Kendrick Lamar’s latest LP ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ has pushed the Compton rapper into the top tier of hip hop’s hierarchy, topping the charts both in the UK and US and earning him critical acclaim across the board. But it wasn’t just a groundbreaking new album that was keeping Kendrick busy these past three years. Through a steady stream of guest-verses (Wikipedia estimates it at around 58 in 24 months), Lamar has stayed in the public conscious the entire time, whetting appetites for his return with every guest verse. Here’s the best of what he was up to between ‘Good Kid, M.A.A.D City’ and now.
Pusha T – ‘Nosetalgia’ (October 2013)
Kendrick interrupts Pusha T doing his usual coke dealer schtick (this song is called ‘Nosetalgia’ after all) and delivers a chilling tale straight from his childhood spent being raised by a drug addict father. “You wanna see a dead body” he says, as time seems to stop still. What follows is a master class in matching the technicalities of rap without ever losing anything in terms of a gripping story.
Mike Will – ‘Buy The World’ (June 2014)
On ‘Good kid, Maad City’ track ‘Backseat Freestyle’, Kendrick famously claimed that he wanted a certain part of his body to be as big as the Eiffel Tower so he could get intimate with the whole world. Clearly realising that you’d need something slightly bigger than the Paris landmark to do that effectively, here he jumps on US producer Mike Will Made It’s single ‘Buy The World’ alongside Future and Lil Wayne to simply purchase the whole globe instead.
Big Sean – ‘Control’ (August 2013)
Aka, the one where Kendrick called out every big name artist in rap. Blowing Big Sean out of the water is not much to write home about; doing so in such emphatic style while simultaneously laying down the gauntlet to (deep breath) J Cole, Big KRIT, Wale Pusha T, Meek Mill, A$AP Rocky, Drake Big Sean, Jay Electronica, Tyler, The Creator and Mac Miller is a whole other thing. This 2013 track set a standard that ‘i’, and the new album, will need to follow if Lamar is to cement his self-proclaimed status as “Makaveli’s offspring, the king of New York“.
Tame Impala – ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ (March 2014)
More of a curiosity than a straight-up classic, here Lamar spots the hip-hop potential in Tame Impala’s ‘Lonerism’ single and angrily raps about determination and self-belief over the top. This first featured on the soundtrack to Hunger Games wannabe, Divergent.
Cash ins: Dido, Robin Thicke, Imagine Dragons, Chris Brown
For every ‘Control’ verse or Pusha T guest spot, though, the last two years has also brought a few cringey cash-ins for King Kendrick. In 2013 he managed to appear on songs by both Dido (‘Let Us Move On’) and feminism’s own Robin Thicke, while already this year we’ve seen him jump on a remix of Imagine Dragons’ inescapable ‘Radioactive’ and also crop up on the new Chris Brown album. All he needs now is an Emeli Sande collaboration and the shit-set is complete… oh wait – that already happened .
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Flying Lotus – ‘Never Catch Me’ (September 2014)
The excellent new Flying Lotus album ‘You’re Dead!’, due for release on October 6, sees the US producer provide a jazzy, dub-heavy beat for Lamar to open up and lose himself in a whirl of legacy assessing lyrics with spiritual undertones. “I got mind control when I’m here, you gon’ hate me when I’m gone Ain’t no blood pumpin’ no fear, I got hope inside of my bones This that life beyond your own life, this ain’t physical for mankind.”
YG – ‘Really Be (Smokin’ N Drinkin’)’ (March 2014)
Lamar’s new album is likely to be one of the albums of the year but he has already popped up on arguably the finest hip-hop release of 2014 so far, YG’s ‘My krazy Life’. ‘Really Be’ sees him recalling his life before rap (“Man, I’m so stressed out, I can’t focus Hide out when I ride out, ski mask with the eyes out”) as YG opens up about life as a gang member in Compton in a narrative eerily reminiscent of that told by Lamar on ‘Good id, MAAD City’
Hitta J3 – ‘Do Yo Gudda’ (July 2014)
Stepping away from the dark material heard on some of his best work, here Kendrick shows that he can boast about “jiggin’ in the functions” and buying his friend a helicopter with his new found wealth as he steals focus from Compton newcomer Hitta J3
TDE – Schoolboy QM Jay Rock, Ab Soul, SZA
Like his mentor Dr Dre, Kendrick Lamar surrounds himself with greatness and his TDE (Top Dawg Entertainment) crew has produced a steady stream of excellent music in the two years since ‘Good kid’ was released. No Top Dawg release is complete without a verse from Kendrick as Schoolboy Q’s brilliant 2013 single ‘Collard Greens’ goes to prove. Similar appearances followed on the latest albums from Jay Rock and Ab-Soul as well as a charming spot on R&B singer SZA’s ‘Babylon’. Expect to see a strong TDE turnout on Lamar’s new album too.
Really though, this is just skimming the surface. There’s no time to mention appearances on Solange’s ‘Looks Good With Trouble’ or the remix to Miguel’s How Many Drinks?’. Everyone knows about A$AP Rocky’s ‘Fucking Problems’ and epic album track ‘1 Train’ and while enjoyable, his turn on Eminem’s ‘Marshall Mathers LP 2’ (‘Love Game’) is let down by a cheesy sample of Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders’s ‘Game of Love’ that makes the whole thing feel like music from a hoe-down. ‘Good Kid, Maad City’ elevated Kendrick Lamar to rap’s top table and he has spent the subsequent two years maintaining his profile and reaffirming his status. Now, with the launch of a new single and album, we get to see if he can take things ever further. The evidence above suggests it will be a breeze.