Musicheads Essential Artist: Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar smiling at Soundset 2012
Kendrick Lamar smiling at Soundset 2012. (Eamon Coyne/MPR)
Musicheads Essential Artist: Kendrick Lamar
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Pulitzer-Prize-winning artist Kendrick Lamar is widely regarded as one of the greatest rappers of his generation.

Kendrick Lamar Duckworth was born in Compton, California on June 17, 1987, and started rapping and recording mixtapes under the name K. Dot when he was a teenager. Signed to the fledgling indie label Top Dawg Entertainment, his independently released mixtape Overly Dedicated and studio album Section 80 caught the attention of hip-hop heavyweights Dr. Dre, The Game, and Snoop Dogg, who dubbed him "the new king of the West Coast."

Kendrick's mainstream crossover moment came with his major label debut good kid, m.A.A.d city, released in 2012 on Interscope Records. He scored top 40 hits with songs like "Swimming Pools," "Drink," and "Poetic Justice"; and by the end of 2013, he'd appeared on every late night show, had been tapped to open for Kanye West on his much-buzzed-about Yeezus Tour, had swept the BET Hip-Hop Awards, and had been nominated for seven Grammys.

In 2015, Kendrick Lamar released his watershed album To Pimp A Butterfly: a musically ambitious and politically coded record about racial inequality and resilience released at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement. The single "Alright" became a protest anthem while "The Blacker the Berry" and "King Kunta" showcased Kendrick's talent for crafting compelling poetry about street violence, addiction, anxiety, and redemption.

In addition to being widely regarded as one of the best rappers of his generation, Kendrick Lamar has picked up numerous Grammy awards; has been named as one of Time magazine's most influential people in the world; and in 2018, he made history when his album DAMN. became the first non-classical or jazz album to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music.

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