There has never been a true GOAT in hip hop. There’s always a list of about 5-10 guys and you take your pick on personal preference. For me, Kendrick has already asserted himself in that group, and I think many people would agree but are too afraid to say so given how young his career is. But it’s time to have this discussion based on his ridiculous body of work.
Starting at Section .80 (his debut, independent album) this one really set the tone for his career. Still transitioning from his somewhat generic mixtape style, Kendrick managed to put together a thought provoking, skillful showcase on production that fit the vibes perfectly. Braggadocious records, (Spiteful Chant, Hol Up) sad stories (Keisha’s Song, Poe Man’s Dreams) and observational social commentary tracks (Hiiipower, ADHD). But let’s be honest, the album was very impressive but wasn’t blowing anybody’s mind in 2011, the man certainly left room for improvement. However it was at LEAST an 8 out of 10.
Now I don’t have much to say about good kid, m.A.A.d city other than it is a fucking masterpiece. It’s a movie in your head as you listen to all the skits and stories of a kid struggling to make it out of a toxic environment. The budget clearly improved and the production features big names like Pharrell and Dr. Dre, and the theatrical sound never goes away throughout. I will say 5 years and hundreds of listens later that the skits are very annoying now and the replay value slightly suffers despite the music staying fresh. Easy 10/10 for me.
To Pimp a Butterfly took a whole different direction and God fucking damn did it pay off. Probably the best album to ever come out in my lifetime (born in 98 for reference.) I’m not going to break it down because it’s fairly recent but it’s an 11/10 scale breaking once in a lifetime type of musical project. A year ago he even proved the tracks that didn’t make the album were still gold.
So with all that said, if April 7th comes and leaves us with another masterpiece from Kendrick Lamar, where does that leave him in the historical rankings of the genre?
We’d have to start by seeing who has released 3 classic albums in a row with no missteps. Tribe Called Quest greatest run is probably even with Kendrick’s current run, as both their debuts are incredible but not flawless (although I’d give the slight edge to Tribe). However, we know how they ruined it with their last 2 disappointments.
Outkast had a similar run with a flawed but brilliant debut followed by two absolute perfections. They never really had a misstep afterwards, but there was a drop off and I have to say I was never a big fan of Stankonia or Speakerboxx/Love Below and everyone knows Idlewild kinda sucks. If Kendrick’s new shit is great but not legendary, he’d probably be sitting in the same boat as Outkast, not a bad place to be.
Eminem is probably the closest comparison I can think of. Again, we’re talking as a dominant run, not musical comparisons. However Em’s run was a little backwards with his two classics coming first and his flawed but great album following. The thing to remember about him is besides the crazy drugs and family issues he was dealing with, he was also probably the most famous man in the country, if not the world during this time. I think Kendrick benefits from being the second or third most famous rapper behind Drake and maybe Kanye. Take Drake’s popularity and multiply it by a billion and that’s what Eminem was (pre-internet too.) A lot of it was negative attention because he offended everyone, but you can’t deny the hype around him. We know how he fizzled out later on, but you have to think if he died from that overdose in 07 that people would be calling him the GOAT of hip hop.
That’s honestly the end of guys who have accomplished this. 2 groups (which makes it slightly less impressive) and a guy losing his mind to drugs. 2 perfect albums and 1 very good in a row. Kendrick has the chance to do what nobody has ever done, and I don’t see him fizzling out any time soon. Everyone else in “the list” of the greats has either released terrible music at one point or died too young. Pac put out 5 amazing albums but it’s tough to call any of them perfect and the replay value is only up there on his greatest hits.