Much like the classic mixtape, Tracklisted presents a collection of songs under a selected theme, which you can check out below. Click on the provided Spotify playlist and listen to this week’s arrangement while you read a few words about the selections.
Since we live in reality, we must constitute the theory of time in order for us, as a society, to move forward, and in reality, Kendrick Lamar has been around pretty frequently due to a number of guest spots on artists’ tracks within the months following a major release. But doesn’t it feel like it’s been forever ago since Kendrick last released anything? We, as a music collective, are sent reeling between any momentary gaps when he isn’t speaking volumes on the mic, and it’s been a hot minute since he last released a full length LP, which is a hot minute too many. It’s like when he releases anything, everyone loses their minds, and if he doesn’t release anything, well, everyone loses their minds.
Granted, we could probably continue to live in a world where To Pimp A Butterfly is the final stand in the line of a phenomenal, if short discography, but we’re happy to know that he’s back on track with another record since we’ve heard single “HUMBLE.” last week. With the announcement of DAMN., the new full length album set for release this Friday, I thought we’d take a look at those tracks between releases that kept us going and kept Kendrick in beast mode, where he practically destroys and perfectly compliments the track when his verse arrives (as if we needed any more proof of his reign). This is a playlist that most certainly doesn’t contain a definitive ranking of his best guest spots, but they reflect, from beginning to new beginning in a sort-of chronological order, a modern soul who transforms into a king — a symbiotic blend of 10 tracks, ready for their own mixtape.
Ab-Soul — ILLuminate
This instrumentally low-key track from fellow Top Dawg Entertainment labelmate Ab-Soul sets the stage. Control System was released in the spring before Kendrick Lamar’s formal studio debut, and while Kendrick was formerly known to fans as K-Dot with his own set of skills, Ab-Soul may as well have been king ATM. On “ILLuminate,” he begins to make the case that he wants to take on every top rapper in the game, but he also makes it clear that his wealth of knowledge gives him that bravado and that it’s something he wants to share. This idea of power equality in rap is something of an anomaly, but the members of TDE’s Black Hippy practically enforce it, and Lamar enters in the chorus with, “You can have all my shine, I’ll give you the light.” His verse that follows isn’t necessarily a stab at Ab-Soul, but rather an insinuation from an up-and-comer who nobody really knew what to anticipate from on good kid, m.A.A.d. city months later.
ScHoolboy Q — Collard Greens
Another member of Black Hippy, ScHoolboy Q released his official label debut, Oxymoron, in 2014, well after Lamar received unanimous praise for his own. Q’s album is another impressive intro with ridiculously great bangers like “Man Of The Year” and “Studio,” and “Collard Greens,” is a major highlight featuring a breezy instrumental and tight beat, which justify the boasts about living in luxury. This track is notable just for Lamar’s bilingual spit alone, but the track has more effect in context, and when Lamar says, “I’m famous, I blame this on you, cash in the mirror,” he reflects on the phenomenal aftermath of his debut as he owes it all to his fans. It might be at least the start of the genesis behind the concept that would eventually turn into his follow-up record.
YG — Really Be (Smokin N Drinkin)
Another Compton-based rapper, YG, released My Krazy Life in 2014, and while he’s since bested this output, it fleshed out his brash style for a wider audience with tracks like “I Just Wanna Party” and “Who Do You Love?” The one track featuring Lamar is the cool “Really Be (Smokin N Drinkin),” where it actually takes a second or two to realize that’s actually Lamar on the track. He manages to match YG’s flow and lyrical punch, with an appropriately depressive verse about how fucked up things have been and are still getting. The combination of two Compton-based rappers talking about the allure of escaping the violence and drugs often associated with the city is just pure dynamite.
Travis Scott — goosebumps
The recently released music video for Travis Scott’s 2016 track “goosebumps” has reignited the song’s depiction of a hyped-up technicolor fantasy in a tweaked out 2017. There’s a pop appeal to the track’s drugged-out instrumental, which helps embolden Scott’s vocal delivery for something suave but equally disturbing. The great production ambles forward to Lamar’s verse toward the end, which has him rapping about a girl and her desires for freedoms that can be summed up as #firstworldproblems. That doesn’t stop Lamar from suggesting he can make those desires a reality, and instead of simply saying he can outright, he utilizes and expresses different forms of language, like alliteration and consonance, such as in the lines: “We depart the shady parts and party hard, the diamonds yours / The coupe forever.” Scott may act suave, but Lamar is its definition, a scholarly and attractive statesman by comparison who almost steals the track away completely.
Flying Lotus — Never Catch Me
The elusive Steven Ellison, aka Flying Lotus, delivered yet another conceptual jazz/hip hop oriented production (and hit) on 2014’s You’re Dead!. Clocking in at just under 40 minutes and almost entirely instrumental, the album is just as lively as it is moribund, and one of the few tracks with vocals is “Never Catch Me” whose first half is all Kendrick. Ellison’s euphoric psychedelia drives Lamar’s delivery, which exponentially ramps to the point that his final word on the “out-of-body experience” is just that by the close. It’s the symbiosis of hip-hop and absolutely ferocious instrumental that makes this one of Lamar’s finest features, and it potentially helped lay the musical basis for To Pimp A Butterfly, which featured Ellison and many of his Brainfeeder labelmates.
Isaiah Rashad — Wat’s Wrong (feat. Zacari)
Labelmate Isaiah Rashad delivered a soulful hip-hop studio debut proper in 2016 that almost didn’t happen on a number of occasions, as his drug abuse brought the label to the verge of dropping him. This is reflected on the track “Wat’s Wrong,” which sounds close to confessional, given the steady and sobering beat along with Rashad’s poetic flow. Inside the track contains one of Lamar’s best features as, by this point, he had amassed such a great amount of success before age 30, and continued to prove that greatness in his proverbs to Rashad in the form of homonyms and alliteration. He maintains the track’s steadiness with the exception of a line of Gemini outrage, but there’s a power to his rhymes and how they relate to Rashad. It’s exceptional, and though it might come off as preachy, it’s revealing about Lamar that he doesn’t really want a teacher-to-pupil relationship for those in the game, but rather a realization for them — in this case Rashad — that they’re pupils to a higher power which he can most certainly achieve the wealth of knowledge if they just maintain focus.
Pusha T — Nosetalgia
The Nottz/Kanye West produced track from Pusha T is, in a way, a unique Western-stylized duel between the rapper and Kendrick. You have Pusha T on one side, who reflects on a life growing up in and around drug dealing, and Kendrick, on the other side, reflecting on growing up with an aunt selling his Sega Genesis for drugs. They unveil two different perspectives on the subject, but Kendrick makes the case that his rhymes are “dope” and “every verse is a brick,” instead of actual drugs. It’s a fascinating look at both sides, considering both rappers grew up during the Reagan-era’s war on drugs. Though Kendrick’s feature is slightly meatier and gravely (his entry into his verse “Do you wanna see a dead body?” is startling) he more than supports Pusha T’s musings, as there’s a glint of hope that this is only a temporary thought.
Jay Rock — Easy Bake (feat. SZA)
Watts rapper Jay Rock has been with TDE for nearly as long as Kendrick, but his releases always saw delay after delay. His second record, 90059, dropped in 2015 with embrace after a four-year wait, seeing the rapper at his most beastly. The comeback track “Easy Bake” puts the album into high gear with a boiling hot retort to everyone who thought he was long gone, but he returns and steps up to the plate over an attacking beat. Though, this is obviously Jay Rock’s track to own, Lamar features briefly on the first part of the track, and it’s a wallop. He divulges in Rock’s previous verses detailing his poor and drug dealing up-bringing, suggesting that he shuns that kind of life, but Rock and Lamar’s rapport reveals the two as allies in the game, and it shows the lengths at which Lamar, even in the shadow of his current fame, can relate himself to West Coast hip-hop tendencies. The line from TPAB’s “Institutionalized” saying, “You can take your boy out the hood but you can’t take the hood out the homie,” applies here.
Danny Brown — Really Doe (feat. Ab-Soul and Earl Sweatshirt)
Detroit’s Danny Brown has slayed the early-to-mid 2010s with three records of conceptual hip-hop that often goes by misunderstood, but last year’s Atrocity Exhibition didn’t go idly by without a drop from Kendrick. Album highlight “Really Doe” is a Black Milk-produced posse cut that lets Danny Brown release the mic to three rappers, including Ab-Soul and Odd Future’s Earl Sweatshirt. They actually close in and almost edge out Lamar with standout performances, but his verse is definitely nothing to mess with, which has him spitting multiple references to his fame and its many trappings, and how his mission continues to be the best in the game, instead of having the best in the game. All features on this track can relate, and the dark twinkling sample reiterates the idea of how the game is indeed a dark twisted fantasy. Speaking of which…
Kanye West — No More Parties In L.A.
The last track on this Tracklisted mixtape was chosen to leave us with the potential future of King Kendrick, who flashes one minute into this six-minute Kanye West track from last year’s The Life Of Pablo. The Madlib samples are creatively mixed and the production is crystal in an outpouring of critique on L.A.’s notoriety for superficiality; both rappers trade barbs on the elitist stereotypes of glitz and glamour in relation to women and the music industry itself. As this marks the first true collaboration between the two titans, it’s appropriately epic, and while it at once appears as if Kendrick hits lyrical home runs, he assures the listener that he isn’t such, that just his way with words at expressing more complex concepts is far superior than the big words being used. It’s the quota that he’s matched on every one of his releases, and we’re anticipating it will continue this Friday.
Honorable Mention: Big Sean — “Control”
Arguably the track most memorable for Kendrick’s firestarter diss and total destruction of the game, enlivening the braggadocio element of hip hop, “Control” is not on this playlist merely on a technicality, in that the track actually can’t be purchased or listened to via streaming services. But! The folks over at the Internet have kindly posted it to YouTube, which you can listen to below. It would have been included in this playlist otherwise, but now that you’ve listened through, “Control” is the real conclusion before the impending new release, as Kendrick has all of his artillery at the ready, once again looking to solidify his place at the top as King.