Yesterday I was playing "Cartoon & Cereal" when a friend asked, "What's this?"
Instantly, I felt like I was at a football game and someone had just asked me what a touchdown was. But his question also made me realize that while those of us who live inside the rap bubble can treat even songs that never made an album as surface-level released, the wider world needs some guidance into the deep. It was clearly time to bring back our legendary Deep Cuts series for a third installment, following two glorious swan dives into the back catalogs of Drake and Future.
Next up, King Kendrick.
Once again, we’re dealing with not only one of the biggest stars in hip-hop but one of the biggest superstars in all of music—finding a golden nugget that only five people have heard is going to be impossible. Instead, let’s be more realistic, as I’m about to serve up 10 of Kendrick Lamar’s greatest lesser-known records, whether they were overlooked, underrated, forgotten, or simply just don’t get the credit they deserve today. As Section.80 was Kendrick's breakout project, I stuck to material that was released before that project, with an exception or two.
These are in no real order, but as you'll see, I did loosely separate the selections into groups.
Loosies & Lyrical Displays of Dominance
“6’7 Freestyle” w/ ScHoolboy Q
Any doubt about Kendrick’s ability to rhyme words in master fashion should be immediately settled upon hearing the beat desecration that is “6’7 Freestyle.” A tag team effort between K-Dot and ScHoolboy circa 2010, the two Black Hippies took Lil Wayne’s “6 Foot 7 Foot” instrumental behind the shed like a pet with rabies, and not even Q’s aggression could divert the spotlight off Kendrick’s dual verses.
“Show me somethin’ different / You either kissin’ dick or giving me distance / You live in a district of dime bags and dummies I know your statistics / Who your boss? He more like my assistant / Get lost have a egg and a biscuit / Break fast when we aimin’ them biscuits / Pay cash when your chain come up missin’”
“For The Girlfriends” ft. Ab-Soul
If you're going to spark something while reading this list, go ahead and do so now. Back in 2009, Kendrick and Ab-Soul cooked up something specifically "For The Girlfriends," a woozy late-night jam that oozes nonchalance and begs you to vibe out. You can almost picture the two in the studio at 3 AM, girls at their side, laughing about the fact that they were making a song about making their significant others happy in a genre obsessed with stacking body counts as high as they'll go.
"She had a long day and plus I know she wanna vent / Now she could talk about her boss and I can give advice / Or she could take the panties off and I could eat the (pie, pie)"
"I Hate You"
Great songs take you to a different mindstate, whether that means peaks of joy or places of deep darkness and depression. Kendrick has never shied away from creating emotional tracks, cue “u” or “Sing About Me,” but despite never making it to an official project “I Hate You” remains one of the most powerful. Kendrick quite literally pens a letter to Death in response to the senseless killings he witnesses far too often, struggling for comprehension and pleading for answers. The production is mournful, Kendrick becomes racked with emotion as the song unfolds, and the last verse, where Death responds, is enough to send shudders through the listener.
"One of my biggest fears, is waking up 4 in the morning and gotta hear you met one of my peers / Or maybe a family member that you thought was cool / Or maybe a person that I'll never meet 'cause of you"
"Rapper Shit" w/ Ab-Soul (Note: this may technically be Ab-Soul ft. Kendrick, but many have listed both as headliners, so fuck it.)
"I call this rapper shit, cuz I ain't a rapper, but if I was this ain't some shit that I could rap after," begins Ab-Soul. This is that rapper shit, as the title would so accurately indicate. Six straight minutes of bars from Kendrick and Ab, who back in 2011 were already turning heads, not only for their ability to make great music but also due to their blistering displays of wordplay.
"They say pressure bust pipes / And I ain't never had to deal with plumbing in my life, now that's a bar/ Sparring with me like blasphemy to cathedral / Or colliding with the diesel with your baby in your arms"
"Ignorance" w/ Ab-Soul (See: "Rapper Shit")
A few months ago I wrote that Drake and Wayne's take on "Ignant Shit" was better than the original. This one is even better.
"The bomb, Hiroshima's atomic / My palms over the Book of Psalms, promise to God to keep it honest"
Older Project Cuts That Can’t Be Missed
"Thanksgiving" w/ Rapper Big Pooh
Thanksgiving brings the gift of food, and "Thanksgiving" brings the gift of food for thought. This Kendrick Lamar EP standout features an uproarious, celebratory backdrop as the emcee is prophetically "busy taking over the world with the weight of the world on his shoulder." Kendrick and guest Rapper Big Pooh each rock a verse before sharing the finale.
"Now everybody just bow to the greatness, or die in the matrix / You're hereby dating, my destiny's waiting"
“The Heart, Pt. 2” ft. Dash Snow
The intro to O(verly) D(edicated) begins with a clip from an interview with artist Dash Snow, who himself died of an overdose, a powerful statement signaling the utmost importance that music has on the life of an artist as dedicated as either Snow or Lamar. What unfolds is a nearly 3 1/2 minute verse diving into the mindset of Kendrick and the constant battle between art and real life. His vocals strain and break with emotion, leading to a dizzying display that ends with a sputtering, anticlimactic cough and welcomes you to the remainder of the project.
“I pray these bars get farther than Compton / And if our record never break I still won’t break my promise, I promise to keep it honest”
Kendrick says “I don’t do black music, I don’t do white music. I do everyday life music." He is, after all, an Average Joe, which speaks not only to the normalcy of violence and gang life on the Compton streets that raised him, but also serves to point out the striking difference between an average day in the life of someone facing these daily horrors and the same for a more privileged American. After hearing this OD standout, it's not surprising that "Average Joe" was one of the original concepts of good kid, m.A.A.d. city (according to Punch).
"Got jumped, got jacked, shot at, shot back / And I don't even push a line, I'm just tryna push these rhymes / In the midst of staying neutral and discrete / My momma said you're judged by the company you keep"
Songs That Everyone Should Know But I Felt Obligated To Put Them Here
"Look Out For Detox"
If Iggy Azalea butchers your old freestyle into an unintelligible blubbering mess and the video goes viral, does it mean that freestyle is no longer an overlooked gem? Maybe. If Childish Gambino produced the beat for that freestyle and the song was released as Dre gave his co-sign to a lesser-known Kendrick, does that mean the track is no longer a deep cut? Maybe, but if a K-Dot newcomer needed the essentials of his back catalog it would be a criminal offense to leave this one unmentioned.
"Tire marks, tire marks / Finish line with the tire marks / When the relay starts I’m a runaway slave / Ugh, walking on water and running on waves"
"Cartoon & Cereal" ft. Gunplay
We've covered the excellence that is "Cartoon & Cereal" at length in the Booth before, so I won't spend much time here, but as there's perhaps a no greater example of when the best songs don't make the album and are forced to languish in non-project purgatory. I'd also like to mention that the above video is unofficial, but still one of my favorite videos of all time.
"You told me 'Don't be like me, just finish watching cartoons' / Which is funny now cause all I see is Wile E. Coyotes in the room"
Guest Appearances That Can’t Be Missed
Rapper Big Pooh - "RapperPooh-A-Lude" ft. Kendrick Lamar & Ab-Soul
We've had Kendrick & Pooh and plenty of Kendrick & Ab, so let's not leave out this outstanding triple effort. Pooh's verse creeps in and unfolds over a slow build from producer Focus..., a lone hi-hat joined by the triumphant screech of horns and a bassline that takes control and leads you into deep relaxation. By the time Kendrick is "about to grab his mop stick," the production is in full flow and ready for another rap clinic from him and the Black Lip Bastard.
"I fry your optics, if you watching my style, watch it / Tyrannosaurus reading a thesaurus, hold rappers hostage"
Fredo Santana - "Jealous" ft. Kendrick Lamar
While "Jealous" was definitely among the most played of these selections (in terms of recorded streams), I have to imagine most of those came from Fredo fans. I can't really blame any Kendrick fans who might have previously overlooked this odd collaborative combo, both an ode to the spoils of street life and a reminder that success breeds jealousy. What Fredo's verse lacks in urgency is made up for with a monstrous beat, rousing hook and Kendrick's strained voice bouncing between eating pussy and relaying the news that his little brother was killed.
"If you know me then you know n*gga Chi-town like my second home / I done flew a private jet for some Harold's Chicken straight from Rome"
OverDoz. - "Taking Me Down" ft. Kendrick Lamar
Full disclosure, this is the only selection where it's hard to make the case that Kendrick is the most commanding presence on the track, but he's featured and the song is both massively slept on and fantastic, so fuck it. Good Lawd that sample is glorious.
"That's your life if I don't break sweat / To break these mics on every set / It's ironic I'm tryna stay grounded at the same time still fly these jets"
Honorable mentions: "Westside, Right On Time" (too popular), "Vanity Slave," "Vanity Slave, Pt. 2," "Rare Breed," "The Heart, Pt. 1," "You (Remix)," "West Coast Wu-Tang," "Trip," and "Faith"
Everyone knows the hits, but hopefully, this list gives you a better idea of Cornrow Kenny's better, lesser-known songs, whether you're a casual fan or borderline Stan. Now go ahead and tell me what I'm missing.