Kendrick Lamar occupied a rarified airspace in rap even before he unveiled his latest album DAMN. His 2011 debut Section .80 was fantastic, but he entered the upper echelons of rap the following year with Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, an infectious, cinematic portrayal of his life growing up in Compton. The project after that, To Pimp A Butterfly, a densely-packed, jazz-informed, social justice testimonial, is considered by many to be the crowning artistic achievement of the current decade. With DAMN. Kendrick turns his two-album run of awe-inducing excellence into a trilogy and follows through on the boast he made in the pre-drop teaser “The Heart Part 4,” that he’s the greatest rapper alive.
The idea that Kendrick is the greatest rap artist right now is almost a foregone conclusion. When asked about it recently, another of the modern era’s best MCs, Vince Staples, echoed the opinion of many, asserting that not only does Kenny reign supreme, but that, “It’s not even close.” Maybe Eminem could come out of seclusion, hook up with Dr. Dre and match him on purely lyrical grounds -– though it’s hard to imagine that the content wouldn’t be disqualifyingly problematic. Maybe Kanye West can put the pieces of his life back together, hit the studio and re-emerge with a stunning masterpiece of epic production. More likely than not, Drake will continue to best him on a wholly commercial level. When you put all the elements together though, no one is creating anything as sonically interesting, as lyrically precise, as culturally impactful or as thematically deep as Kendrick Lamar Duckworth in 2017.