Artist – Kendrick Lamar
Years Active – 2003-Present
Notable Album – Good Kid, M.A.A.D City
Sample Rhyme (from a guest verse on Push-T’s track “Nosetalgia”) :
“I said, ‘Daddy, one day Imma get you right with 36 zips
One thousand grams of cocaine, then your name will be rich
Now you can rock it up or sell it soft as leather interior
Drop some ice cubes in it, Deebo on perimeter’
He said ‘Son, how come you think you be my connect?’
I said ‘Pops, your ass is washed up, with all due respect’
He said “Well n*gga, then show me how it all makes sense’
Go figure, motherfucker, every verse is a brick
Your son dope n*gga”
It speaks to just how deep California’s stable of rappers is that picking Kendrick Lamar here was maybe the most difficult decision on this entire list.
By fairly broad consensus, Kendrick is the best rapper working today. No, he might not top the charts as much as Drake, and maybe he doesn’t generate Kanye’s headlines. He might not even be many people’s favorite rapper.
But in terms of pure artistry, no one can match him. He molds albums that are as much cultural dissertations as they are music. He doesn’t write party songs, or club bangers, or even introspective digressions about lost loves. He composes political and social thinkpieces, posing questions that many of us struggle to answer. He’s the rapper America needs in 2016.
None of which would have been possible without the man Kendrick credits as being a primary influence: Tupac Shakur. Many would protest, fairly, that Tupac should represent California on this list, as he embodies a huge part of rap’s growing pains in the 90s.
While his career was tragically cut short, Kendrick is only just heating up. He might not ever surpass 2Pac’s legend, but Kendrick’s fighting as hard as anyone to keep it alive.