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ICONS: Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar’s album “To Pimp a Butterfly” has overtaken Radiohead’s 1997 epoch-defining “OK Computer” to become the highest-rated album of all time on the community rating site Rate Your Music. Kendrick’s 2015 album is considered the rapper’s magnum opus. “To Pimp a Butterfly” currently has a 4.34 rating on the popular community rating site. Rate Your Music differs from other music aggregation sites such as Metacritic in that it only collects data from fans, not critics.

True, Metacritic’s ranking is nothing to be ashamed of either, with only four albums ahead of it. But why is Kendrick Lamar considered the greatest rapper of all time? Kendrick Lamar’s career is also interesting because he started it at a time when the perception and popularity of hip-hop was undergoing a radical change. Although Kendrick Lamar was known in Compton (the small town in California where the legendary NWA. and Dr Dre started) in the 2000s as K. Dot, it was in the 2010s that he really took off. The up-and-coming rapper, who was in his 20s, was already being endorsed by the likes of Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg, and The Game. In 2011, Kendrick Lamar, who was only 24 years old, was almost literally voted the new king of West Coast hip hop by these three rappers at a show in Los Angeles. And they weren’t wrong!

“To Pimp a Butterfly” wasn’t just another album eight years ago. Kendrick is different. Even his first major album, “good kid, m.A.A.A.d city” was considered some of the best rap material of all time. The other two artists to debut a similarly genre-redefining album were Kanye West (“The College Dropout”) and Jay Z (“Reasonable Doubt”). “Good kid, m.A.A.A.d city” was an autobiographical masterpiece that chronicled Kendrick’s struggles growing up in Compton under horrific circumstances. It was an original and clever concept album that perfectly showcased who he is. And of course, he could have used the tried and tested recipe for his second album, but since Kendrick Lamar is unconventional to say the least, he had the curiosity to make a big change. He didn’t come out with radio-friendly material, he went for social criticism instead!

When “To Pimp a Butterfly” was released, most critics agreed on one thing for sure: it was perfect. A perfect blend of rap, jazz, funk, soul, and spoken word. It cannot be confined to one genre, it is a brilliant evolution of black music. And despite the fact that we are talking about a very carefully put together concept album, and not even by any chance an album for the general public, it still managed to appeal to a wide audience thanks to the excellent beats and production that move the songs with tremendous energy. That’s how a deep work like “King Kunta” becomes a party song, and “Alright”, produced by Pharrell Williams, becomes a certified rap hit. One of the most striking elements of the album comes when Kendrick interviews Tupac Shakur (Tupac’s audio recording is from a little-known interview he did with a Swedish broadcaster in 1994), discussing income inequality, racism, riots, and the fate of the next black generation in America.

Thankfully, the story doesn’t stop there, and Kendrick continues to deliver more and more masterpieces. Most recently, last year, he released “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers”, a massive 18-track double-LP that gives insight into how, by immersing himself, fame took on toxic proportions in his ego and threatened his long-term romantic relationship. How he fed his material greed instead of facing the insecurity beneath. We will also watch him crumble, and then also witness how he begins to do the hard work on himself that he has been avoiding. This summer, Kendrick Lamar will be performing at several festivals in June, first at Governors Ball Music Festival, but he’ll also be treating European fans to a weekend of Rolling Loud in Rotterdam.