WHO: The 28-year-old Compton rapper behind epic game-changer ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’.
WHY: Kendrick began 2015 discussing Michael Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old African-American gunned down in Ferguson, Missouri the previous August. “What happened should’ve never happened,” he said. Similar criticisms of America’s institutional racism coursed through ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’, an album full of vital G-funk, spoken-word and jazz that followed two months later.
The popularity of his music has meant Kendrick’s been forced to confront the US right-wing establishment head-on. His performance at the BET Hip Hop Awards in June saw him rapping atop a police car during a performance of ‘Alright’ (a song containing the lyric, “We hate po-po, wanna kill us dead in the street fo’ sho’”) The sight had Fox News host Geraldo Rivera spluttering, “This is why I say that hip-hop has done more damage to young African-Americans than racism in recent years.” A few days later, Kendrick offered a calm riposte. “How can you take a song that’s about hope and turn it into hatred?”
As if to prove the point, the song’s chorus, “We gon’ be alright”, was taken up as a chant by protesters against police brutality after a 14-year-old boy was arrested by police at a Black Lives Matter conference in Cleveland. That’s the power of Kendrick.
WHAT HE SAYS: “I definitely think God put something in me I’m not even aware of. I know it’s there and it has the power to not only conquer what’s going on in LA, but also a little deeper than that.’’
WHAT PEOPLE SAY ABOUT HIM: “Kendrick is an inspiration… Your meaning, message and execution are gifts to the world.” – Kanye West
HOW HE MADE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE: ‘Alright’ became an anthem against police brutality.
Read about why we picked the rest of our People of the Year 2015:
Taylor Swift – For establishing herself as the most powerful pop star on the planet
The Libertines – For the year’s most beautiful (and unlikely) comeback
Mhairi Black – For changing the face of British politics
Skepta – For taking grime global
Miley Cyrus – For refusing to conform, and celebrating diversity
Nicki Minaj – For speaking out on race, gender and sexuality
Mathieu Flamini – For trying to save the world with his geo-energy company GF Biochemicals
Adele – For breaking every record in music history
Jennifer Lawrence – For being the year’s best role model
JJ Abrams – For re-awakening The Force
Noel Gallagher – For cutting through the crap and making us laugh