Kendrick Lamar Week: His best verse

For Kendrick Lamar week, David Bradford, Quinn Pilkey and Robert Hughes list their favorite verse from King Kendrick.

Kendrick Lamar — a.k.a. The King of Rap — is releasing his fourth studio album this Friday. So we here at TNJN thought that we would honor Kendrick’s divine status by providing you all with our scorching Kendrick Lamar takes. David Lodovisi, Quinn Pilkey and Robert Hughes will reveal their favorite Kendrick feature, verse, song and album.

BEST VERSE

Kendrick Lamar is a rapper who raps verses. Most of the time (read 100 percent of the time), he transports you to an alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. And in that alternate dimension, he still exists, so you go to another alternate dimension. 

You get the point.

Lodovisi

First verse of “HiiiPower”. Shut up and don’t @ me with another verse, peasants. This is early Kendrick  — it’s on Section.80 —  but this is the verse that catapulted his confidence so he could give the world good kid, m.A.A.d. city and To Pimp a Butterfly.

Let’s take this line-by-line, word-by-word and syllable-by-syllable.

“Visions of Martin Luther staring at me/Malcolm X put the hex on my future some catch me.”

Immediately, we see Kendrick bringing up two prominent Civil Rights figures (MLK and Malcolm X), but what’s interesting is his exclusion of MLK’s last name, which makes me think this is a double entendre for Martin Luther King Jr. and Martin Luther. I could be wrong because my IQ resembles the plastic bag I just put over my head. I just thought it was interesting.

“I’m falling victim to a revolutionary song/The Serengeti’s Clone/Back to put you backstabbers back on your spinal bone.”

I’ve had plenty of backstabbers in my life. Two of my ex-girlfriends cheated on me. So I want to put them on their spinal bones. Haha jk i don’t actually care.

“You slipped your disc when I slid you my disc/You wanted to diss but jumped on my d***.”

HOW. DOES. HE. DO. THIS.

Refer to the “back on your spinal bone” part in the previous line. Kendrick then says “You slipped your disc when I slid you my disc,” which refers to a spinal injury when listening to his music.

Then, of course, people want to diss Kendrick. But then they hear his verses, re-evaluate if they enjoy existing on this planet and become faux fans.

“Grown men never should bite their tongue/Unless you eating p**** that smell like it’s a stale plum.”

No comment.

“I got my finger on the morthaf***** pistol/Aiming it at a pig, Charlotte’s web is going to miss you.”

WHAT.

HOW.

OMG.

The first time I heard this line, I went repeated it at least a dozen times. A Charlotte’s Web reference in a song is so dope. Wow, Kendrick, please! I have a family!

“My issue isn’t televised and you aint gotta tell the wise/How to stay on beat because our life’s an instrumental.”

This is getting ridiculous. The words “beat” and “instrumental” are obviously related, as instrumentals are usually centered around beats. Haha.

“This is physical and mental, I won’t sugar coat it/You’d die from diabetes if these other n***** wrote it.”

My. Word.

This verse isn’t even human at this point. Kendrick won’t sugar coat what he’s saying, but if somebody else said it, there would be so much sugar coating — or in LeBron’s case, sugar coding — that you’ll get diabetes and die.

Kendrick, not in front of my children!

“And everything on TV just a figment of imagination/I don’t want a plastic nation, dread that like a Haitian/While you mothaf***** waiting, I be off the slave ships/Building pyramids, writing my own hieroglyphs.”

The perfect ending to this monstrous verse. Kendrick fears a “plastic nation,” but while everybody is sitting around, he started making moves.

Six years later, he’s the King.

Bow.

Hughes

My personal favorite is one of his longest verses, but his rhythm, rhyme, storytelling and speed are just too good for me to overlook.

Spoiler: It’s the first verse in “m.A.A.d. city” from the album good kid, m.A.A.d. city.

Strap on your seat belts and bring your inhaler; heck, bring an EpiPen, because this verse is a lot to handle. Here we go.

Like David did, we’re going to take this a few lines at a time.

“Brace yourself”

Dangit, I couldn’t even make it past this line without stopping. Kendrick is literally telling all of us to brace ourselves because he’s about to spit a verse so mind-boggling that we need to take some time to prepare ourselves, but then he keeps going and you are already playing catch-up, just trying to hang on for dear life the rest of the verse. Anyway, let’s start back from the top

“Brace yourself/I’ll take you on a trip down memory lane/This is not a rap on how I’m slinging crack or move cocaine/This is cul-de-sac and plenty Cognac and major pain/Not the drill sergeant but the stress that weighin’ on your brain.”

Ok, Kendrick, chill out. That’s a lot for me to process. So you’re going to tell me a a little about your past and how you weren’t a drug dealer, but you were still caught up with the pressures of substance abuse (all while making a reference to a pretty good movie). That’s cool, but just give me some t–

Nope. He just keeps going.

“It was me, L Boog, and Yan Yan/YG lucky ride down Rosecrans/It got ugly waving your hand out the window–Check yourself, uh.”

I assume all of those people are his friends, but the most important part of this verse is the “uh.” He gives us, if only for a moment, a split-second to (attempt to) catch up to what he’s said and what he’s about to say.

“Warriors and Conans/Hope euphoria can slow dance/with society/the driver seat/the first one to get killed/Seen a light-skinned [expletive] with his brains blown out/At the same burger stand where *beep* [a gang] hang out/Now this is not a tape recorder saying that he did it/But ever since that day, I was looking at him different.”

Stop. The. Match.

Kendrick, please, man, you’ve already told us enough. I don’t want to be an accessory to the crime you are talking about or the crime you are currently committing by murdering this verse. Just stop, man. You win.

Nope, he continues.

“That was back when I was nine/Joey packed the nine/Pakistan on every porch is fine/We adapt to crime/Pack a van with four guns at a time/With the sliding door.”

You witnessed this when you were nine years old? NINE. YEARS. OLD?! And then he just keeps going, like it’s not a big deal. He was used to the violence and being around guns all the time already. Wow. But he’s not done, not even close.

“[Expletive] you shooting for if you ain’t walking up you [expletive] punk?/Picking up the [expletive] pump/Picking off you suckers/Suck a [expletive] or die or sucker punch/A wall of bullets coming from/AKs, ARs, ‘Aye y’all, duck,’/That’s what momma said when we was eating that free lunch.”

This portion is a blend of tragedies. Violence is so prevalent in his life that he’s not afraid to tempt death, but then he hits you with more sadness when he says that his family has to be wary of gang violence, even while eating a lunch that his family cannot afford themselves.

“Aw man, [expletive]/All hell broke loose/You killed my cousin back in ’94/[Expletive] your truce/Now crawl your head in that noose/You wind up dead on the news/Ain’t no peace treaty/Just pieces BG’s up to pre-approve.”

Now, it’s personal for him, so he goes even harder these last few lines.

“Bodies on top of bodies/IVs on top of IVs/Obviously the coroner between the sheets like the Isleys/When you hop on the trolley/Make sure your colors correct/Make sure you’re corporate or they’ll be calling your mother collect/They say the governor collect/all of our taxes, except/when we in traffic and tragic happens/That [expletive] ain’t no threat/You moving backwards if you suggest that you sleep with a TEC/Go buy a chopper and have a doctor on speed dial, I guess/m.A.A.d. city.”

How? How is he this good? He’s telling a story about gang violence and how nobody cares about it while absolutely destroying a verse at the same time. I don’t understand.

That’s why he’s the best, and that’s why I cannot contain my excitement for his new album.

Pilkey

There’s no verse in Kendrick Lamar’s entire discography that evokes more emotion than the second verse on “Sing About Me.” The song comes near the end of good kid, m.A.A.d City, after the climax of the album’s story. The entire song is gut-wrenching in the way it paints characters of Compton residents that Kendrick knew in his early life. The second and most powerful verse is sung from the perspective of a young prostitute, the sister of the titular character in Section.80‘s “Keisha’s Song.” The narrator berates Kendrick for using her sister’s story to sell albums:

“You wrote a song about my sister on your tape / And called it Section.80, the message resembled “Brenda’s Got a Baby” / What’s crazy was, I was hearing about it / But doubted your ignorance how  could you ever just put her on blast and sh*t / Judging her past and sh*t, well, it’s completely my future”

She feels that Kendrick has co-opted a deeply personal story for his own gain. It seems to be a sensitive subject for Kendrick: he attempts to bring light to serious issues he faced in his youth without exploiting those around him. The emotion in his voice is palpable through this verse as he views things from the perspective of someone who feels used by him. Still, as the narrator says several bars later, she doesn’t care about Kendrick’s intentions.

“And I’m exhausted, but f*ck that ‘Sorry for your loss’ sh*t / My sister died in vain, but what point are you trying to gain / If you can’t fit the pumps I walk in? I’ll wait / Your rebuttal a little too late / And if you have an album date, just make sure I’m not in the song / ‘Cause I don’t need the attention bring enough of that on my own”

Kendrick shows empathy for the narrator and is able to see things from her perspective. Still, he knows that he wants to get her story out into the world and ultimately decides to do just that yet still show a different perspective by including this verse on the album.

“And matter fact, did I mention I physically feel great? / A doctor’s approval is a waste of time, I know I’m straight / I’ll probably live longer than you and never fade away / I’ll never fade away, I’ll never fade away, I know my fate”

There are inherent dangers in the narrator’s line of work, but she doesn’t care.  In fact, she feels immune from those dangers. She attacks Kendrick’s career as rap, implying that his fame will fade as she continues to thrive. She repeats that point several times. The verse continues, but the voice fades out. Just seconds after she announces she will never fade away, she literally fades away. The next verse is from Kendrick Lamar’s perspective.

It’s not his most exciting verse or his most impressive technically. But if there’s one verse that combines Kendrick’s natural rapping ability, the emotions that he can evoke and his social consciousness and empathy, it’s this one. And that’s what makes it his best.

Featured image by wikimedia commons

Edited by David Bradford