31 Best Kendrick Lamar Songs

Best Kendrick Lamar Songs

Kendrick is unafraid to speak truth to power, and his best songs demonstrate his bold and fiery passion as well as his creative and poetic storytelling abilities.

Lamar's music touches on street violence, drugs, police brutality, poverty, love, racial injustice, black pride, and much more.

Here are the best Kendrick Lamar songs, in no particular order.


Song year: 2011

“Rigamortus” is far from Kendrick's most popular songs and certainly not one of his most easily understood.

But if you listen closely and dissect the lyrics, you'll realize how incredible it is.

The song is one giant metaphor about him “killing” the rap game. He refers to dragons, fire breathing, Marilyn Manson, Casper, and other death-related imagery to convey this.

But what convinces listeners of him killing the rap game more than any specific metaphor is his overall lyrical genius and highly impressive flow throughout the song, especially in the last verse.


Song year: 2017

“DNA.” is the type of song you play when you want to feel yourself and exude confidence and pride in where you came from.

Kendrick raps about all the elements within his “DNA.”, including positive aspects like loyalty, power, hustle, realness, and richness.

However, he also admits to the burden of his past and history, stating that he has pain, darkness, and evil in his DNA, given the struggle of his upbringing and the legacy of Black history in America.

The ending verse of this song, which acts as a response after a conservative Fox News sound clip, is exceptionally brilliant, with so much meaning packed into every line that there could be an entire article written on it alone.

It alludes to the appropriation of black culture, religious themes, the reality of fame, mental health, and much more.

“m.A.A.d City” ft. MC Eiht

Song year: 2012

This song is one of Kendrick's most popular tracks on his “good kid, m.A.A.d city” album, likely due to the duality of its intense yet attractive beat and its hype yet aggressive lyrics.

It's an honest depiction of life growing up in the streets, where death, drugs, gangs, cops, tears, and pain are no strangers.

Another duality in “m.A.A.d city” is its two-part structure, with the song's second half holding a completely different beat.

The instrumental in the second part is a nod to the California-style hip hop he grew up with, which aligns with Lamar discussing his tough life in Compton.

“Backseat Freestyle”

Song year: 2012

“Backseat Freestyle” is appropriately named, as that is the exact style of the song.

You can imagine Kendrick sitting in the backseat with his crew, one of them dropping a beat and Kendrick starting a freestyle that begins slow and picks up pace as he gets into the zone.

He also alludes to cars themselves several times in the song, such as parking them in front of the typical spots he would frequent growing up.

Ultimately, this is a reflective song, like much of the songs on this album, with an intense, heavy-bass beat.


Song year: 2017

One of the most popular songs on Kendrick's “DAMN.” album, “HUMBLE.” has a lot to love.

The constantly switching flows, intentionally dropped beats, intriguing “ay” adlibs, and catchy chorus all play a significant role in this hit.

He also moves away from his storytelling and metaphorical side to make more punchlines and easily memorable lines, including ones about going viral and feeling tired of all the photoshop used these days.


Song year: 2015

The best song on Kendrick's “To Pimp a Butterfly” album is “Alright.” It has a more cheery tone than many of his other songs while remaining cool and hip.

The instrumentals work perfectly with the song's theme, which is about remaining optimistic in the face of trouble and struggle.

He describes times when his and his community's pride has been low, given financial struggles, police brutality, depression, and general hardships of living in the hood.

Regardless, he strives to reassure his community that they'll be alright.

“King Kunta”

Song year: 2015

The best way to describe the beat of “King Kunta” is groovy and jazzy.

It has a real old-school vibe that's easy for people of all ages to jam to, which is why it became another popular hit off of Lamar's “To Pimp a Butterfly.”

He uses this inviting and engaging instrumental to address the people in his life that didn't believe in him and his abilities and are now interested in him now that he's gotten big.

While praising himself for making it out of the hood, he still shouts out Compton and clarifies that he still appreciates his home and community.

“Money Trees” ft. Jay Rock

Song year: 2012

This song has “vibes” written all over it. It's an excellent song to bump to in the car, with its alluring notes and heavy bass.

The tempting instrumentals coincide with the allure of getting money. Kendrick describes a time when he and his friends would hustle all day and dream of making more money to make it out of the hood.

The title, “Money Trees,” is a spin-off of the saying “money doesn't grow on trees,” and Kendrick uses this song to respond to that saying and suggests that “money trees” would be a great place for shade.

In other words, he doesn't care that money can't grow on trees. Their reality is poverty, but dreaming about money, getting away from the harsh streets, and finding the “shade” is still appealing.

“Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe”

Song year: 2012

Video from 2013

Although the video was released in 2013, this track is another great hit from Kendrick's 2012 “good kid, m.A.A.d city” album.

“Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe” seems like it would be an aggressive song, but it has a calming tone to represent the calming vibe Kendrick wants to maintain.

Kendrick is primarily speaking to people asking so much of him now that he is getting more attention and press. As he continues to grow in his fame, other people want to mooch off of him and his attention, thus “killing his vibe.”

It also conveys that sometimes he doesn't even want to lean into fame himself and just wants to be left alone to listen to music and chill.

“Swimming Pools (Drank)”

Song year: 2012

Kendrick's most mainstream song in 2012 was “Swimming Pools.” Everybody knew this song, and it was an introduction to who Kendrick was as an artist for people who didn't know about him before.

It has a hype, club-like instrumental, making it a common choice for clubs and parties.

However, it's a bit ironic to play this song in alcohol-fueled environments, as the song alludes to the burden and negative impact of heavy binge drinking.

Ultimately, this song showed the world that a rap song can be an entertaining radio hit while still being deep and meaningful.

“Compton” ft. Dr. Dre

Song year: 2012

Since Kendrick Lamar refers to his hometown of Compton in dozens of his songs, and “good kid, m.A.A.d. city” was an album that reflected various aspects of his upbringing in the city, it's no surprise that he made a song specifically for Compton.

Significantly, he and Dr. Dre grew up in a town with a high murder rate and constant sounds of cop cars and ambulances, but they still love and appreciate their hood.

Compton, and their specific neighborhoods within it, made them the strong, passionate, dedicated people they are.

“Poetic Justice” ft. Drake

Song year: 2012

Rappers tend to have a particular style of music and common themes when it comes to their sound. However, to show the versatility of their artistry, they may include songs that are much different than what they're typically known for.

In Poetic Justice, Kendrick does just that by slowing things down and making a sultry, sexy song that's perfect for the bedroom instead of the club, couch, or car.

However, he doesn't trade off his lyrical intelligence just because it's a slower song. There's still plenty of rhetoric sprinkled throughout this track, just like there would be in a “poem” to his lover.

Plus, Drake adding a verse increases the song's overall seductive and romantic appeal.


Song year: 2011

This song, from Kendrick's debut album “Section.80,” clearly represents what the album is all about.

Section.80 refers to people born in the 80s (or “crack babies” as he mentions in the song), and people who live in or near Section 8 housing, thus, are typically very low-income.

This song speaks to the reliance on medication, alcohol, and drugs amongst low-income people in the 80s and beyond and how these substances are used to escape the challenges in their lives.


Song year: 2011

“HiiiPower” is an incredible sound for many reasons.

The lyricism, the instrumentals, the depth of meaning, the storytelling, the flow — Kendrick truly brings it all on this track.

The three i's in HiiiPower represent heart, honor, and respect, which Kendrick believes are the three most important values to live by.

This is especially crucial on the tough streets, where it's easy to get caught up in the drama and do something against your morals.

The song mentions respected, highly honorable men who fought for black civil rights like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Huey Newton and suggests that men like him should act in a way that aligns with what they represented.

“Cartoons & Cereal” ft. Gunplay

Cartoons & Cereal ft. Gunplay

Song year: 2011

One of the most mysterious and intriguing of Kendrick Lamar's songs is called “Cartoons & Cereal.”

It lures listeners in with the familiar sounds of someone changing the channel and carries on with the selected cartoon channel to start the track.

He then moves to a bridge that's addressed to his (gun-holding) father, alluding to how he raised himself in a violent environment.

The song is about the violence of the cartoons he watched growing up, such as Wile E. Coyote and his many weapons, and how the cartoons reflected the violence he saw all around him.

The “irony” he speaks of is trying to avoid violence as a child with cartoons, while violence remains all around, even in the cartoons themselves.

Kendrick's flow in the first verse is tight and controlled, following a specific, monotonous meter. In addition to the repetitive “Elmer Fudd Says… Shoot ‘Em Down” in the background, that meter makes the song sound almost hypnotic.

“Complexion (A Zulu Love)” ft. Rapsody

Song year: 2015

“Complexion” speaks not only on the issue of racism but more so the issue of colorism in the black community.

He alludes to the “Germans” in reference to the Nazi push for the “Aryan” race of white skin.

Although nobody listening to this song would agree with this concept, many people still abide by other ridiculous beauty standards and strive for lighter skin.

Lamar wants people to realize that complexion really doesn't matter, and all skin colors and shades are beautiful.

“good kid”

Song year: 2012

This song works as a preamble to “m.A.A.d city,” introducing listeners to his story and struggles growing up in a tough, impoverished, and violent environment.

He and many of his peers growing up were seduced into trouble, not because they were “bad” kids, but because trouble was all around them.

It's true that although we have some agency and free will, we are also the product of our environments.

Even still, Kendrick continued to try to stay out of trouble and align with his own morals, depicted in the lines about getting jumped while walking home from Bible Study.

“Ronald Reagan Era”

Song year: 2011

Ronald Regan was president throughout the 80s (1981 – 1989), and his war on drugs policies (Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984) led to much strife in impoverished neighborhoods like the ones in Compton.

People would get their house broken into and torn apart with “machine blowtorches,” and their lives ruined in jail due to “minimum sentencing” for even marijuana.

This “war” specifically attacked people in the hood, and this song speaks about the pain and negative, lasting consequences of the Ronald Reagan Era.

The “wood di whoop” sound Kendrick may sound like a cheery addition to the song's instrumentals but alludes to the cop noises that were ever-present in his neighborhood.

Finally, this “war” made it all the worse for poor black people, increasing the amount of poverty and thus the amount of crime and gun violence, which Kendrick points at by talking about the “gun stores” towards the end of the song.

“Keisha's Song (Her Pain)” ft. Ashtro Bot

Song year: 2011

Kendrick tells the story of “Keisha,” one of his beautiful female friends growing up who had a lot going for her but had to resort to prostitution given her financial struggles.

He mentions that she doesn't factor Rosa Parks when she goes the backseat, which is not only a lyrical gem but also a take on how although the civil rights movement did a lot for the black community, there are still struggles to this day.

Thus, it isn't surprising that poor women like “Keisha” still end up having sex for money because they are still desperate and in need.

In addition to sex she doesn't want to have, she also has to worry about the police trapping her and going to jail since prostitution is illegal.

Overall, it's a sad song with an even more tragic ending. But like most of Kendrick's songs, it represents people's real lives, struggles, and fates.

“All the Stars” ft. SZA

Song year: 2018

Kendrick and SZA explore the concept of fame and how it makes people act around them.

This description of fame then juxtaposes the romantic, familial, and platonic concept of love, which is more natural and authentic than fame but can be quite scary.

However, there are many different ways to interrupt this song because both SZA and Kendrick bring up various stories and themes.

“The Recipe” ft. Dr. Dre

Song year: 2012

“The Recipe” is a bonus track on the “good kid, m.A.A.d city” album, but a favorite for many fans, especially his Compton fans.

It is similar to Kendrick's song “Compton” in that it praises the city he's from for its gifts.

The three-part “recipe” he refers to includes women, weed, and weather. These are the three things that Compton presumably has more of than other cities Kendrick mentions in the song.

This is a refreshing song that focuses on the positives instead of all the negatives about growing up in Compton.

“Hol' Up”

Song year: 2011

This song “Hol' Up” is one of the best Kendrick Lamar songs for fans who love a creative flow.

The lyrical rhetoric, storytelling, and depth of meaning are lacking in this song compared to many of his other songs.

However, the way he flows his words is impressive, artistic, and even poetic. It feels like he's spilling out his stream of consciousness and barely taking a breath throughout the verses.

The purpose of this song is to vibe; however, there are still many lyrical gems in this song as well because it's still Kendrick Lamar.

“The Blacker the Berry”

Song year: 2015

Lamar lets out his highest level of aggression. He is projecting poetic truth at the parts of society that hate him because of his color, town, upbringing, and reality.

The flow is not only fire but almost venomous. Kendrick has a tone of animosity because he is responding to all the animosity that has been directed his way towards powerful white people.

Saying that he is black, similar to the heart of an Aryan, pretty much says it all.

However, this song is not just against racist people but also calls attention to how black men themselves can be “hypocrites” because they speak about black pride but also commit crimes against each other.

Essentially, police brutality, racist policies, and black-on-black crime are all results of the same racist system we all live in.


Song year: 2017

The song “LUST.” is Kendrick's commentary on all of the repetitive aspects of life. It's represented by the imagery of sex and sexual desire, which is something that repeats no matter how often you get it.

People want sex, as well as money, political hope, fame, and many other things over and over again.

The irony is that many of us don't do anything about it because we don't want to break away from our routines, comfort zones, or our usual way of doing things.

There is an instrumental feature that sounds like rewinding, which draws ben more attention to the idea of doing things over and over again.

“The Art of Peer Pressure”

Song year: 2012

“The Art of Peer Pressure” is about the pressure and influence of your friend group, especially as an adolescent.

You may not want to participate in certain behaviors, but the influence is strong if everyone around you is doing it.

Kendrick tells multiple stories in this story to convey how many times the peer pressure was intense in his life. Drugs, violence, sex, and even theft were involved in these stories.

He admits how he almost got caught breaking into the house, but they escaped the cops, and he got lucky. One night could have ruined his life just because of “The Art of Peer Pressure.”

“Big Shot” ft. Travis Scott

Song year: 2018

Like “All The Stars,” “Big Shot” was made for the Black Panther Soundtrack. It has a hype, bass-heavy beat, making it a great party song.

Beyond that, it's a song that brags about being a big shot, or in other words, being rich, famous, and successful.

After all, Kendrick has been through in his life, and given how difficult it is to get out of the type of neighborhood he grew up in, he deserves to be a little cocky about how he's a “Big Shot” now.

Plus, it's one of those songs that simply make you feel good to listen to, as it increases your own confidence and pride in yourself.

“LOYALTY.” ft. Rihanna

Song year: 2017

If you thought “Poetic Justice” was Kendrick's only sexy song, meet “LOYALTY.”

Using samples of Bruno Mars's “24K Magic” and Rihanna's sultry voice, this song gets listeners in the mood.

However, the song is not just sexy and lustful, but about the value of being loyal, honest, and trustworthy in romantic love. And it's also not just about romantic love, but about loyalty in all of your relationships, including with family and friends.

Lamar essentially wants listeners to ask themselves this question: If you're not loyal in your relationships, who (or what) are you indeed loyal to?

“F*ck Your Ethnicity”

Song year: 2011

As an introductory song to his Section.80 album, this song speaks to the ridiculousness of judging people by their race and welcomes listeners of all ethnicities and backgrounds to hear him out.

At the same time, it also speaks to how much race has played a role in his life as a black man and how it still plays a significant role in American culture and politics.

Finally, he alludes to how he breaks racial stereotypes like black people being bad at math. The lyrical genius of the song also speaks to the fact that you can be intelligent and wise regardless of your skin color.

“Ignorance is Bliss”

Song year: 2010

This is another Kendrick Lamar song that boldly and bluntly describes the violence that occurred throughout his life.

He speaks from the perspective of someone who shoots someone dead and goes about their day because of how much they are desensitized to street violence.

“Ignorance is Bliss” essentially refers to the idea that in order to survive in that type of environment, many people stop questioning the violence altogether. They participate in violent activity and act like it's no big deal, even though it is.

Kendrick shows an understanding of these situations since that is where he came from but is simultaneously saying that we all need to wake up.

“XXX.” ft. U2

Song year: 2017

Kendrick is clearly not a stranger to political commentary, and “XXX” is filled with it.

Over an initial steady and bass-centered beat, then suddenly a more energetic and heart-racing beat, Kendrick speaks on similar themes as much of his other tracks — hood life, violence, policing, gangs.

All of these themes are presented under the overarching reality of systemic racism. U2 adds a melodic and melancholic vocal element to the final part of the song.

Top Kendrick Lamar Songs, Final Thoughts

Almost everything Kendrick Lamar writes is pure genius.

He intelligently uses various rhetorical and linguistic devices in his raps, including metaphors, alliteration, double entendres, and even triple entendre.

Due to the depth and intricate lyrics in Kendrick's music, it can be challenging to understand the whole meaning of some of his songs.

That said, we hope this article helped you better understand Kendrick Lamar and his music.

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