Arguably one of the most prolific lyricists to ever live, Kendrick Lamar has secured his spot in hip hop history through punchy, poignant and powerful wordplay. The mastery in K-Dot’s lyrics effortlessly blends his wit, intellect and street smarts. There’s no wonder why his music has captured listeners from all backgrounds in less than two decades. Lamar’s use of similes, symbolism, onomatopoeia, call-and-response, and double and triple-entendre has made his meaningful messages easily understood from the classroom to the corner alike. In fact, the Compton-born rapper is the subject of several college courses.
The wordsmith made history in 2016 when he earned the first Pulitzer Prize for Music outside of the jazz and classical genres. This was after the release of his fourth studio album, DAMN. Racking up an impressive 17 Grammy Awards, an Emmy, dozens of BET Awards, and also named one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People, Lamar’s impact is undeniable due to his record-setting accolades.
Through his lyrics, we can rest assured that he knows he’s one of the greatest to ever do it. While there are dozens of memorable lines from the Top Dawg Entertainment rapper, this article is REVOLT’s pick of Kendrick Lamar’s 13 best boastful moments.
1. HiiiPoWeR: “While you motherf**kers waiting / I be off the slave ship, building pyramids, writing my own hieroglyphs / Just call the s**t ‘HiiiPoWeR.’”
In Lamar’s debut single, “HiiiPoWeR,” he came out of the gate wielding his brain power and social consciousness. In this single, both the lyrics and accompanying visuals make clear his message of rebellion and desire for Black people to wake up and rise up from oppression. In the style of Black revolutionaries like Marcus Garvey, Bobby Seale, Martin Luther King Jr. and even Tupac — all of whom are referenced on the track — Lamar claims that he’s different from the others in the song’s first verse. He’s blazing his own trail. However, by the end of the song, the lyricist encourages — or commands — everyone listening to snap out of it and step into their birthright for peace, unity and less hate.
2. PRIDE.: “See, in a perfect world, I’ll choose faith over riches / I’ll choose work over b**ches, I’ll make schools out of prison / I’ll take all the religions and put ’em all in one service / Just to tell ’em we ain’t s**t, but He’s been perfect, world.”
Kendrick Lamar’s discography is a mirror, not only in how it forces the world to examine itself but also in how it allows the artist to reflect on his own shortcomings. In this line from his track “PRIDE.,” King Kunta describes what his best self would be like if it weren’t for his own hubris. The reflection hearkens back to Nas’ “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)” or Kanye West’s “All Falls Down” as it touches on the motif of desiring the American Dream while fully recognizing its nightmare.
3. Bring The Pain (Freestyle): “Tell ’em put my name on a gym ball / Like I’m Derrick Rose … I’m in the crowd like Artest and them / I move the crowd like Artest and them / Punchlines mean I really go and punch civilians.”
This entire freestyle on DJ Cosmic Kev’s “The Come Up Show” is insane. In three verses of pure fire all from the top of his head, Lamar used the NBA to illustrate his vision of himself as a newcomer in the rap game. In the opening line of the second verse, he likens himself to Derrick Rose, who was the youngest MVP in the league at the time. He then goes on to a punchline about being foul with his pen game, before talking about rocking the crowd. He referenced the latter by incorporating 2004’s Malice at the Palace, where Metta World Peace (formerly known as Ron Artest) reacted violently to an NBA fan throwing a cup of beer at him on the court, which led to a huge brawl between players and fans.
4. Control: “I’m important like the Pope, I’m a Muslim on pork / I’m Makaveli’s offspring, I’m the King of New York / King of the coast, one hand, I juggle ’em both / The juggernaut’s all in your jugular, you take me for jokes.”
Capitalizing on the success of g ood kid, m.A.A.D city, it’s safe to assume that Kendrick Lamar’s cockiness has paid off. As a nod to his fellow West Coast rappers, Lamar uses his feature on Big Sean’s “Control” to pay homage to Kurupt by adapting a line from his song “Get Bizy.” In the same stanza, the emcee also calls himself Tupac’s son all while proclaiming he is the current leader of the rap game. Essentially, the “Poetic Justice” lyricist is saying put him on any coast and he’ll still reign as the king of hip hop.
5. On Me: “Every day, I wake up with my face up to my Father / Makin’ sure my heart is pure enough to grow my seed and harvest / All my green and stuff, and double up my plantation with dollar / Every dream is such reality, my déjà vu done caught up.”
Lamar has never shied away from religious themes in his music. His feature on The Game’s “On Me,” gives thanks to God for the blessing to see his wildest dreams come true. In this verse, the “Section. 80” rapper talks about beginning every day with a prayer in order to not succumb to worldly pleasures and to nurture the blessings before him through gardening references similar to those used in the Bible. He ends the line by comparing his current reality to the visions he had before making it big in hip hop.
6. LOYALTY.: “My resume is real enough for two millenniums.”
Kung Fu Kenny really gets in his bag on this track, but who wouldn’t when you’re next to the incomparable Rihanna? The Bad Gal billionaire is the feature artist and leading lady in the music video for “LOYALTY.” In the opening verse of the song, Lamar sets the tone with a braggart start, flexing the recognition that his discography has garnered as “instant classics,” while possibly likening himself to Jesus. Maybe he’s saying he’s the savior of his generation in hip hop and society as a whole.
7. DNA.: “I got power, poison, pain, and joy / Inside my DNA / I got hustle, though, ambition, flow / Inside my DNA.”
Positive affirmations always have a place in hip hop and Lamar’s “DNA.” is truly one for the culture. In a contemporary take on vets like Public Enemy and Queen Latifah’s groundwork from the ’80s, K-Dot presents his own interpretation of the “I Am” framework that unravels what it means to be Black in America. From the passionate, high-energy delivery to the poignant and indignant lyrics, the politically driven rapper criticizes anti-Black prejudice. He speaks on his experience growing up within systemic pitfalls while proudly promoting the innate blessing that is being Black. Throughout the anthem, Lamar forces listeners to accept that Black people are not a monolith and that two things can be true at once.
8. FEEL.: “I am legend, I feel like all of y’all is peasants / I feel like all of y’all is desperate / I feel like all it take is a second to feel like / Mike Jordan whenever holdin’ a real mic.”
Kendrick Lamar has the ability to take a subject that is rather vulnerable — in this case, the feeling of isolation that comes with fame and success — and turn it into a lyrical power-up. In “FEEL.,” the linguist calls out his loved ones who seem less caring since his glow-up with the repetition of the line “I feel like nobody’s praying for me.” At this point in his career, it’s apparent that he’s concerned with fake love, but rather than seeking the approval of fickle family, he simply breathes new life into himself with the aforementioned bar.
9. Bad Blood (Remix): “These beats of a dark heart, use basslines to replace you / Take time and erase you, love don’t hear no more, no, I don’t fear no more / Better yet, respect ain’t quite sincere no more.”
Even on a pop track, Lamar doesn’t hold back. As a feature on the “Bad Blood (Remix)” — a diss record by Taylor Swift— the rapper laments over a relationship gone bad before remembering that he can dismiss hard feelings and treat the estranged partner cordially while maintaining personal boundaries. Allegedly, Swift originally wrote the song after a falling out with singer Katy Perry. If this is true, perhaps Lamar’s verses could be considered a continuation of the conversation in “FEEL.”
10. B**ch, Don’t Kill My Vibe: “Look inside of my soul, and you can find gold and maybe get rich / Look inside of your soul and you can find out it never exist.”
Songs released at the onset of Lamar’s commercial success are indicative of his intentionality. In his hit single “B**ch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” he opens the track with a prayer that is almost like a confessional. After admitting that he’s got his own shortcomings to deal with, K-Dot makes clear that he’s a pure soul and rises above anyone who wants to use him, stifle his creativity or otherwise throw him off track. In short, Lamar is clear about his boundaries and firm in his own self-belief. He will not be moved or swayed by any tricks of the enemy.
11. HUMBLE.: “My left stroke just went viral / Right stroke put lil’ baby in a spiral / Soprano C, we like to keep it on a high note / It’s levels to it, you and I know.”
Irony is a device Kendrick Lamar calls on frequently and the lyrics to “HUMBLE.” are evidence of that. The track has a chanting chorus that repeats ,“Be humble. Sit down” all while the artist boasts his sexual prowess, riches and massive influence. When asked about the meaning behind the wildly successful song, Lamar said, “That’s why I did a song like [this], where I just don’t give a f**k, or I’m telling the listener, ‘You can’t f**k with me’ / But ultimately, I’m looking in the mirror.” His self-confidence is aspirational. What if we all could tell our haters off like this?
12. Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst: “Promise that you will sing about me.”
Both a request and a decree, “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst” is essentially the emcee’s origin tale. The storytelling on this track with Lamar’s staccato cadence takes the listener on a journey that is nothing short of a John Singleton film or Sista Souljah novel depicting the treacherous realities of life in the hood. By the third verse, the Black Hippy member questions his own fascination with death when he says, “And you’re right, your brother was a brother to me / And your sister’s situation was the one that pulled me in a direction to speak of something that’s realer than the TV screen.” He comes to the conclusion that his voice and pen are gifts that he must use to tell the stories of the voiceless. These life-changing encounters were the catalyst for the righteous themes in his music thereafter.
13. i: “I went to war last night / With an automatic weapon, don’t nobody call a medic / I’ma do it ’til I get it right.”
Kendrick Lamar’s third studio album, To Pimp a Butterfly, is like a time capsule. It captures the utter chaos and turmoil that the United States faced following the deaths of Mike Brown, Sandra Bland and Eric Garner at the hands of the police. This period marked fear and frustration as cellphone and bodycam video footage of police brutality was being shared across social media — and still is. Millions of Black and brown people wondered, “Will I be next?” To speak on his mental health, Lamar plays off of the visuals of protests and the militarization of the police during said demonstrations. He cleverly expresses his ability to process his emotions through music as self-healing. Other lyrics in the song remind listeners that Black people are powerful — despite the way in which they’re often treated by the very country they help to build — and that they should have pride as they continue to fight for justice.