Kendrick Lamar’s Rise from Obscurity to Industry Dominance

Kendrick Lamar started as a young rapper with very little recognition and turned into one of the most recognizable music figures in the industry. His career has slowly but surely grown out of the ashes and into the spotlight.

Kendrick Lamar Duckworth was born on June 17, 1987 in Compton, California, according to  He grew up during the height of the 1980’s crack epidemic and the rise of West Coast gang culture. The streets he grew up on influenced him; along with the droves of hip hop music that came out in the 90’s.

He released his first mixtape in 2003 at the age of 16, and continued to drop many more mixtapes until he dropped his first album in 2011 titled Section .80. Section. 80 was released solely on the independent label Top Dawg Entertainment, and sold less than 100,000 copies. The album might have not sold well, but it did put him on the radar of Dr. Dre who signed him and put the might of the Interscope label behind Lamar. Shortly after this move, Lamar released good kid, m.A.A.d city (GKMC) that more than doubled the sales of his last album. GKMC had features from Dr. Dre and Drake, which increased its popularity. Finally, Lamar was gaining traction in the world of rap.

In 2015 Kendrick Lamar released To Pimp a Butterfly, which took a completely different sonic approach. Instead of the trendy, trap inspired beats of GKMC, but instead went with a more jazzy approach. Instrumentally the album was completely different, but lyrically, Lamar still brings the top of the class flow and rhyme schemes. To Pimp a Butterfly brought an important social message to end prejudice and to attempt to show people on the edge the right way. It also was his top selling project at the time. It sold 324,000 copies in its first week and had 9.6 million streams on Spotify its first day, setting the record for the most steams in its first day, according to Spotify itself. To Pimp a Butterfly also earned Kendrick Lamar 11 Grammy nominations, which is the third most Grammy nominations in one year behind Babyface and Michael Jackson.

In 2017 he released his newest project, which sold over 600,000 copies first week and is currently the highest selling album of the year so far, according to the Billboard charts. It has already sold over 2 million copies so far. He has outsold industry rivals such as Drake and J. Cole, and for the first time ever, Lamar has a sold out arena tour.

You can see the enormous difference in popularity of his previous albums compared to his newest. GKMC’s most popular single, “Swimming Pools,” has thirty-one million views on YouTube in the four years since its release, while his newest album’s single has garnered 341 million views in less than a year.

Kendrick Lamar’s rise to power is unexpected, but well deserved. Lamar has cemented his place at the top of the music industry, and his next album will surely outdo its predecessor.