Rapping under the name K-Dot, Kendrick Lamar began independently releasing music in his hometown of Compton, Los Angeles. A mixtape released as a teen brought him to the attention of Top Dawg Entertainment, under which he co-created Black Hippy, a hip-hop group featuring his TDE troupe: Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, and Schoolboy Q. Kendrick’s Overly Dedicated, released for free online in 2010, marked the real beginning of his ascent: the project made it onto the Billboard Heatseekers Albums chart and led to his discovery by Dr. Dre. After being named a member of XXL’s 2011 Freshman Class, Kendrick announced Section.80 and released its lead single “HiiIPoWeR,” which boasted production from J. Cole. Once released, the project was well received, drawing comparisons to early-career Ice Cube.
In 2012 Kendrick Lamar dropped his first major label album, good kid, m.A.A.d city via TDE, Aftermath Records, and Interscope Records. The project follows a day in the life of teenage Kendrick riding around Compton, detailing his various misadventures. The project catapulted the artist into the upper echelons of rap, becoming both a commercial and critical hit. There was a platinum certification from the Recording Industry Association of America, seven Grammy nominations, and even the Complex stamp of approval as the best rapper alive in 2013.
Kendrick Lamar followed the success of his debut studio album with To Pimp a Butterfly, arguably his most beloved (and certainly his best-reviewed) project to date. Tracks on that album won Lamar six Grammy Awards over two years in categories including Best Rap Song, Best Rap Performance, and Best Rap Album. His storied success has led to numerous collabs across genres, including a featured verse on the remix of Taylor Swift’s 2015 hit “Bad Blood.” In 2016, he dropped untitled unmastered., an eight track compilation project of unfinished demos. In 2017, Kendrick Lamar released his third studio album Damn, featuring guest spots from mega-stars Rihanna and U2. The project gave Lamar his third number one album, and marked the second time he was named the best rapper alive by Complex. “Humble,” the lead single, netted the rapper three of the five Grammy Awards he received for the album; the track won Best Rap Performance, Best Rap Song, and Best Music Video. However, the praise for Damn did not end there. Kendrick Lamar won a Pulitzer Prize for the project—the first rapper to do so.
After a historic 2018, including his work executive producing the Grammy-winning (and Oscar-nominated) Black Panther soundtrack, Kendrick Lamar announced he does not have a new album in the works. Lucky for us, his discography is rich enough to hold us over until K-Dot strikes again.