With DAMN. taking over, look back at the birth of K.Dot
14 years after he released ‘Hub City Threat, Minor of The Year’, Kendrick Lamar is at the top of the game. The release of the first Kendrick Lamar mixtape in 2003 was the first thing the world heard from the 16 year old. At 16, Kendrick was pretty far removed from who he is today. The artistry was there but the direction was completely different.
2003 Kendrick was, as you’d expect for a 16 year old, much closer to his influences. Aside from the name checks of west coast hip hop, his choice of beats and his flow reflected the old school a lot more. Even then though, Kendrick stood out. He didn’t sound much like the rest of the rap scene in 2003. Even at the young age his ability on a mic made it clear it was no accident. Looking back, Kendrick himself points out the ego in one of the tape’s titles ‘Young Head Nigga In Charge‘. It’s hard to argue that the ego didn’t wasn’t earned though.
The beats he picked are carefully picked to show off his abilities, at no point do the overpower him. That doesn’t mean he didn’t make them his own. Aside from one track, ‘Go DJ’, you can tell every track is Kendrick’s. If you’re a fan of Kendrick, you like the wordplay and it was clear even back then what he could do. He’ll hit a topic harder than any other rapper today and even at 16 he didn’t avoid anything. He touches some interesting points, commenting on the conflict between east and west coast, for example, with more perspective than most kids his age.
His work with DJ Dave has been a consistent feature through his career but it started here. Dave Free met Kendrick the year the tape was recorded and the two have worked together a long time since. You can see elements of their style that make it clear they had a vision from very early on. The skits present on his albums have been there since the first Kendrick Lamar mixtape.
The awareness and the artistry were there from the beginning. The first Kendrick Lamar mixtape to Damn. has seen the growth of an artist refining a sound instead of finding it. Catch the tape below and let us know in the comments what you think.