned Swimming Pools for a catchy hook. It’s no mystery why this album led to so many new Kendrick Lamar fans.
To Pimp a Butterfly
My rank: 1
Kendrick’s rank: 3
I was amazed by how much this album grew on me. At first, I was turned off by its instrumentation, its heavy-handed and sometimes confusing message, and the name of the album. But I’m glad I kept going back to it, because it is now my favorite album of all time. Kendrick takes listeners on a journey of self-discovery and metamorphosis that captivates from beginning to end, so much so that listening to individual songs often feels like an injustice. That’s why I’ve listened to the whole thing dozens of times. Nowhere else have I found such a complete music experience.
I love everything about this album. Kendrick’s wordplay and flow are more creative and experimental than ever. The raw, jazz-influenced beats are masterfully arranged and set the tone perfectly each time, ranging from downright groovy to painfully somber. I love the way the songs are tied together with a poem that gets longer as you go through the tracklist. To Pimp a Butterfly is truly a masterpiece, and for Kendrick to rank it as his second to worst album was heartbreaking.
All things considered, though, I shouldn’t be too mad about the rankings. None of the albums are so egregious that I can’t see why he likes one over the other. Also, it makes perfect sense that he thinks his latest work is his best. Kendrick is the type of artist who wouldn’t continue to make music if he didn’t feel he was putting out his best. Maybe in a few years he’ll come to agree with me.