Kendrick Lamar headlines on the Pyramid Stage during day five of Glastonbury Festival at Worthy Farm, Pilton on June 26, 2022 in Glastonbury, England.

Kendrick Lamar Duckworth was born on June 17, 1987, in Compton, California. The rapper was named after singer-songwriter Eddie Kendricks of the Temptations. As the eldest of four children, Kendrick and his family lived in Section 8 housing, were reliant on welfare and food stamps, and experienced homelessness.

Kendrick’s Early Life

Despite suffering hardships, K-Dot remembered having “good memories” of his childhood that sparked his interest in hip-hop music. After hearing a recording of his voice for the first time, he became interested in rapping. While in elementary school, Kendrick had a noticeable stutter. Despite that, his first-grade teacher encouraged him to be a writer after hearing him correctly use the word “audacity.”

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By middle school, Lamar was introduced to poetry, and through its connection to hip-hop, he studied rhymes, metaphors, and double entendres, which made him fall in love with songwriting. His initial writing helped him manage his psychological trauma and depression, which he struggled with during his adolescence. In high school, he adopted the stage name K-Dot and began freestyling and battle rapping at school. He befriended who would become his long-time friend and collaborator Dave Free, and they recorded music together at Free’s makeshift studio.

Career Beginnings

When Free was working as a computer technician, he introduced Kendrick’s Youngest Head N—- in Charge (Hub City Threat: Minor of the Year) mixtape to record producer Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith. Impressed with Lamar’s potential, he invited him to audition for his newly established independent record label, Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE).

In 2005, Kendrick was signed by TDE, joining Jay Rock as the label’s first signings. He then met Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q, forming the hip-hop supergroup Black Hippy. The following year, Lamar signed an artist development deal with Def Jam Recordings and was featured on two singles by the Game. Lamar’s stint in Def Jam was short-lived after an encounter with its president and chief executive officer, Jay-Z. K-Dot later described it as “one of those situations where I wasn’t ready.”

Kendrick’s self-titled debut EP was released in 2009 through TDE. By 2011, he released his first studio album with Section.80, featuring hits like “A.D.H.D.,” “HiiiPoWeR,” and “Hol’ Up.” Just a year later, he followed that up with Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, with even more heat on tracks like “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe,” “Swimming Pools (Drank),” “Money Trees,” “Poetic Justice,” “Compton,” “Backseat Freestyle,” and “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.”

In the following decade, Kendrick released three more studio albums, a compilation album, a soundtrack album for Black Panther, as well as features and singles.

Take a Look Below at Kendrick Lamar’s 7 Best Songs Ranked:

  • 7. King's Dead with Jay Rock, Future, James Blake

    No Marvel soundtrack went as hard as the Black Panther album featuring hip-hop heavy-hitters like Schoolboy Q, 2 Chainz, Vince Staples, Kendrick, Future, SZA, and The Weeknd. “King’s Dead” is still as hype as ever, over five years since it dropped. The music video is just as hype and iconic, with the insane visuals. From extreme zooms to the Wolf of Wall Street scene to Kendrick’s trippy intersection when the beat switches up halfway through, Kendrick’s long-time collaborator and childhood friend Dave Free directed the video.

  • 6. Not Like Us

    Kendrick’s Drake diss will forever be remembered throughout hip-hop history. As his fourth diss track against the Canadian rapper, Lamar released this gem in May 2024, showing that he stands ten toes down as the GOAT of rappers. His scathing lines like, “Why you trollin’ like a bitch? Ain’t you tired? Tryna strike a chord and it’s probably A minor,” is rapped over an insane, bouncy beat. Not only does he drop bars against Drizzy, but the song has maintained the top of the charts since its release and will continue to be a party banger.

  • 5. King Kunta

    “King Kunta” is inspired by Kunta Kinte, a fictional character in the 1976 novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family by American author Alex Haley, based on one of Haley’s ancestors, a Gambian man who was born around 1750, enslaved, and taken to America where he died around 1822. In the book, Kinte refused to accept the name “Toby” that slave masters tried to give him, and his right foot was cut off following his attempts to escape the plantation he was enslaved on. Lamar said that after watching the series based on the book, he was inspired to write the 2015 track. He said the overall theme of the track tells the “story of struggle and standing up for what you believe in. No matter how many barriers you gotta break down, no matter how many escape routes you gotta run to tell the truth. That’s what I think we all can relate to.”

  • 4. untitled 02

    Kendrick’s 2014 compilation album featuring all “untitled” tracks had quite a lot of great songs to choose from. This jazzy track is about the rapper’s inner conflict between his life at home in Compton and his life as a global superstar. He raps, “I’m sick and tired of being tired. Can’t pick a side, the Gemini.” In the chorus, he repeatedly says, “Get God on the phone,” as he basks in money, diamonds, and women.

  • 3. Alright

    To Pimp A Butterfly has so many great tracks, with “Alright” as one of the greatest. The song is uplifting; it’s about overcoming pain and struggle, as K-Dot raps about how he means to escape his troubles. By trusting in God, Kendrick is able to look past his failures and have confidence that everything is “gon’ be alright.” This track inspires the feeling of taking action after being exhausted by being beaten down and wallowing in their sorrows.

  • 2. m.A.A.d City feat. MC Eiht

    This 2012 track has two meanings: “My Angel on Angel Dust” and “My Angry Adolescence Divided.” “m.A.A.d City” tells the story of K-Dot’s upbringing in Compton, rapping about memories of witnessing someone with their “brains blown” out at a burger stand back when he was nine, as well as how his cousin was killed back in ‘94. With lines like: “Brace yourself, I’ll take you on a trip down memory lane. This is not a rap on how I’m slingin’ crack or move cocaine. This is cul-de-sac and plenty Cognac and major pain,” the rapper takes fans on a journey over a trap beat.

  • 1. Sing About Me, I'm Dying Of Thirst

    Earning the top spot on Kendrick’s best songs is “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst,” from his debut studio album. This song is number one for a multitude of reasons, one of them being that it is two songs in one when the beat switches up around seven minutes into the 12-minute track. Lyrically, the track tells a story of Kendrick’s upbringing in Compton, much like most of this album. He said he merged two tracks into one because “that was a situation that happened that exact same time.”

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