The biggest names in the rap game may have sexy extracurriculars—their own Champagne brands, A-list better halves, famous stints on cult Canadian teen soap operas—but few have made their names so singularly based on talent as Kendrick Lamar.
From the beginning, the Compton-born emcee and singer came on with a standout voice and a purity of purpose that made even jaded industry watchers take notice. His 2012 breakout, good kid, m.A.A.d. city, earned him both massive mainstream hits (“Swimming Pools [Drank],” “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”) and critical worship, not to mention five Grammy nods.
Its follow-up, though, was on a whole other level: The spring release of the sprawling, politically charged To Pimp a Butterfly revealed an electric artist at the peak of his powers, and immediately shot to the album chart’s top spot. Equally good at addressing serious social ills (as he did with an incendiary performance of his confessional anthem “Alright” at the BET Awards last June) and lending a guest verse to Taylor Swift’s smash pop kiss-off “Bad Blood,” the man is nothing if not diverse. Last year he signed a deal with Reebok, making him the star of its reimagined Ventilator Day Glo shoe campaign and giving him a major platform to speak out against gang violence by offering youth empowerment and outreach.