The Evolution of: Kendrick Lamar

It’s been five years since the release of Kendrick Lamar’s GRAMMY-award-winning record DAMN., and the rapper is poised to make his long-awaited return. Next Friday, May 13, the rapper will be dropping his fifth LP, entitled Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

From launching his career under the name K-Dot to producing the entire Black Panther soundtrack, Lamar has cemented himself as one of rap’s most accomplished artists, with five critically-acclaimed studio albums – as well as a handful of fan-favorite mixtapes – to back it up. Ahead of Lamar’s latest musical release, HYPEBEAST looks back on a decade of the rapper’s discography and the evolution of his sound.

Section.80 (2011)

Lamar began working on his debut album around January 2011, releasing the project in July. While recording Section.80, he said that he wanted the album to be “as organic as possible” and often left songs unfinished, only to return to them later. Touching on heavy themes like racism and the crack epidemic of the 1980s, it has been referred to as a concept album in which the rapper sought to address systemic problems and his own experience of growing up in the Compton neighborhood of California.

good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012)

Following the independently released Section.80, 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d city marked Lamar’s major-label debut. Featuring guest artists like Drake, Dr. Dre, Jay-Z and more, the project introduced the rapper to a mainstream audience and would go on to earn him four GRAMMY nominations at the 2014 Awards, including Album of the Year.

To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)

In between dropping good kid, m.A.A.d city and 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar went on a trip to South Africa, where he visited charged historical sites, including Nelson Mandela’s jail cell. The result is a conscious rap album that celebrates past Black music traditions and blends spoken world, soul and contemporary rap. During the intensive creation process, Lamar said he probably scrapped “two to three albums worth of material.”

untitled unmastered (2016)

Arriving just short of a year after the release of To Pimp a Butterfly, untitled unmastered is a compilation album of unreleased demos from the preceding record. Continuing the themes introduced in To Pimp a Butterfly, the project expands on Lamar’s social commentary on American life and politics, opening with the pointedly unsettling track “Untitled 01.”

DAMN. (2017)

On his fourth studio album, DAMN., the rapper delivered the highest-charting song of his career, the rapid-fire “Humble.” Alongside hit singles “Element,” “DNA” and the Rihanna collaboration “Loyalty,” Lamar converges old school rap with fast bars and abrupt cuts and jumps from one verse to the next.

Black Panther: The Album (2018)

When Lamar was approached by Black Panther director Ryan Coogler, the initial plan was for him to contribute a few singles to the Marvel movie’s soundtrack. After watching an early iteration of the film, however, Lamar and producer Sounwave concluded that it would be too difficult to tell the story across a few songs. Although the rapper was in the middle of touring DAMN., the two decided to create a full-length album, with an original score composed by Ludwig Göransson.

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Kendrick Lamar’s Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers is out on May 13.
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