The moment that signaled 25-year-old Top Dawg Entertainment artist Kendrick Lamar’s rise from West Coast underground cult hero to mainstream superstar happened on stage at a hometown concert in the summer of 2011. With Dr. Dre looking down from the balcony seats, Lamar was joined on stage by Snoop Dogg, Kurupt, and Game. Those West Coast icons, gangster rap torchbearers for two decades, crowded around Kendrick Lamar and hugged him and declared him “the new king of the West Coast.” The crowd starts chanting, “Kendrick! Kendrick! Kendrick!” And the way Lamar reacts begins to explain why his presence in rap, as a proudly ordinary and honest guy with an extraordinary gift, is so necessary and so refreshing: Kendrick Lamar gets choked up.
A little more than a year later, Lamar released the album that silenced listeners who doubted that he deserved to be crowned or thought he’d have to change to reach mainstream success. 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, Lamar’s major label debut album, is a sprawling masterpiece of technical rapping and structured storytelling that defies and expands the conventions of his genre. It’s a classic album that feels like a classic movie, deftly weaving moments from Kendrick’s life together to form a narrative that becomes an empathetic ode to a troubled and dangerous place. good kid, m.A.A.d city landed in the tiny overlap between popular adoration and critical respect, selling more copies in its first week than any other debut album in 2012 and earning massive nods from Pitchfork, The New York Times, MTV and hundreds of other outlets. We are proud to honor Kendrick Lamar with the ASCAP Vanguard Award.