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DAR Hip Hop: Kendrick Lamar vs J. Cole's Catalog

By @TrueGodImmortal

This might not really be a fair comparison. I'm sure many have had this discussion before, but today, I wanted to really delve into the catalog of two of the premier artists today and compare their works. We haven't done much of a comparison in recent times on the site because we like to just appreciate greatness without putting them against each other, but today we are going to look at Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole's catalogs. This is merely one writer's opinion, and simply an examination of their catalogs so far (including some mixtapes) to determine who has had the better career so far. Before certain fans pour in and call both trash (neither is), this is merely a quick comparison of the two and a look at their respective catalogs to see which artist has the stronger albums and longevity. Let's get into it.

J. Cole

-The Fayetteville born MC has some mixtapes under his belt, and more official projects with his name attached to it as well, as he's managed to stay in this game now for about 10 years officially. Since his 2007 debut The Come Up, Cole has been one of the most popular rappers in the game, a testament to his staying power. His catalog to many is great, some would even say one of the best since he arrived, while others would disagree. How does his catalog hold up? Let's take a look.

The Come Up (2007)- I wasn't really too fond of this when I first heard it. I thought that Cole was a good rapper, and that he definitely had skill, but what lacked in this tape was the savvy that he picked up with time. He doesn't hold anything back lyrically however, and I really grew to enjoy this more as time went on. This would be our introduction to Cole as a producer and a rapper, as he produced 14 of the tracks on this mixtape. My favorite tracks here are the title track, "Simba", "Lil Ghetto Nigga", and "Can't Cry". Those tracks show a young Cole at his most raw.

The Warm Up (2009)- In many ways, this is the true claim to fame for Cole. After signing with Roc Nation, Cole began working hard on this mixtape and the results of it were pretty dope. I think this tape features some of his best work from the infamous "Lights Please" to the classic "Grown Simba", and "Dreams". Cole was beginning to come of age at this point, and from a production and lyrically standpoint he had clearly began to improve even more. Many fans of Cole will tell you this is a classic mixtape and I couldn't necessarily agree or disagree. It definitely has a good legacy and is still enjoyable 8 years later.

Friday Night Lights (2010)- My favorite Cole project and his best came before the stardom and record sales. It's not because of that, but because you hear his hunger as an artist shine through and him reach the peak artistically and creatively. This is a true mixtape classic and whether I'm bumping the amazing "Too Deep For The Intro" with the beautiful Badu sample, the solid and relatable "Love Me Not", or the despondent "Farewell", Cole can do no wrong on this tape. Whatever zone he was in before this tape dropped, it was perfect. I still listen to this tape regularly.

Cole World: The Sideline Story (2011)- As ambitious as this album attempted to be, it just didn't work. The production was a bit too mainstream and the songs lackluster in their own right, though I enjoyed a few tracks here and there. I think what makes this album weaker is the reliance of the big name features versus just creating dope singles and a solid album. It felt like a collection of just singles and songs versus a full fledged album sequenced and put together. Still, I enjoyed "Can't Get Enough" featuring Trey Songz, the Missy featured "Nobody's Perfect", and a few other track. Overall though, this album pales in comparison to his previous works.

Truly Yours 1 and 2 (2013)-  These two EPs were solid and definitely showcased what Cole can do when he's free from label trappings. The best songs from these works are "Can I Holla At Ya", "Rise Above", "Kenny Lofton", and "3 Wishes". It's tough to really rate this, but it must be included in this list because it is substantial in his catalog and the precursor to Born Sinner.

Born Sinner (2013)- For Cole, I think this album seemingly put him into a different place than most of his peers. I think it was a good album, but when it dropped, many people were giving it super high praise. It tackled a bit of a theme and maintained that theme consistently throughout, but I still felt as if something was missing on the album. My favorite songs from this project were "Forbidden Fruit", "Villuminati", "Runaway", and the hit single "Power Trip". Though this wasn't the classic he was looking for, it was a huge step up from the uneven Sideline Story album.

2014 Forest Hills Drive (2014)- While many have crowned this album to be a true classic, I'm not SO sure. It's probably the best album in his arsenal, and 2nd best project behind Friday Night Lights, but I think calling it a classic is a bit too much. It's a really really good album, and there's not much here to dislike, and I definitely think it was one of the best albums of 2014, just shy of a classic (Speed would say otherwise). My favorite songs here are "No Role Modelz", "Apparently", "Fire Squad", and "January 28th". And just a reminder..... this album went double platinum with no features.

4 Your Eyez Only (2016)- His most recent album features some amazing production, probably the best that I've heard from him through his career. The songs themselves seemed to lack a bit, but I enjoyed this album personally. Tracks like "Immortal", "Deja Vu", "Neighbors", and the title track give off a slightly darker vibe than his previous album, but that's a welcome change in spurts. I'd classify this album as being below FNL and 2014 FHD, but above the rest of his albums and tapes. It's not trash like certain sections of social media would say, and it's not an instant classic like the other side would say. It is however, somewhere in the middle, as a good solid album. Cole is usually good for those regardless.

Kendrick Lamar

-The Compton born MC is probably seen as the best rapper today in terms of creativity and artistry by many, and his style is unorthodox. With a rapid fire flow, tongue twisting yet poignant lyricism, and a knack for sequencing and building albums through stories, Kendrick has emerged as one of the true leaders of the new school. A look at Kendrick's catalog will show that he's grown immensely over the year and earned his title as one of the best today. Let's take a look at his catalog and the journey.

C4 (2009)- This Lil Wayne inspired mixtape wasn't necessarily the best showing for young Kendrick, as he spent most of the tape rapping over Lil Wayne instrumentals. Don't get me wrong, Kendrick was dope lyrically and the features from the younger versions of Ab-Soul, Jay Rock, and more make for a fun throwback now that we see how they've evolved. The best songs here would have to be "Friend Of Mine", "West Coast Wu Tang", and "Compton Chemistry". This was when Kendrick was known as K-Dot and honestly, he wasn't polished enough yet for the big time, but he was finding his way at least.

The Kendrick Lamar EP (2009)- This was an interesting EP, because it wasn't really an EP. At about 15 tracks and 72 minutes long, this was more like an official mixtape than an actual EP. Still, it had some really good music on it, and showed that Kendrick (no longer just known as K-Dot) was finding his lane and growth as an artist. The songs here are good, though some of them miss the mark, but who could deny "Is It Love", "She Needs Me", "P & P", Far From Here", and a few more. It's dope to see Kendrick start to find his way, and I think was the first true sign of his artistry starting to take shape (considering his previous work fell a bit short overall).

Overly Dedicated (2010)- This was a mixtape that I personally enjoyed. I thought Kendrick was finding his footing in the game and this mixtape serves as his first introduction to a number of fans on the mainstream, but it was very solid. Tracks like "Growing Apart", "Night Of The Living Junkies", "Michael Jordan",  and others showcased a bit of growth in Kendrick, and as his sound evolved, his projects seemed to get better and better honestly.

Section.80 (2011)- This would possibly be my favorite project of his if TPAB didn't exist, and truthfully it still might be. The focus on this particular album is out of this world, and it stands as the official Kendrick debut album. I have been partial to this album over most of his other projects due to the subject matter, the lyricism, the beauty of each guest appearance, and of course, the production. Tracks like the glorious "Kush and Corinthians", the solid "Rigamortus", the vital "Poe Man Dreams", or the infamous "HiiiPower" (produced by J. Cole surprisingly), this has everything I wanted from Kendrick. After a few uneven projects, and one solid mixtape, Kendrick delivers a debatable classic (it is to me).

Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City (2012)- It is interesting honestly to see so many people uplift this album as the best, because I personally think it is slightly overrated in his catalog (his catalog only). I think it is a great story and a really solid album, and I think the impact of it is certainly classic, but I don't think it's his best album. Kendrick tells a dope West Coast inspired story, with tracks like "Money Trees", "Sing About Me, I'm Dying Of Thirst", and "m.A.A.D City", which is one of my favorites as well. The precision that each track has is definitely what makes the album so loved, and like I said, if you consider this a pure hip hop classic, I'm not disagreeing, because it is, I just think this is his 2nd or 3rd best album. Which is crazy that an album I feel is his 2nd or 3rd best is seen as one of the most important and the best albums of the 2010s.

To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)- This album is something special. I couldn't believe it when I first heard it, because it didn't sound like anything else really out at the time. The theme, full of self love, finding yourself, black empowerment, along with the funk and jazz elements that also came with the album's production is beautiful. Each song has a story within itself and I was truly surprised and genuinely pleased with the album. Songs like "Momma", "Alright", "u", and many more painted a great picture that I still can listen to 2 years later as if it just came out. I know some may disagree, but this is the best Kendrick album for a number of reasons.

Untitled Unmastered (2016)- Who would have known that album outtakes could sound so good? An EP that doesn't have titles really for the songs, this was honestly doper than I expected. Kendrick's success with his projects for me personally comes from the shock that he gives with the artistry involved. I wasn't expecting this to be so great and yet, I found myself wishing I could replace songs from TPAB with a few here. That's how solid this short "Unmastered" EP was.

In the earlier days, it seemed as if Cole was perhaps more advanced in music than Kendrick. The Come Up, The Warm Up, and Friday Night Lights were better than C4, The Kendrick EP (barely), and I'd edge the victory to FNL over Overly Dedicated. It is after this point however that it seems the scales tipped in Kendrick's favor, as he managed to consistently keep his music above and beyond anyone else for the most part. Section.80 was better than Sideline Story, GKMC was better by miles than Born Sinner, and I believe TPAB was much better than 2014 FHD. That's not to say that Cole and his music aren't enjoyable, it's just that it seems as if he's settled into his role musically and hasn't done much different since. Even if I had to compare 4 Your Eyez Only and Untitled Unmastered, based on production and creativity, I'd lean towards Untitled Unmastered. It's not that 4 Your Eyes Only was bad either, as I think the production on the album was amazing (I know some of today's fans felt the production was weak, but they're wrong), but the songs themselves have a slight tendency to feel uninspired in a way. So, when comparing catalogs, it's very rough to narrow it down, but I'd give the slight edge to Kendrick. I don't think Cole has a true classic album, but I believe Kendrick has two classics and another possible. Once again, this is just one writer's opinion, but comparably speaking, I'll take Kendrick here, though Cole started off better early on in their careers. Regardless, both are top tier MCs today, and they should be appreciated in this era for keeping their consistency.


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