Welcome to this week’s episode of Last Song Standing, a new show from The Ringer and Dissect built on a simple premise: two hosts figuring out an artist’s greatest song by debating their way through every album in the artist’s discography. Season 1 will tackle one of the most significant artists working today: Kendrick Lamar.
Each week, Cole Cuchna (host of Dissect and Key Notes) and Charles Holmes (from The Ringer Music Show and The Midnight Boys on the Ringer-Verse feed) will tackle a different Kendrick project, nominating three songs and ultimately picking one apiece. Then, they’ll take their individual picks into a season finale battle royal, when they’ll have to determine which song should be crowned Kendrick Lamar’s best of all time.
On this week’s episode, we’re tackling everything that isn’t his major album releases—his features, loosies, the Black Panther album, and untitled unmastered.
What are Kendrick’s best loosies, mixtape tracks, and features?
Kendrick’s albums are sprawling narratives, tackling systemic failures on To Pimp a Butterfly and unfurling therapy sessions on Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers. His status as one of the preeminent artists of his generation, however, is informed just as much by his ancillary projects as his album releases. You can’t talk about Kendrick without bringing up his warning-shot verse on Big Sean’s “Control” and the shock that followed, the hold that the Black Panther album had on the cultural zeitgeist in 2018, or his continuing “The Heart” series, with each song capturing him at different stages of his career, from his come-up to introspective mainstay. Each subsection further amplifies his pure rapping ability, mainstream success, and personal soliloquies. Charles and Cole will have to pick one song from each of three categories: features, loosies, and mixtapes. Which ones will they end up choosing?
What the critics said at the time: “untitled unmastered., which Lamar released with little advance notice and to much adulation … is a victory lap of sorts; even though its title is low-key, the repeating refrain of “Pimp, pimp, hooray” nods to To Pimp A Butterfly, the 2015 album that topped critics’ polls and won Grammys.” —Time
“What Kendrick produces here is something that, above all, we value as customers and fans; prowess. Who you root for is beside the point. On ‘Control,’ we’re all witnesses.” —Pitchfork
“Mr. Lamar is this moment’s pre-eminent rapper: furiously inventive, thoughtful, virtuosic, self-conscious, musically adventurous and driven. ‘Black Panther the Album’ is very nearly as densely packed—with ideas, allusions and ambitions—as one of Mr. Lamar’s official solo albums.” —The New York Times
How does the Last Song Standing team feel about the rest of his discography?
What Charles says: “Having to pick songs from this moment, I think what I realized is: We took for granted how much easier it was to be a Kendrick fan before there was all of this weight attached to him. There’s so many songs where he’s having fun. You can tell the artistry is still developing, he’s taking wild swings, and he’s just not as massive of an artist yet.”
What Cole says: “I really loved going back to all these mixtapes—all his earliest work. It was kind of a double-edged sword for me because I heard some early Kendrick bars I cannot now get out of my head.”
Hottest take from the episode: Charles believes that if Kendrick had taken two or three songs from untitled unmastered. and put them on To Pimp a Butterfly, it would’ve made it a better album.
Possible choices for their lists: Will either Charles or Cole go for the hard-hitting declaration on Big Sean’s “Control”? Which song from Kendrick’s “The Heart” series will the two of them choose? Will one of the unfinished tracks off untitled unmastered. make the cut? Listen to find out.
Next week’s episode: The Last Song Standing crew will be taking a break next, but stay tuned, because they’ll be covering what many consider to be Kendrick’s magnum opus. Until then, check out the Last Song Standing companion playlist.
Hosts: Cole Cuchna and Charles Holmes
Producer: Justin Sayles
Production: Kevin Pooler
Theme Music: Devon Renaldo
Editorial Assistance: Eduardo Ocampo