Yeah, yeah, you 've probably heard enough about Kendrick Lamar lately. He just became the first hip-hop artist to win a Pulitzer Prize, after all, and he's been absolutely lighting it up since dropping Good Kid, M.A.A.D City in 2012. Still, it can feel like oversaturation when pretty much every major media outlet in the nation is anointing him with titles such as "the most vital rapper in America."
That's not to say he doesn't deserve the praise — he has earned every bit of it. But like any rapper who relies on producers to make his beats, he's had plenty of help along the way. (Thirteen producers are credited on last year's opus, Damn.) Case in point: Kendrick is rolling with the hip-hop collective Black Hippy — rounded out by his crew of TopDawg counterparts Ab-Soul, Jay Rock, and Schoolboy Q — on the Championship Tour. It's basically a victory lap with his friends and a reminder that, even for a superstar, it takes a village.
So in light of the Championship Tour's stop at Coral Sky Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach May 23, New Times presents this list of some of the musical collaborations that have helped define Lamar's career:
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Thundercat. This bleary-eyed bass virtuoso sometimes appears trashed onstage. He often wears a knit hat with feathers poking out of the back or maybe a Viking helmet. Who knows? His eccentricities are boundless. Thundercat (real name Stephen Bruner) is best known for his last album — the surprise hit Drunk — and the work he's done with other artists, including a stint in the L.A.-based hardcore-punk/thrash-metal band Suicidal Tendencies, superweird collaborations with his studio soulmate Flying Lotus, and working as a session musician and producer for Erykah Badu, Kamasi Washington, and, of course, Lamar.
Most notable, Bruner has production credits on Lamar's 2015 avant-funk album To Pimp a Butterfly, including the album's killer single "King Kunta." Bruner's rolling bass line carries the G-funk torch on one of the grooviest West Coast rap songs in recent memory, and like all of Kendrick's music, "King Kunta" is a mashup of black music history, from the resung lyrics of Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" to elements lifted from James Brown's "The Payback." This is arguably Kendrick's best collaboration.
Dr. Dre. Lamar reportedly began rapping when he was in elementary school, trying to emulate his heroes Dr. Dre and Tupac. A few years ago during an interview on BBC Radio 1, he described his first working with Dre on "Compton," a song from his debut album, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, and having "to really snap out of fan mode and become a professional."
He recounted, "I said, ‘Man, Dr. Dre, you’re the greatest.’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, man, you’re good too. You could be something. All right, now write to this beat.'"
Dre has been credited as an executive producer on all three of Lamar's most recent studio albums. Lamar was also rumored to have worked on Detox — Dre's perpetually delayed followup to 2001 — and turned in a white-hot feature on Compton, the soundtrack for the 2015 N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton. But wait — there's more: DJ Critical Hype recently put together a mashup mixtape of the two hip-hop heavyweights titled The Damn. Chronic, and it features Dre's classic beats overlaid with Kendrick's flows. So much yes.
Flying Lotus. Perhaps best known for producing much of the music on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, Flying Lotus has been cranking out curious compositions in Los Angeles for the past decade-plus. He pushes the envelope instrumentally outside the rapper-centric world of music production and has released five studio albums (and occasionally raps under the alias "Captain Murphy").
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But more to the point, he garnered acclaim for his contributions to Lamar’s 2015 opus, To Pimp a Butterfly, and heavily influencing the sonic direction of the album. Indeed, Butterfly's opening track, "Wesley's Theory" — which features guest spots from both FlyLo and funk legend George Clinton — is a perfect example of the chaotic jazz/hip-hop collages that make up most of the album.
Mike Will Made It. This Atlanta-based producer makes the list because his presence in the studio resulted in "Humble" and "DNA" — two of the most trunk-knocking tracks off Damn. Previously known for helping bring trap music into the mainstream, Mike Will Made It crafted the Dr. Dre-esque beat for "Humble" with Gucci Mane in mind, but Lamar heard it, liked it, and rocked it like only he can — and the listening public was thus gifted lyrical gems such as "This that Grey Poupon, that Evian, that TED Talk, ay/Watch my soul speak, you let the meds talk, ay." The song showcases Lamar's uncanny ability to deliver razor-sharp social commentary in just a few bars, not to mention Mike Will's ability to abuse subwoofers.
The Championship Tour. With Kendrick Lamar, SZA, Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock, and others. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 23, at Coral Sky Amphitheatre, 601-7 Sansburys Way, West Palm Beach. Tickets cost $35 to $157 via livenation.com.