To say Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city is a breath of fresh air to hip-hop would be an understatement. XXL, one of hip-hop’s leading magazines, awarded the album the title of “classic.” This prestigious rating has only been given to nine albums in the last 15 years to legends such as Jay-Z, Common, Nas, Lauryn Hill and Kanye West.
Kendrick Lamar’s major label debut is described as a “short film.” His lyrical mastery is threaded together with a flow more diversified than Mitt Romney’s portfolio and backed by flawless production. The coming of age concept album is comprised of songs reminiscent of scenes from a Broadway presentation. It follows the turbulent day in the life of a young Kendrick Lamar (K Dot).
Structurally, the album is intertwined with skits that move the plot along. Some are conversations between various characters, while some of the more powerful are voicemail messages left by K Dot’s mother. These messages mirror an angel on his shoulder, reminding him not to give into the demons of the mad city. From song to song, Lamar changes perspective from sharing a view inside of his mind and soul to offering the thoughts of other characters included in the album.
Prominent themes portrayed in the narrative include lust, peer pressure, LA gang culture and substance abuse. At first, K Dot acknowledges the destructive cycle that surrounds his city and dabbles in what it has to offer. Being a Compton, CA native, the epicenter of gangsta rap, he feels trapped. He becomes increasingly weary of his surroundings after a fun day with his friends takes several turns for the worse including smoking marijuana laced with PCP and halfheartedly helping in various felonies. After Kendrick inadvertently causes the death of a friend, he realizes the street life is not the lifestyle for him. In one of the last songs of the the album, “Real,” he turns his back on his vices and the violent cycle the street life is composed of.
“Sing About Me” is where good kid, m.A.A.d. city hits its emotional apex. A heart-sinking anthem, it tells the story of two people with nonexistent self-worth that Kendrick knew. They are both lost to an almost systematically cruel world, whether it be from a sudden death or simply becoming just another number without a face. One wishes that their story be told (sing about them), and the other despises the thought of being included. But whether they like it or not, their story must be told. It is not only a commentary on storytelling in hip-hop, a tradition being lost in the allure of the Y.O.L.O. era, but a way to transform an otherwise brief lifetime into an eternal saga.
Guests featured on the record include Jay Rock, MC Eiht, Drake and Dr. Dre. Perfectly placed throughout, they act as co-stars playing their respective roles and accenting, but never outshining, Kendrick’s tongue-twisting and mesmerizing wordplay.
It is not just that Kendrick Lamar is an amazing wordsmith and powerful storyteller, but his dedication to the story of good kid, m.A.A.d. city which shows the album’s brilliance. There are one or two songs that are radio friendly. The lead single, “Swimming Pools (Drank),” which at first may seem like a run-of-the-mill party song, is actually commentary on alcohol abuse and the result of Lamar growing up in a household where there was “so much alcohol it could fill a swimming pool,” he says. This song alone shows his ninja-like balance while walking a thin line between maintaining his integrity as an artist and giving MTV something to play in the background of Jersey Shore as The Situation and a pregnant Snooki indulge in Jaeger Bombs. While loads of rappers would give their left chain to have more than one lead single, Lamar omitted several worthy songs such as “The Recipe” and “The Heart Pt 3” simply because they did not add anything meaningful to the story.
Though the album may sound tiring and overly complex, good kid, m.A.A.d. city is a delicacy for hip-hop aficionados but still includes smooth rhymes over melodic beats fans of “hip-pop” can casually listen to. It may be too early to tell, but the 25 year-old Kendrick Lamar seems to be on his way to becoming one of our generation’s greats. One thing you can be sure of is that he has carved out his own place in history with good kid, m.A.A.d. city.
By Morgan Tombler