5 Deep Cuts from Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar’s albums are about much more than each individual song. In a hip-hop era that feels fixated on landing their songs on people’s playlists, Lamar has stayed married to the traditional approach for full-length projects, dedicating firm concepts to each one he makes. This means that each track of his LPs serves as puzzle pieces that fit together and carry out the bigger picture of a full album, instead of aiming to become its own entity to rack up streams and top charts.

Videos by American Songwriter

Mostly, this procedure helps Lamar to get his listeners to have more focus when listening to his albums. Still, though, he has several songs in his catalog that the masses managed to not pay enough attention to. Just like any other artist, not every song Lamar makes will profoundly connect with audiences.

So, we decided to compile a list of the five most impressive deep cuts from Lamar’s album discography. Check it out below.

5. “Untitled 01 | 08.19.2014.”

In March 2016, just weeks after Lamar won five Grammy awards for his 2015 magnum opus LP To Pimp a Butterfly, the Compton rapper put out Untitled Unmastered. A compilation project full of throwaway songs that he’d made from 2013-14, Untitled Unmastered boasted a handful of tracks that fans absolutely adored, such as “Untitled 02 | 06.23.2014.” and “Untitled 07 | 2014–2016.”

But, one of the most impressive and under-appreciated cuts from the record came with its intro, “Untitled 01 | 08.19.2014.” Using a panicked voice and his vintage slick-tongued rapping, Lamar warns listeners of the rapture over a funky boom-bap beat.

I seen it vividly, jogging my brain memory
Life no longer infinity, this was the final calling
No birds chirping or flying, no dogs barking
We all nervous and crying, moving in caution
In disbeliefs our belief’s the reason for all this

4. “Mr. Morale (feat. Tanna Leone)”

When Lamar released his most recent studio album, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, there weren’t many breakout smash hits, aside from maybe “Die Hard” and “Silent Hill” with Kodak Black. Focused primarily on purging guilt and getting personal issues off his chest, the album contained a mixed bag of genres and approaches.

On the sixteenth song “Mr. Morale,” though, Lamar connected with Pharrell Williams to craft an infectious, trap-rap-inspired banger. Including a commanding hook from Tania Leone, a signee to Lamar’s new pgLang imprint, “Mr. Morale” sees Lamar find entertaining ways to rap about the trauma of him, his family members, and the entire Black community.

3. “Now or Never (feat. Mary J. Blige)”

Though Lamar’s sophomore album, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, included appearances from stars like Drake, Dr. Dre, and Jay-Z, along with going on to earn platinum plaques and Grammys, one of its bonus tracks did not get the love it deserved. Including a fun, jazzy chorus from icon Mary J. Blige, “Now or Never” sees Lamar soak in his own acclaim and appreciate life, something he did sparingly on the initial LP.

“That’s me acknowledging everything that’s going on right now [in my life],” he told Complex about the song. “From the shows to going around the world and being inspired by that. Actually seeing the [dreams] that I had years ago coming true and recognizing that this is a celebration. It’s a real fun up-tempo joint. The album’s so dark, so by the time people catch up to where I’m at today, this is where I’m at.”

[RELATED: Kendrick Lamar Crafts Setlist for “Day 1s” at Austin City Limits 2023]

2. “Complexion (A Zulu Love) [feat. Rapsody and Pete Rock]”

As noted before, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly is widely regarded as his best work to date. Mostly touching on what it means to be Black in America, many of the songs contain harsh, yet poignant messages and solemn sonics. But, on the twelfth track “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” with Rapsody and Pete Rock, Lamar takes on a brighter, more loving tone.

With its groovy Complexion don’t mean a thing hook, “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” sees Lamar educate listeners about the roots of colorism in Western society while assuring listeners that dark skin is just as beautiful as any other shade.

1. “Ronald Reagan Era

Though “Ronald Reagan Era” is only the sixth most streamed song on Lamar’s debut album Section.80 (2011), per Spotify, it could certainly claim the title as most impactful. Seeing Lamar revisit the 1980s in his hometown of Compton, the same era that the crack epidemic began during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, the song breaks down why being in the good graces of street gangs is important during trying times.

That Compton Crip n****s ain’t nothin’ to fuck with
Bompton Pirus ain’t nothin’ to fuck with
Compton éses ain’t nothin’ to fuck with
But they fuck with me, and bitch, I love it

Photo by Santiago Bluguermann/Getty Images

Leave a Reply

Hozier and Noah Kahan

Listen: Hozier Joins Noah Kahan for Reimagined Version of “Northern Attitude”