good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick Lamar, 10/22
by Luke Smith-Stevens on October 26, 2012
Posted in: Music
good kid, m.A.A.d city is the first major studio album from Compton’s Kendrick Lamar, but it seems like he’s been around for a long time now. As a member of the Black Hippy crew along with Jay Rock, ScHoolboy Q, and Ab-Soul, Kendrick won considerable props across the board following his releases through the independent Top Dog Entertainment label, Overly Dedicated and Section.80. Overly Dedicated earned the attention of the West Coast’s hip-hop Zeus, Dr. Dre, who expressed interest in mentoring the young MC. All of a sudden, every hip-hop blog, magazine, and enthusiast seemed unable to go a single media cycle without gushing about this new prodigy, and Kendrick was appearing on songs with everybody from Rick Ross’s entire Maybach Music Group to Lady GaGa.
When word came out that Kendrick would be releasing good kid this fall, as a joint release through TDE, Interscope and Dre’s Aftermath label, excitement reached a near frenzy. To be honest, I was kind of confused. I had heard the two tapes, and they were pretty good, but it was hard to identify what exactly the big deal was other than the fact that Dr. Dre was cosigning on his dopeness. It seemed like a lot of engineered hype about somebody who had, to date, done nothing except put out some pretty good music, which a lot of dudes do.
That skepticism endured up until my first listening of the release this Monday, which left me with just one thought: good kid, m.A.A.d city is an amazing album. It features the subtitle of “A short film by Kendrick Lamar”, and the 12 songs successfully function as a narrative following Kendrick’s experience growing up in Compton. On the first track, “Sherane a.k.a Master Splinter’s Daughter”, Kendrick immediately puts his effortless, yet urgent, flow on display, describing a teenage romance. But even the innocent experience of being “17 with nothing but pussy stuck on my mental” brings Kendrick into danger. The song ends with our narrator confronted by two gang members waiting outside Sherane’s house and cuts immediately to a voicemail from Kendrick’s mom asking him where he is. This skit is expanded upon throughout the album, and it creates genuine tension unlike anything I remember hearing on any rap album of recent issue.
Although the concept of the album revolves around the struggle of growing up in an area riddled by gang violence and police harassment, it avoids being preachy or heavy-handed in the way that most “socially-conscious” rap is. gkmc steers clear of that territory by remaining within the consciousness of a frustrated teenager with nowhere else to go. As a result, Kendrick is able to contrast the care-free attitude of youth against the backdrop of an environment with very real dangers. “The Art of Peer Pressure” brings those two elements to a head, as Kendrick raps about an empty afternoon cruising around with his boys, which ends with them breaking into and robbing a house, and Kendrick smoking a blunt laced with PCP. On “good kid”, Kendrick speaks about being caught in the middle of the struggle between cops and gangs, with both sides flashing red and blue as a means of intimidation.
Despite its recurring themes, good kid is never repetitive. “Backseat Freestyle” sounds like Kendrick Lamar’s take on the megalomania of Watch the Throne (“I pray my dick get big as the Eiffel Tower, so I could fuck the world for 72 hours”), banging Hit-Boy beat and all. However, within the context of the album’s concept, the track is given more weight, for in it we hear the testosterone charged ambitions of a teenager who wants everything he sees in the “Juicy” music video. The album’s second single, “Swimming Pools[Drank]”, is similarly far more enjoyable as the 9th song on the album, as opposed to the 9th song on a summer playlist. The voices around Kendrick urging him to drink tons of liquor are more oppressive and convincing after the frantic, near mania of “m.A.A.d city”, a two part track in which Kendrick uses abrasive internal rhymes to capture the madness around him.
As with all things Kendrick Lamar, there is already an enormous amount of hype surrounding this album. Comparisons to Illmatic will not be endorsed in this column, but good kid, m.A.A.d city does capture this moment in hip-hop to a remarkable degree, not only musically, but in the very way it came to be. Kendrick’s rise is very much the blueprint for success in the internet era of hip-hop: make some successful free mixtapes, catch the eye of one of hip-hop’s gatekeepers (Dre), gain momentum on blogs and features, all leading into a major studio album. In an era when its pretty much unheard of for anybody outside of Kanye, Ross, or Lil Wayne to do well in sales, gkmc is projected to sell more than 200,000 copies in its opening week. So yeah, it seems fair to say that K.Dot has nailed his come up. And honestly, I couldn’t be happier.
This is a sharp, intelligent, musically fantastic album, with a strong and relatable message. I didn’t grow up in Compton, I was never pressured to join a gang (shocking, I know), and I haven’t watched any of my childhood friends bleed to death on the sidewalk. But I, and I think most people, can relate to feeling pressured and claustrophobic in trying to figure things out as a young person. good kid, m.A.A.d city captures those feelings in what is undoubtedly the hip-hop album of the year. Anybody who enjoys hip-hop of any era needs to hear this album, especially people who think there’s no meaningful rap being put out these days. This is a remarkable first large-scale showing, certainly a strong step towards Kendrick becoming a true star, and if subsequent releases live up to this one, we might remember good kid as Kendrick’s first step towards greatness.
Best line: “And they wonder why I rarely smoke now, imagine if your first blunt had you foamin’ at the mouth”, Kendrick Lamar, “m.A.A.d city”
Also worth checking out: The Man With The Iron Fists (Official Soundtrack), the RZA