The early teen-years of the 21st Century have spawned a handful of fiercely non-conformist…
The early teen-years of the 21st Century have spawned a handful of fiercely non-conformist rap crews. Cliques like Odd Future, Pro Era, Bruiser Brigade and A$ap Mob ostensibly aim to convey individualistic spirit via the strength-in-numbers approach of the collective. ‘Black Hippy’ is the conglomerate name for Ab-Soul, Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock and leader Kendrick Lamar.
Not to be confused with TDE (Top Dawg Entertainment, which includes Black Hippy, SZA and the prodigious Isaiah Rashad), Black Hippy differs in scope and purpose from the aforementioned collectives. Its members didn’t grow up skating together and – owing to a common preoccupation with their respective careers – the chances of seeing a collaborative LP is becoming increasingly unlikely. This list does not necessarily present the ten best songs across the crew’s repertoire. Objectively speaking, that could have very easily resulted in an even more Kendrick-dominated exposition even though the number one track would have remained the same.
Instead, to celebrate Kendrick’s sold-out tour to South Africa and in anticipation of a new Schoolboy Q release dropping before March, we present a synopsis of the talent, narrative prowess, masterful sampling and ego that shapes the hip hop powerhouse that is Black Hippy.
10. Swimming Pools (Black Hippy Remix) – Kendrick Lamar
While Swimming Pools (Drank) might not be Kendrick’s definitive track, it was the moment that propelled him to mainstream superstardom. This remix is one of the rare tracks that feature the entire Black Hippy collective, and they feed off each other seamlessly. It showcases the strength of a group that is bound by mutual talent rather than mere friendship.
9. Hood Gone Love It (Feat. Kendrick Lamar) – Jay Rock
Despite being the first member of Black Hippy signed by TDE, Jay Rock’s apparent state of inertia seems at odds with his high-flying colleagues. But those doubts are put to bed with his standout track, ‘Hood Gone Love It’, whose killer chorus and in-your-face badassery are tailor-made to be blasted out your car windows.
8. Rolling Stone (Feat. Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar and Jay Rock) – Schoolboy Q
Black Hippy have a knack for great samples. Here, ‘Time of the Season’ by The Zombies gets reworked into the frame for the thumping, debaucherous monolith that is ‘Rolling Stone’. It is the best of the few songs that the collective have released together.
7. ADHD – Kendrick Lamar
Section 80’s ‘ADHD’ is perhaps the most widely recognisable Kendrick track after ‘Swimming Pools’ and ‘Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe’. By implication then, it is Black Hippy’s third biggest hit. Besides Kendrick’s trademark-twanged ‘fuck that’, the song offered a distinctly West Coast beat that is in no way a throwback.
6. The Spiteful Chant (Feat. ScHoolBoy Q) – Kendrick Lamar
“Everybody heard that I fuck with Dre/And they wanna tell me, I made it/N*gga I ain’t made shit, if he gave me a handout/I’mma take his wrist and break it”. These lines leave no room for the early criticism of Kendrick piggybacking on Dre’s influence. The grandiose beat is a statement of intent that is matched, not amplified, by his fuck-the-world attitude and singular cadence. Kendrick doesn’t do shout-outs.
5. Sacrilegious – Schoolboy Q
Schoolboy Q opened 2012’s Habits and Contradictions with the theatrically produced ‘Sacrilegious’. The bass-centric spaghetti western beat provides an apt climate for a mellowed out flow from the college-educated rapper that appears more sophisticated upon each return listen.
4. Blessed (Feat. Kendrick Lamar and Ab-Soul) – Schoolboy Q
‘Blessed’ is the most revealing song on Schoolboy Q’s Habits & Contradictions, and his insightful verses are delivered with his signature unpredictability and prowess. But if anyone can do unpredictability, it’s Kendrick Lamar. His verse on ‘Blessed’ shows off an understanding of timing that is unmatched in hip hop, and – in terms of flow – is the best Kendrick verse on this list
3. Terrorist Threats (Feat. Danny Brown) – Ab-Soul
Danny Brown could have very easily stolen the spotlight here. Ab-Soul, however, delivers a stellar performance to deprive him of the belt. The track’s belligerent message and proclamation of bravado lit up Soul’s Control System and was where the oddball of the TDE bunch announced his raw and as yet untapped talent to a wider audience. Moreover, this track furnished newcomers with a better understanding of Soul’s particular niche within the Black Hippy squad.
2. Money Trees (Feat. Jay Rock) – Kendrick Lamar
A highlight on the behemoth, Good Kid m.A.A.d City, ‘Money Trees’ features an expertly sampled Beach House cut and Jay Rock’s finest moment. On the 2012 single ‘The Heart Pt. 3 (Will You Let It Die?)’ Kendrick referred to the latter as his ‘older brother’. This dynamic is reflected in ‘Money Trees’ as Kendrick offers a broadly alternative perspective of hope, ambition and the American Dream. Jay Rock follows through, wiser, with a balls-to-the-wall, gritty depiction of lived experience. The contrast is a golden formula.
1. Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst – Kendrick Lamar
‘Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst’ is a lesson in storytelling. It tells two separate tales, both of which are racked with tragedy and are narrated from the perspective of a speaker addressing Kendrick. And yet these tales are antithetical in tone – the first is a plea from the speaker to have his story told, whereas the second is an angry, hard-hitting demand for her story not to be. But Kendrick expresses them both with an unparalleled level of empathy and understanding.
As these two tales blend into a third, another aspect of Kendrick’s talent emerges: his self-awareness. His story becomes his own plea: a plea to be heard, a plea to have his story told and a plea to deserve the first two. Each phase of his story has its own transformations, and these are mirrored by changes in Kendrick’s voice, by his changing intonations and his varied cadence. It is the definitive song by a rapper whose delivery is second to none, and whose storytelling ability is truly unique.