Flashback: Kendrick Lamar’s First Mixtape, Released When He Was 16

In 2003, rap was in a much different place than we’re hearing today. Some of the songs to lead the charts by the end of the year were 50 Cent’s “In Da Club”, R. Kelly’s “Ignition”, and Lil Jon’s “Get Low”. Little did anyone know that a future star began his career that year as well. Back in 2003, Kendrick Lamar was a 16 year old living in Compton, the city he still proudly reps to this day. This was the year he would release his first mixtape and begin what would become a rapping phenomenon career, a decade in the making.  By the end of 2012, Lamar found overwhelming success with his proper studio album good kid, m.A.A.d. city. But in 2003, Lamar was remixing chart-toppers and taking swipes at the big names like any aspiring rapper would.

The mixtape is called Youngest Head Nigga in Charge and recently resurfaced online. It’s impressive hearing Lamar spit solid lyrics when he was this young. The only thing that gives away that the tape is dated is actually the beats. If replaced with some modern production, I’d imagine many people would be fooled into believing that this is something brand new from the rapper.

One of the more interesting things about the tape is hearing the rapper we now know as a solidified star tackle the typical young-gun practices to get noticed in the large field of lyricists. Lamar offers his own verses to then hits like Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot”, Lil Wayne’s “Go DJ”, and Jay Z’s “Hova Song”. The only song that truly sounds remedial is Lamar’s revision of “Go DJ”, where the beat doesn’t seem to match his persona at all. The party vibe and pace of the song actually manages to make Lamar sound a little bit awkward. Also, it’s interesting to hear the rapper drop references to his idols like Black Thought of The Roots and Jay-Z.

The mixtape is rare reminder that all world-dominating artists started somewhere. The music industry is ruthless and unforgiving, but listening to an early project such as this goes to show that the work and progress translated to incredible success for Lamar. Any aspiring rappers could stand to listen to this tape after hearing Lamar’s modern classic good kid, m.A.A.d. city to generate the motivation to make that same leap.

-JC

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