Updated: May 30, 2020
Pulitzer Prize-winner Kendrick Lamar is in rarefied air. His career started with as much hype as Lebron James' coming out of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. West Coast vets and industry legends were crowning him king before his first album on Interscope dropped. Lamar had a lot of expectations to live up to that most people can't handle.
The one-generational talents like Lebron are just that. There are far more O.J. Mayo's, Joseph Forte's and Kwame Brown's. That isn't anything to be ashamed of; the majority is just unable to live up to the unrealistic expectations that are put on them in that light. But, every once in a while, they do.
Lamar's debut album good kid, m.A.A.d city was executive produced by Dr. Dre. No pressure, the legendary producer just EP'ed some of the most classic debut projects in Hip Hop history, including Get Rich or Die Tryin’, The Slim Shady LP and Doggystyle. So, how would Kung Fu Kenny fare? He broke Eminem's record for the longest-charting Hip Hop studio album in Billboard 200 history.
Next up is the Compton native's sophomore album, To Pimp A Butterfly. Lamar delivered another classic with timely content that was completely different from his first LP. Anybody can make the same records over and over again, but to be able to switch up a very successful formula and still prosper is special, to say the least.
The album was his most introspective of the three. He hit on various topics on a high level, going over some heads. The platinum LP debuted #1 on Billboard's 200 chart and received a Grammy for the 2016 Best Rap Album beating out Drake, J. Cole, Nicki Minaj and West Coast pioneer and mentor Dr. Dre.
His latest official album release to date was DAMN in 2017. The collection was a perfect blend of both albums. It had incredible storytelling (that was told in reverse), radio records and thought-provoking content. The 13-time Grammy Award winner considered it his best work. Has anyone in Hip Hop had a better start than that? Short answer, yes but before 2000.
Ice Cube had a start that's been unmatched. As the lyricist and pen behind N.W.A. he delivered two classic albums with the masterful production of Dr. Dre and street cred and business savy of Easy E. After the group disbanded he enlisted New York's finest to produce his debut solo project AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted that was commercially and critically successful.
Cube released two other projects that also went multi-platinum and were socially conscious records. During the early 90's Hip Hop was not the leading genre in music as it is now. For the L.A. god to sustain commercial success repeatedly without giving up his artistic integrity was even more special in that time. He was a trailblazer. Not to mention after that Cube produced and directed the cultural phenomenon Friday.
This discussion can go on and on, from the likes of J. Cole and Drake to Ludacris and T.I., among others. In the end, it's like finding fault in a billionaire's portfolio. All of those artists are great, but Kendrick had the best start to a career in Hip Hop since 2000. He delivered three consecutive classics that were commercially successful and also critically acclaimed, unlike anyone else.