15 Best Songs, Lyrics And Music Videos From Pulitzer Prize-Winner, Kendrick Lamar

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An extraordinary moment for hip-hop.

History was made Mon, April 16, when it was announced that Kendrick Lamar won the Pulitzer Prize for music. Making him the first ever rapper to win the prestigious honor.

Lamar won the prize for  “DAMN”, a compelling and multifaceted, Grammy-award winning album. The Pulitzer for music traditionally has gone to classical and jazz genres, and this elusive win is a huge moment for musicians and fans of hip-hop.


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Kendrick Lamar really embodies what it means to be a “woke” artist. Time and time again he has created music with messages against racism and social injustice, produced politically-charged performances and has embraced his role as a spokesperson and symbol for change. In a 2017 article for Interview Magazine, Lamar expressed that the aim of his music is to be true to himself and have listeners connect with his songs in a raw, unfiltered way.

"I don't want anybody to classify my music. I want them to say, 'This is somebody who's recognizing his true feelings, his true emotions, ideas, thoughts, opinions, and views on the world, all on one record.' I want people to recognize that and to take it and apply it to their own lives," Lamar said. "The more and more I get out and talk to different people, I realize they appreciate that—me being unapologetic in whatever views and approach I have."

Lamar's genuine heart and soul is in each of his lyrically-rich verses, which is why we honor him today for this phenomenal win and why he is one of the all-time greats in music.

Here is a list of some of Kendrick Lamar’s most profound and sublime songs:

1. m.A.A.d City

This song really paints a picture in the minds of the listener to what it was like growing up in Compton, CA for Kendrick. It's an intimate song that describes his past demons with drugs and gang violence. The song is a day in the life tale that describes how teenage Kendrick matured to become the artist we all know and love today.    

Notable verse:

If I told you I killed a n**** at sixteen, would you believe me?
Or see me to be innocent Kendrick you seen in the street
With a basketball and some Now and Laters to eat?
If I mentioned all of my skeletons, would you jump in the seat?
Would you say my intelligence now is great relief?
And it's safe to say that our next generation maybe can sleep
With dreams of bein' a lawyer or doctor
Instead of boy with a chopper that hold the cul-de-sac hostage

2. The Blacker the Berry

This blunt song is about Kendrick increasing his racial consciousness after realizing that America hates him because he's African American. It explores the psychological baggage placed on black men and expresses Kendrick's determination to be defiant and proud despite the hardships placed on him.  

Notable verse: 

I'm African American, I'm African
I'm black as the heart of a f**** Aryan
I'm black as the name of Tyrone and Darius
Excuse my French but f*** you—no, f*** y'all
That's as blunt as it gets, I know you hate me, don't you?

3. Alright

This song became the anthem to the Black Lives Matter movement and is a real testament to the ways Kendrick's songs are embedded with social consciousness. The lyrics describe what it's like to be an African American and the pain ensued both from past and present injustices, but leaves us with the uplifting message that despite everything we will prevail.   

notable verse:

Wouldn't you know
We been hurt, been down before
N****, when our pride was low
Lookin' at the world like, "Where do we go?"
N****, and we hate po-po
Wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho'
N****, I'm at the preacher's door
My knees gettin' weak, and my gun might blow
But we gon' be alright

4. i

A self-affirming declaration of self-love and pride. This song carries the message that we can learn how to love one another when we have the love for ourselves.    

Notable verse:

I love myself
When you lookin' at me, ahh, tell me what do you see?
I love myself
I put a bullet in the back of the back of the head of the bully
I love myself
Illuminated by the hand of God, boy don't be shy
I love myself
One day at a time


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5. Black Boy Fly 

This song details the struggle of growing up poor and black in the ghetto and the "one in a million" odds of escaping that environment and finding success. It's an emotional admission of the frustrations and aspirations of so many people who grow up in these difficult neighborhoods.   

Notable verse:

What am I to do when every neighborhood is an obstacle?
When two n
**** making it out had never sounded logical?
Three n
***** making it out? That's mission impossible
So I never believed the type of performance that I could do
​I wasn't jealous cause of the talents they got
I was terrified they'd be the last black boys to fly out of Compton

6. DNA

A daring song in which Kendrick grapples with both celebrating and critiquing his black heritage and culture. It's an honest reveal of Kendrick's own conflicts and the conflicts of the greater African American community with identity and selfhood.  

Notable verse:

S*** I've been through prolly offend you,
I know murder, conviction
Burners, boosters, burglars, ballers, dead, redemption
Scholars, fathers dead with kids and
I wish I was fed forgiveness
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, soldier’s DNA (soldier’s DNA)

7. Hood Politics

In this song, Kendrick critiques the political world and compares corrupt politicians to gangsters. It's a daring work of social commentary that explores the way institutionalized racism benefits some while disadvantaging others. 

Notable verse:

Streets don’t fail me now, they tell me it's a new gang in town
From Compton to Congress, set trippin’ all around
Ain't nothin' new, but a flu of new Demo-Crips and Re-Blood-licans
Red state versus a blue state, which one you governin'?
They give us guns and drugs, call us thugs

8. Duckworth

On this song, named after Kendrick's actual last name, he tells a tale about his father, Kenny "Ducky" Duckworth, and boss of his label, Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith and how Anthony almost killed Lamar's dad when he was planning to rob the KFC that "Ducky" worked at. This song represents just how reflective and personal Kendrick's lyrics can be and how well he uses narrative in his songs. 

Notable verse:

Inside recording studios where they reapin' their benefits
Then you start remindin' them about that chicken incident
Whoever thought the greatest rapper would be from coincidence?
Because if Anthony killed Ducky, Top Dawg could be servin' life
While I grew up without a father and die in a gunfight

9. A.D.H.D

This song explores the glorification of "party-culture" and the mentality of this generation to "fit-in" with the use of drugs and other substances. It also comments on "crack babies", referring to those born in the 80's in an era when crack was often abused in poor communities of color.  

notable verse:

And you feel like no one can relate
‘Cause you are, you are, a loner, loner
Marijuana endorphins make you stronger, stronger
I'm in the house party, trippin' off
My generation sippin' cough syrup like it's water

 10. Fear 

This song is an in-depth glimpse into the psyche of Kendrick Lamar. In the song, he recounts three key times in life which he felt fearful. The first verse recalls Kendrick's childhood fear of his mother, the second verse is a recollection of Kendrick as a teenager when he feared being killed due to his skin color, and the third verse recounts Kendrick's 27-year-old feelings of fear surrounding losing his stardom. 

notable verse:

I'll prolly die anonymous, I'll prolly die with promises
I'll prolly die walkin' back home from the candy house
I'll prolly die because these colors are standin' out


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11. Money Trees  

This song is about lust, greed, temptation and the detrimental effects of obsessing over material things. Kendrick is making a powerful message concerning money and happiness and how it's possible to have one without the other. It's also a reflection on hustling and doing what you gotta do to provide for yourself and your loved ones. 

Notable verse:

Dreams of livin' life like rappers do
Bump that new E-40 after school
You know, “Big Ballin' With My Homies”
Earl Stevens had us thinkin' rational
Back to reality, we poor, ya bish
Another casualty at war, ya bish

12. U

This song is one of Kendrick's more melancholy productions in which he dives into the darker areas of his heart to expose the negative thoughts that plague his mind. He described the song as a showcase of all his "insecurities, selfishness and let-downs." It's a vulnerable and honest recollection that leaves listeners with chills.   

Notable verse:

I know you're irresponsible, selfish, in denial, can't help it
Your trials and tribulations a burden, everyone felt it
Everyone heard it, multiple shots, corners cryin' out
You was deserted, where was your antennas again?
Where was your presence?
Where was your support that you pretend?
You ain’t no brother, you ain’t no disciple
You ain’t no friend

13. How Much A Dollar Cost

In this song, Kendrick creates a metaphorical story based off a real encounter he had with a homeless man asking him for money. In the song, after refusing to give the man money, he reveals himself to be God and denies Kendrick access to heaven. The song explores the themes of selfishness, sympathy, and integrity. 

Notable verse:

Guilt trippin' and feelin' resentment
I never met a transient that demanded attention
They got me frustrated, indecisive and power trippin'
Sour emotions got me lookin' at the universe different
I should distance myself, I should keep it relentless
My selfishness is what got me here, who the f*** I'm kiddin'?

14. Mortal Man

This song is a self-declaration by Kendrick to continue the legacy of leaders and pioneers such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X and Moses. The song discusses black culture, racism, heritage, and image. Kendrick reflects on being a new voice for social change and carrying the responsibility of being a positive role model for kids. 

notable verse:

I been wrote off before, I got abandonment issues
I hold grudges like bad judges, don’t let me resent you
That’s not Nelson-like, want you to love me like Nelson
I went to Robben’s Island analyzing, that’s where his cell is
So I could find clarity, like how much you cherish me
Is this relationship a fake or real as the heavens be?

15. Keisha's Song (Her Pain)

This song is a heartbreaking true-life tale of a young prostitute who was raped and murdered by a john. It was written as a warning for Kendrick's little sister and serves as an ode to the pain suffered by all women who have had to resort to prostitution.    

Notable verse:

And Lord knows she's beautiful
Lord knows the usual's leaving her body sore
As she bust down like a 12 bunk on tour
She suddenly realized, she'll never escape the allure
Of a black man, white man, needing satisfaction
At first, it became a practice, but now she's numb to it


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Katana Dumont is a writer and storyteller with an interest in the eccentric and phenomenal. She enjoys watching horror films and playing pranks on her unsuspecting roommates, is obsessed with Frank Ocean and hopes to one day have a conversation with her favorite novelist, Toni Morrison. When she isn't writing she’s out frolicking with her friends, eating her way through Portland, and enjoying her local music scene.

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