ARTIST OF THE WEEK – KENDRICK LAMAR
Kendrick Lamar Duckworth (born June 17, 1987) is an American hip hop recording artist and songwriter. Born and raised in Compton, California, he embarked on his musical career as a teenager under the stage name K-Dot, releasing a mixtape that garnered local attention and led to his signing with indie record label Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE). He began to gain major recognition in 2010, after his first retail release, Overly Dedicated. The following year, Lamar independently released his first studio album, Section.80, which included his debut single, “HiiiPoWeR”. By that time, he had amassed a large Internet following and collaborated with several artists in the hip hop industry, including The Game, Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes and Lil Wayne.
Lamar secured a major-label record deal with Aftermath and Interscope Records, in 2012. His major-label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city, was released in October 2012 to critical success. The record contained the top 40 singles “Swimming Pools (Drank)”, “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”, and “Poetic Justice”. It debuted at number two on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart and was later certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Lamar won his first Grammy Award for “i”, lead single from his critical acclaimed third album To Pimp a Butterfly (2015). The album drew on free jazz, funk, soul, and spoken word, debuted atop the charts in the U.S. and the UK, and won the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album at the 58th ceremony. In 2016, Lamar released untitled unmastered., a collection of unreleased demos that originated during the recording sessions for Butterfly.
Lamar has received a number of accolades over the course of his career, including seven Grammy Awards. In early 2013, MTV named Lamar the number one “Hottest MC in the Game”, on their annual list. Time named Lamar one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2016. Aside from his solo career, Lamar is also known as a member of the West Coast hip hop super group Black Hippy, alongside his TDE label-mates and fellow South Los Angeles-based rappers Ab-Soul, Jay Rock and Schoolboy Q
In an interview with Billboard in February 2014, Lamar stated he was planning to put out a new album the next September. During the same interview, which also included Schoolboy Q, Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, and Dave Free, the possibility of a debut effort from the Black Hippy collective appearing in 2014 was announced. On July 31, 2014, it was announced that Lamar would premiere his short film m.A.A.d at Sundance’s inaugural NEXT Fest in Los Angeles on August 9. The film is inspired by good kid, m.A.A.d city, and was directed by Kahlil Joseph, who had previously worked with Lamar on the Yeezus Tour.
On September 23, 2014, Lamar released “i” as the first single from his third album. On November 15, 2014, Lamar once again appeared on Saturday Night Live as the musical guest, where he performed “i” and “Pay for It”, appearing alongside Jay Rock. Through his appearance, with blackout contacts and his braids partly out, Lamar paid homage to New York-based rapper Method Man, whose debut album Tical celebrated its 20th anniversary that day. In December 2014, it was announced that Lamar had started a partnership with sportswear brand Reebok. On December 17, 2014, Lamar debuted a new untitled song on one of the final episodes of The Colbert Report.
In early 2015, Lamar won Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song for his song “i” at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards. On February 9, 2015, he released his third album’s second single, titled “The Blacker the Berry”. Originally expected to be released on March 23, 2015, his new album To Pimp a Butterfly was released a week early on March 16, 2015 to rave reviews. The album debuted atop the U.S. Billboard 200 chart selling 324,000 copies in its first week, and established Spotify’s global first-day streaming record (9.6 million). Lamar was later featured on the cover of Rolling Stone, with editor Josh Eells writing he’s “arguably the most talented rapper of his generation.”
On May 17, 2015, Lamar featured on the official remix of Taylor Swift’s song “Bad Blood”, as well as appearing in the music video.The single reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. To Pimp a Butterfly produced other three singles with accompanying music videos, “King Kunta”, “Alright” and “These Walls”. The music video for “Alright” received four nominations at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards, including Video of the Year and Best Male Video. The song “For Free? (Interlude)” also featured a music video, as did “u” with “For Sale” as part of the short film “God Is Gangsta”. In October 2015, Lamar announced the Kunta’s Groove Sessions Tour, which included eight shows in eight cities. In early 2016, Kanye West released the track “No More Parties in L.A.” on his official SoundCloud, a collaboration featuring Lamar and produced by West and Madlib. Lamar also performed a new song, “Untitled II” on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in January.
Billboard critics commented at the end of the year, “twenty years ago, a conscious rap record wouldn’t have penetrated the mainstream in the way Kendrick Lamar did with To Pimp A Butterfly. His sense of timing is impeccable. In the midst of rampant cases of police brutality and racial tension across America, he spews raw, aggressive bars while possibly cutting a rug,” while Pitchfork editors noted it “forced critics to think deeply about music. It’s an album by the greatest rapper of his generation.” Producer Tony Visconti stated David Bowie’s album Blackstar (2016) was influenced by Lamar’s work, “we were listening to a lot of Kendrick Lamar […] we loved the fact Kendrick was so open-minded and he didn’t do a straight-up hip-hop record. He threw everything on there, and that’s exactly what we wanted to do.”
Lamar won five Grammys at the 58th ceremony, including Best Rap Album for To Pimp a Butterfly. Other nominations included Album of the Year and Song of the Year. At the ceremony, Lamar performed a medley of “The Blacker the Berry” and “Alright”. It was ranked by Rolling Stone and Billboard as the best moment of the night, with the latter writing “It was easily one of the best live TV performances in history.”
On March 4, 2016, Lamar released a compilation album untitled unmastered., containing eight untitled tracks, each dated. Lamar later confirmed that the tracks were unfinished demos from the recording of To Pimp a Butterfly. The compilation album debuted atop the U.S. Billboard 200.