Kendrick Lamar, it goes without saying, is the most important hip-hop artist to have emerged over the last decade. While he may not have enjoyed a string of number-one singles like some of his peers, Kendrick makes up for that in credibility. His consistency is unparalleled, and he even has a Pulitzer Prize to show for his work. Lamar is more than just a rapper. He boasts supreme social consciousness and has the capabilities to create utter wizardry with his pen.
When he was just eight years old, Kendrick’s life changed forever. He was a kid from Compton that saw nothing but grey around him until, one day, he witnessed a seminal moment in hip-hop history that would serve as a life-affirming act in young Kendrick’s life. Tupac and Dre came to his neighbourhood to film the video for ‘California Love’ and, from that day on, there was only one thing Kendrick wanted to do.
Speaking with Power 106 FM in 2018, Lamar opened up about his hip-hop journey and reeled off the five artists that mean the most to him. “These are the cast that inspired me the most in doing music for sure,” Lamar explains. “If you break down how I approach lyrics, you can hear the influence of each and every one of these dudes.”
The first name that Kendrick plucked out was Jay-Z, but he did make it clear that his list wasn’t in any particular order. Jay is an artist that not only played a part in Lamar’s formative years, but the New York rapper continues to influence him to this day. The manner in which Jay-Z refused to allow fame or money to affect his songwriting is a skill that Lamar admires especially.
Speaking with Rolling Stone in 2017, Lamar explained: “You see Jay-Z [chuckles]. He’s a billionaire. You see Dr. Dre. Jay is still on his pen game, because it’s always a chase to see if you’re not only still true to the culture, but still can generate a creative process that’s organic for you, that can challenge yourself.”
Dre doesn’t feature on the list, but the other man that came to Compton in 1995 and changed his life, Tupac Shakur, does appear. On the 20th anniversary of Tupac’s passing in 2016, Kendrick shared a poignant letter that read: “I was 8 yrs old when I first saw you. I couldn’t describe how I felt at that moment. So many emotions. Full of excitement. Full of joy and eagerness. 20 yrs later I understand exactly what that feeling was. INSPIRED.”
Adding: “The people that you touched on that small intersection changed lives forever. I told myself I wanted to be a voice for man one day. Whoever knew I was speaking out loud for u to listen. Thank you.”
Eminem, in truth, is a musician that doesn’t often feature in the top five lists of this ilk. However, Lamar gives him credit where it’s due. “I got my clarity just studying Eminem when I was a kid,” he told GQ in 2016. “How I got in the studio was all just curiosity. I had a love for the music, but it was curiosity. The day I heard The Marshall Mathers LP, I was just like, ‘how does that work? What is he doing? How is he putting his words together like that? What’s the track under that? An ad-lib? What is that?'”.
“And then, ‘Why don’t you go in the studio and see?’ So I do that. Then it became, ‘how’s his words cutting through the beat like that? What is he doing that I’m not doing, now that I’m into it?’ His time is impeccable. When he wants to fall off the beat, it’s impeccable. These are things that, through experience and time, I had to learn.”
The other two names that feature on the list are Snoop Dogg and Biggie. It’s wild that Lamar has collaborated with all three artists collected in his favourites. Icons that he grew up idolising, and they now respect him as a peer. If only we could have heard what Lamar would sound like on a track with Biggie or Tupac.
Kendrick Lamar’s favourite rappers:
- Jay Z