In hip hop culture, the famous ‘Top 5’ argument can lead to anything from fights to complete losses of friendship, and any true hip hop fan has spent hours of their life arguing the definitive top 5 rappers of all time. Now, everyone has different requirements needed for an MC to make a top 5 status; some people focus on lyrical content, whereas some say they must have a certain number of classic albums in their catalogue. Some place value on the ability to remain relevant over a number of years and some place high importance on a rapper’s originality. Well, I am here to tell you that Compton’s very own good kid, King Kendrick Lamar, DESERVES to be in your top 5, probably to the anger of many ‘real’ hip hop fans. However, I am going show how Lamar ticks the ‘top MC’ checklist and why he deserves to be considered for your top 5, after only 5-6 years of widespread notoriety.
The ability to switch up flows and change styles is a vital part of being a ‘top 5’ rapper in my opinion, and I’m sure many others, opinion. So many rappers would, for example, sound great on a trap beat i.e. Young Thug and Gucci Mane, but will deliver straight struggle rap on a New York-style, boom bap instrumental and vice versa. Correct me if I am wrong, but I do not believe Kendrick has ever struggled on any instrumental he has been faced with. From trap beats to jazz-tinged instrumentals, King Kendrick has always produced stellar verses and manages to find the pocket of any track thrown his way. It is an extremely rare occurrence that we find a rapper that fits perfectly on to any kind of beat and can go from a club banger to a deep emotional track with such ease. This is the first reason as to why Kendrick Lamar should be in your top 5.
Even if people do not view Kendrick as a top 5 rapper, I doubt very few hip-hop fans would disagree with the fact that Kendrick is a lyrical beast. Kendrick has an amazing ability to story tell and paint vivid images with his lyrics, from the heart-wrenching tales from the point of view of a gang banger and a prostitute on ‘Sing about Me’, to a mental battle with himself on the chilling track ‘U’. Kendrick has the ability to grab the emotions of the listener, regardless if you can relate to the subject matter, and this is what sets him apart from his peers in the game. It isn’t often we see an artist able to match storytelling and word play with a range of different flows, on such a wide variety of beats. Kendrick, quite simply, never becomes boring and in a time where music is so accessible this is no small feat.
Section 80. Good Kid, M.a.a.d City. To Pimp a Butterfly. DAMN. I challenge anyone to name an artist with four consecutive albums better than Kendrick Lamar. I can say, with confidence, that there is not one rap artist that has produced such quality in such a consistent fashion. Kendrick has not only maintained a level of quality with his albums, but he also manages to bring new, original concepts to each project. For me recent release Damn, cemented his position as the top active rapper in the game, and shows his dedication to forming cohesive, high quality projects. I will say that Kanye West, who released three outstanding, successive projects with College Dropout, Late Registration and Graduation, is probably the only rapper that comes close to matching Kendrick. Key phrase being: Comes close. I still believe that the first three Kanye albums does not match the quality of King Kenny’s discography and this is mainly down to the fact that Mr. West does not possess the same lyrical ability. So, this is yet another tick on the top MC checklist, and further evidence that K Dot is levels above the competition.
If you still disagree with Kendrick being a top 5 rapper, then ask yourself this question. How many times has Kendrick been out rapped on a track? I’ll wait… Kendrick never slacks on a verse, no matter who he is working with and consistently out does the, so called, top rappers of the game. He has out done Jay Z on the remix of Bitch, don’t kill my Vibe; out done A$AP and Drake on the commercial hit Fuckin’ Problem and rapped circles around most of his TDE label mates on a range of tracks. Although, I will admit that he is not perfect and has had occasions where it has been a very close call. Kanye West shocked most people when he managed to keep up with Kendrick on ‘No More parties in LA’; Earl Sweatshirt may have had the winning verse on Really doe; and Jay Rock arguably blew Kendrick, along with the rest of black hippy out the water, on the Black Lip Bastard Remix. However, my point is that this is not a common occurrence and Kendrick is a frequent guest on other rappers’ tracks. He is, in no way frightened, of lyrical sparring with the competition and these performances are further proof that he is a GOAT of the rap game.
The key to a great performer is having a certain level of control over a crowd and this can be gained through the right amount of enthusiasm, the right setlist/song selection, a great delivery and personality. Kendrick brings all of these to every performance in abundance. Lamar honestly looks born to be on stage each time he performs and with his selection of songs, a Kendrick Lamar concert is a must go for any hip hop fan. I have personally been to a wide range of concerts and quite frankly, Kendrick puts many rappers to shame when it comes to live performances. The shameful arrogance and lack of effort that some rappers display on stage is embarrassing but Kendrick breaks this mould and always pushes to give his fans a real show.
Lastly, I must touch on the fact that Kendrick always manages to select the perfect visuals to match his music. In an era where I feel music videos are becoming lazier and there seems to be more interest into visual quality and effects, rather than genuine creativity, Kendrick always seems to sincerely care about his music videos. Even his latest video for song ‘DNA’ he features a surprising and entertaining performance from renowned actor Don Cheadle who handles some of Kendrick’s bars for him.
So, there you have it, are you not yet convinced? Top 5 is, of course, very much a matter of opinion but it is very rare to see an artist do as much as Kendrick Lamar, within such a short time period. If Kendrick is not in your top 5, he needs to at least be considered amongst the greats and only time will tell if he remains consistent, but signs show he is not planning on slowing down for a second.