Kendrick Lamar's 25 Favorite Albums

The music that shaped a good kid in a mad city.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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The music that shaped a good kid in a mad city.

This feature is a part of Complex's "good kid, m.A.A.d city" Week.

Kendrick Lamar is a rapper with a wide range of listening habits—traces of which can be heard throughout his debut album, good kid, m.A.A.d city. Having grown up in the city of Compton, he has an understandable preference for West Coast rap, but his taste in hip-hop transcends geographical boundaries.

His favorite LP selections—presented here in chronological order of release—reveal a mixture of music from and about his hometown and records that show a particular sort of musical curiosity. Read on to find out which albums defined Kendrick Lamar's coming of age in hip-hop, and which artist was on such heavy rotation in his childhood home that he can't remember which songs were from which album.

As told to David Drake (@somanyshrimp)

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DJ Quik, Quik Is The Name (1991)

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Label: Profile
Kendrick Lamar: "‘Sweet Black Pussy,’ I played that all day in my house. This is background music for me, way ahead of my time. It was just something that was always played in my house.

"I got into it through both [his beats and his raps], me being a kid and listening to it. He was a rapper. I kind of knew he made the beats too for some reason. I think somebody told me that ‘cause as a kid I never looked at Quik as just a rapper. I knew that he actually did the whole instrumentation behind it.

“I think his voice tone is really unique. It stood out, the same way Eazy stood out. Kind of like high pitched, you knew it was him every time he got on a track.”

Ice Cube, Death Certificate (1991)

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Label: Priority, EMI
Kendrick Lamar: "I remember them playing that in the house as a kid but not really knowing how much it would influence the world. So I really doubled back to it a few years back and really sat down and listened to it. It’s just a crazy, crazy album. 'A Bird In The Hand' is one of my favoritest joints.

“I’m sure it was a big influence, just what he talked about. Cube talked about a lot of stuff that was going on in the world as well. He blended that into the streets and it was really from a raw standpoint. That’s why I like that the most.”

Dr. Dre, The Chronic (1992)

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Label: Death Row, Interscope, Priority
Kendrick Lamar: “That was probably the first rap album I remember them playing in the house from top to bottom. Songs that I actually remember as a kid. That’s the start of them house parties I always talk about growing up.

"‘Lil’ Ghetto Boy’ was crazy because of the storytelling, and I do a lot of storytelling in this album. I really pattern… Like I listen to my album and how it’s broken down to 12 songs. It really kind of shapes and forms into an album like that. Just with the storytelling and what represents the city today and kids around the world today.”

Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle (1993)

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Label: Death Row, Interscope
Kendrick Lamar: “‘Who Am I (What’s My Name)’ is probably one of the first rap records I really learned all the way. I remember watching it on The Box, the cable channel you had to like order and call. I remember them playing that and ‘I Got 5 On It’ like 10 times in a row on certain days.”

“What’s one of my favorite songs...There was a posse track I cannot think of the name of it ["Stranded on Death Row"]. It had everybody on it. RBX is on it, Lady of Rage was on it, Kurupt was on it.”

Notorious B.I.G., Ready To Die (1994)

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Label: Bad Boy
Kendrick Lamar: "[What resonated with me was] the storytelling, just the storytelling, how in-depth the storytelling was. The storytelling and the flow. The one thing about West Coast music, we had storytelling, it wasn’t crazy in-depth like that, but we had it. Our stuff was more laid back, more flow and feel good, more how records felt. His was just grimy. Stories was crazy. Flows was crazy.”

2Pac, Me Against The World (1995)

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Label: Interscope
Kendrick Lamar: "It really was just in heavy rotation. Constantly going back and forth where we was just mixing and matching songs together. It was really dark. ‘Death Around The Corner,’ ‘So Many Tears,’ you can tell what type of space he was in.”

Tha Dogg Pound, Dogg Food (1995)

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Label: Death Row, Interscope
Kendrick Lamar: “Yeah, with ‘Let’s Play House.’ [Laughs] Yeah, Dogg Pound, Dogg Food, Kurupt. They was so cold with it. That was all the stuff I was playing in the house too. I was exposed to all them crazy raps. Daz on the beat, Kurupt spitting crazy bars. ‘Let’s Play House’ was one of the standout joints.”

2Pac, All Eyez on Me (1996)

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Label: Death Row, Interscope
Kendrick Lamar: "You know what’s crazy about these Tupac albums? These three records, Me Against The World, All Eyez On Me, and Makaveli [The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory] was played so much that you start mixing up what songs was on what album because there was so much in heavy rotation. With the older songs and the newer songs, they were played so much in the household. All I can remember is just my pops always constantly just playing that album. Just playing it, playing it playing it. All of them really were in heavy rotation. That’s all we knew in the house.”

Jay-Z, Reasonable Doubt (1996)

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Label: Roc-A-Fella, Priority
Kendrick Lamar: "I had to double back and listen to Jay-Z once I started writing. And one of my favorite tracks on there is ‘Politics As Usual.’ Just the vibe of it and the flow. I really captured that flow and stole that cadence just being a student of the game. It really stuck with me. 'Y'all relatin' no waitin' / I'll make your block infrared hot: I'm like Satan / y'all feel a nigga's struggle / y'all think a nigga love to hustle behind the wheel / trying to escape my trouble.' It’s probably one of the first verses I remember on that album.

"I got into Reasonable Doubt like 2002, 2001. I was super late. On the West Coast we weren’t really playing East Coast music like that just because of all the beef stuff that was going on—we was really influenced by that. I’m like 9, 10, 11 years old. I don’t wanna listen to nothing on the East Coast. Everything everybody was playing was Death Row.”

2Pac, Makaveli (1996)

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Label: Death Row, Interscope
Kendrick Lamar: “The reason I like Makaveli, one of my favorites, is the aggression of it. I look back, there was so much controversy about that album that I really couldn’t understand at a young age. Him being on a cross and the 21 gun salute [‘Against All Odds].’ It was just so much aggression and I think that was ‘Pac’s greatest niche. Have that emotion, have that aggression on that track and it really felt like he wanted to go to war listening to it.”

Notorious B.I.G., Life After Death (1997)

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Label: Bad Boy
Kendrick Lamar: “I remember being a kid with my homeboy, trying to learn the verse for the R. Kelly joint, ‘Fuckin' You Tonight,’ [laughs] constantly trying to learn that flow: 'Girl you look fine, like a wind face Rolex, you just shine.' That flow. We thought that was crazy. Same thing on that. The storytelling was ridiculous. Now as I look back and listen to it now, I see he basically takes us through in another direction to where it opens up to the masses. He started off with the streets and then brought it out with the next album which was dope.”

DMX, It's Dark and Hell is Hot (1998)

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Label: Def Jam, Ruff Ryders
Kendrick Lamar: “Aww yeah. That’s the first album that got me writing. I wrote my first lyrics to that album actually, about 13-14. I was going into eighth grade, seventh grade going into eighth grade maybe. I just got inspired and I started writing, so that will always be one of my favorite albums. And the fact that I just met DMX for the first time last week—I got to actually tell him that for the first time. That album inspired me to be a rapper.

“It was just the raw and realness. Tupac was gone, there was a void, [something] was missing in the game and he came through to fill that void. Now that I think about it, that was the reason why.

“My favorite song would probably be the ‘Intro.’ ‘One two one two / come through run through gun who / oh you don't know what the gun do.’ I had that on repeat. That, ‘Get At Me Dog,’ I could go all day.”

Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)

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Label: Ruffhouse, Columbia
Kendrick Lamar: "That [record] probably had the most hits on it than I’ve ever heard. Even going back and listening to it now. Crazy, I think she was way ahead of her time—just the feeling and the cohesiveness and the concept behind it. It was just genius to me.

“[I] Really just [remember] the videos, how dope the videos were. They were cool and it was just a different feel. It had a natural organic feel. Back then the videos coming out, everybody had the high-class, high-end type look, hers was more natural, being-herself type look. I thought that was dope, and it's dope that I recognized that at a young age.”

Juvenile, 400 Degreez (1998)

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Label: Cash Money, Universal
Kendrick Lamar: “Aww, 400 Degreez, that was one of my favorite summertime... Early Cash Money was some of my favorite years in life. I checked that album, top to bottom all day. There was one particular summer just the whole neighborhood just playing it. Everybody thought they were Hot Boys, trying to tie their do-rags around their head. It was crazy. They had the West Coast on smash. We definitely tried to be like them.

“I loved it right away. Right away. That was the start of them videos. That was the start of that. That whole feel was just original. The stuff he was saying was just so relatable.”

DJ Quik, Rhythm-al-ism (1998)

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Label: Profile
Kendrick Lamar: “'Down, Down, Down,’ that used to be crazy. I came across this record in middle school. Middle school, just playing ‘Down, Down, Down’ all day. Going on the bus and bumping that. ‘Speed’ was crazy, ‘Hand In Hand.’ ‘Speed’ was crazy. The interlude was crazy too, he always has a lot of crazy interludes.”

B.G., Chopper City in the Ghetto (1999)

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Label: Cash Money, Universal
Kendrick Lamar: “How raw it was. It was just dirty. I like B.G.’s tone too, the way he pronounces words. I like all their tones. They’re all just unique in their own way. [Favorite song is] probably ‘Thug’n.’ That and ‘Cash Money Is An Army.’”

Hot Boys, Guerrilla Warfare (1999)

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Label: Cash Money, Universal
Kendrick Lamar: “I would say Turk and Wayne were killing it—B.G. too. My favorite joint was probably ‘Ridin’.’ ‘We ridin’, We ridin’, come up out the flames with the K firing.’ Same thing. Summertime, they had us on lock. 

"[My favorite Mannie Fresh beat] probably had to be ‘Ridin’’ on the Hot Boys album.”

Lil Wayne, The Block Is Hot (1999)

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Label: Cash Money
Kendrick Lamar: “They was killing the game. Cash Money was a heavy influence on the West Coast, I don’t think the world know. Mannie Fresh made the type of beats that still have the bass in it. L.A. love that bass. We weren’t really choppin’ to the boom bap feel until later on, but they had that bass, that ridin’ music. They had a style, that’s why we love ‘em.

"I just met Mannie Fresh on this tour. It was crazy. I got to ask him a few questions about the game and stuff, just getting a little insight about everything."

E-40, Charlie Hustle (1999)

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Label: Jive, Sick Wid It
Kendrick Lamar: "‘Big Ballin’ with My Homies,’ ‘L.I.Q.’ My partner Earl used to bump that CD all the time every day and then I just kind of took a liking to it. It was fun, made you get turnt up the same way E-40 do it today. Straight turn-up music. The slang and ghetto terms and the streets. It was fun.

“Definitely [learned from him]. Overall, just to be original. Stand out. Nobody ever sound like E-40, still to this day. He’s reinvented himself as whole new artist. Nobody’s gonna sound like him. That’s my whole thing too.”

Kurupt, Tha Streetz Iz a Mutha (1999)

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Label: Antra
Kendrick Lamar: "‘Callin’ Out Names,’ [laughs] that’s when he was going at everybody. I thought that was a real defining moment for what the West Coast do. The West Coast is very sensitive [laughs]. We’re very sensitive about situations and we backing it up fast. And Kurupt was busting on that.

“He had a lot of lyrical content. My lyrical content come from what he did on the West Coast. Lyrics stand out, he did ‘New York, New York,’ just that alone influenced how I flip words being from the West Coast.”


Dr. Dre, 2001 (1999)

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Label: Aftermath, Interscope
Kendrick Lamar: “Dr. Dre 2001, same thing. He did it all over again. I remember ripping the packaging for that CD, my pops had brung it. I just remember him playing it all day just for months, for months for months for months. For months. Got attached to it. And years later he’s still playing it so that’s how I know it’s an actual classic.”

"Hearing ‘Xxplosive’ for the first time. Hearing the ‘The Car Bomb’ intro, the sound effects on that were crazy. It sounded like a movie. I remember being a kid and thinking it sound like an actual movie.”

"[The best verse] had to be between Eminem and this cat by the name of Six-Deuce [Six-Two]. When he said, ‘She ate her best friend, I left them hoes at the mote' / They be beeping me and shit, but we don't kick it no mo' / Them hot hoes is fiending, they on the nuts / But bitch, I'm out your pussy when I nut, fo' real / XXplosive.’ That was always my favorite verse. It was so simple but it was crazy.”

DJ Quik, Balance & Options (2000)

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Label: Arista
Kendrick Lamar: "My homeboy Earl would play that album all day. One of the first songs on there ‘I Don’t Wanna Party Wit U’ is one I could remember that really jumps out to me and really gave me that feel. It was summertime, we was running around and that was always playing.”

Nas, Stillmatic (2001)

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Label: Ill Will, Columbia
Kendrick Lamar: “That was a point in time where I was just into buying CDs heavy, and that was one of them I purchased. One of my favorite tracks on there was him and AZ, ‘The Flyest.’ [sings] ‘We the flyest gangsters.’ I just thought it was a dope vibe, had a West Coast feeling and spitting some of the most intricate lyrics on there. It’s one of Nas’ best tactics as far as storytelling as well, him spitting raps backward [‘Rewind’]. I mean, come on. That’s genius.”

Clipse, Lord Willin' (2002)

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Label: Star Trak, Arista
Kendrick Lamar: “The Clipse, Lord Willin’, hell yeah. That’s a great memory. Just off the fact how much we beat on the table making that beat and freestyling at school. That was probably one of the best memories.

“I heard their stuff on 106 & Park, the ‘Grindin’’ video. Came home from school one day, I seen the video and I was like, what is this? This is crazy!”

Jay-Z, The Black Album (2003)

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Label: Roc-A-Fella, Def Jam
Kendrick Lamar: “I love that album. That’s one of my favorite Jay albums. Everybody say Blueprint, I love The Black Album. First time I heard ‘Encore’ I flipped out. I was probably in tenth grade playing that in class like 10 times in a row.”

“Mainly because he was saying he was on the verge of retiring and then he just hit it in the clutch. Like the beats was dope, the raps was dope. It’s crazy because everybody says Blueprint; 'Blueprint is crazy.’ I think Black Album is right behind it though. He had “99 Problems,” crazy stuff like that.”

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