Less than 15 seconds after the Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar's official debut album, 'good kid, m.A.A.d. city,' dropped in October, voices across the Internet started screaming "CLASSIC ALBUM!" The voices screamed before the minds attached to them even had time to figure out who the hell Sherane was, and where she was, not to mention what Kendrick had done with his father's motherfuckin' dominoes, assuming he'd done anything with them at all. (Were these questions ever resolved?)
There's no doubt about it: 'good kid, m.A.A.d. city' is a spectacular album by the most talented young rapper in the game. But questions concerning classic status shouldn't be entertained until 2022, or beyond, when we can all listen to it from the comfort of our future homes on Pluto.
In addition to delivering this perhaps-classic debut, Kendrick popped up as a featured rapper on numerous tracks this year. For the most part, he made the rappers he shared space with seem unworthy and dull. It's no surprise that his best features are those with his fellow Top Dawg rappers -- Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul and Jay Rock -- because the crew's perspective remains cohesive even though each one brings something unique to the microphone. Of all the Kendrick Lamar features this year, these were the ten best.
10. 'Cross Trainers,' from Pac Div's 'GMB'
Kendrick doesn't typically rap over fast (and obnoxious) beats like this because they don't allow his voice to optimize its own rhythmic vigor. But here he made the most of an otherwise throw-away sneaker-ode by popping optics, climbing mountains while watching critics critique and riding Orion's belt.
9. 'They Ready,' from DJ Khaled's 'Kiss the Ring'
After verses by J. Cole and Big K.R.I.T., it would be difficult for Kendrick to go wrong. Here he got sillier than he normally does, referring to his Johnson as a whistling flute (a flute actually whistles!) and ruminating about Uranus as if he were R. Kelly.
8. 'Fuckin' Problem,' from A$AP Rocky's 'LiveLongA$AP'
The young Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky assembled an all-star cast -- Kendrick, Drake and 2 Chainz -- for this second single from his upcoming album. Over an unimpressive synth-pop instrumental, Kendrick does two things he did on almost all of his 2012 features. First, he referenced a song from 'good kid, m.A.A.d city,' namely “Money Trees.” Second, he took the final verse because all these other rappers that asked him to rap on their tracks seemed to operate according to “save-the-best-for-last” logic.
7. 'Push Thru,' by Talib Kweli
The veteran Kweli brought a predictably sleepy Curren$y in for the opener, and then Kendrick for the finale. Kendrick began in a reflective, laid-back tone, but transitioned quickly into one of his most raging moments of the year.
6. 'Black Lip Bastard (Black Hippy Remix),' from Ab-Soul's 'Control System'
One of Kendrick's two appearances on his TDE comrade Ab-Soul's essential album 'Control System,' and the only one featuring the complete posse of Kendrick, Ab-Soul, Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock. After confessing that he keeps a collage of haters in his garage, he effortlessly landed on Nicki Minaj's ass and smoked to Sade.
5. 'Catch A Fade,' from E-40's 'Welcome to the Soil: The Block Brochure 1, 2 & 3'
Kendrick appeared for a verse on the third disc of this massive triple-album by Bay Area legend E-40, an inventive and idiosyncratic rapper who, like Kendrick, excels in revealing the hidden potential of a beat. His voice was somewhat monochromatic here, but most fascinating was the way he explored how the meanings of words and phrases contextually shift.
4. 'Power Circle,' from Maybach Music Group's 'Self Made 2'
Kendrick got the last word on this MMG posse cut with Gunplay, Rick Ross, Wale, Stalley and Meek Mill. The irony was that a non-MMG rapper being featured on a MMG posse cut used to help elevate the outsider, but the opposite was true in this case. (Gunplay's intro was one of the best verses of the year, but we've reached a point where Rick Ross's voice means it's time to skip to the next track.) Gunplay unquestionably has the most sea bass and lobster, but Kendrick walked away from this circle with the most power.
3. 'A-1 Everything,' from Meek Mill's 'Dreamchasers 2'
Like Kendrick, Meek Mill dropped his official debut album, 'Dreams & Nightmares,' this year. But first came Meek's 'Dreamchasers 2' tape, where the Philadelphia rapper barked alongside Kendrick on the hyper-braggadocios “A1 Everything.” Successfully matching Meek's unwaveringly aggressive style, here Kendrick chops up syllables like a machine-gun.
2. 'ILLuminate,' from Ab-Soul's 'Control System'
Kendrick's second appearance on Ab-Soul's 'Control System' is his best. The paranoia Ab-Soul brought to this Madonna-sampling tune rubbed off on Kendrick in such a way that he shrugged off, overcame and out-enlightened everyone trying to piggyback on his success and doubt his abilities.
1. 'Blessed,' from Schoolboy Q's 'Habits & Contradictions'
Kendrick found the perfect beat on this heartwarming struggle anthem from his TDE partner Schoolboy Q's album. It was one that allowed him to not just flow, but actually enhance the beat with syncopated blasts and clever melodic variation. The rhythmic complexity of his closing verse brought something new and unexpected to the beat, rather than simply reflect it, which is one of the most engrossing aspects of Kendrick's rapping.
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