Album Review: good kid, m.A.A.d. city
In my honest opinion, Kendrick Lamar is the best thing to happen to hip-hop this year, and arguably this decade. The 25 year-old Compton native has remained relatively off the radar despite having already released a studio album and several mixtapes, but the rapper caught everyone’s attention in 2012 with a stage set at Coachella and his performance of hit-single “The Recipe” onstage with Dr. Dre right before Tupac’s infamous “resurrection.”
It’s interesting that Kendrick’s “big break” coincided with the release of Tupac’s holograph considering that there are actually some strong similarities between the two: Both have West Coast origins. Both gravitate towards lyrics of a narrative, poetic type, often touching on the clash between a moral code and a street code. Both produce music of a smooth, sad and melodic nature. Both encourage youth culture to embrace their roots, celebrate their independence and utilize their freedom of choice.
Aside from these parallels, Kendrick has a style and sound all his own. I was late to the Kendrick game, but the rapper’s Coachella performance inspired me to explore his earlier works. I found his mixtapes decent, but fell in love with his 2011 studio album Section.80. I was so impressed with the clarity and resonance of his words, taking the listener through a roller coaster ride of emotions and sounds only to stop at points of extraordinary personal and public reflection. Overall, Kendrick’s message was positive, thoughtful and encouraging – here was an artist who would make a difference not just musically, but socially.
I’ve eagerly awaited the release of Kendrick’s second studio album good kid, m.A.A.d city, which finally dropped this past Monday. The album, in short, is fantastic. With appearances by Kendrick’s homie Jay Rock, Drake, Mary J. Blige and a cameo from producer Dr. Dre, the album is referred to by Lamar as a “short film.” This is true – in 12 tracks, we delve into Kendrick’s personal struggles of past and present, the influence of Compton on the rapper’s music and life perspective, and an introspection on this industry’s pressure to succeed with the obligation to be a positive force in the world. Lamar’s songs seem simple at first, but a close listen will demonstrate that his tracks are full of rich lyrical content, variety, and raw emotion. Take for example several verses from Track 2, “Bitch, Dant Kill My Vibe,” where Kendrick seems to be dismissing haters:
Look inside my soul and you can find gold and maybe get rich
Look inside of your soul and you can find doubt and never exist
I can feel the changes
I can feel a new life
I always knew life can be dangerous
I can say I like a challenge and you to me is painless
In essence, the album is a lot like life – full of highs and lows, weighted with emotion and peppered with dialogue and surrounding noise. We see a kid growing up in a “m.A.A.d city,” an acronym which Lamar explains has two meanings: “My Angry Adolescence Divided,” which represents his rough childhood and “My Angel’s on Angel Dust,” referring to troubles with past drug usage.
The album is an easy listen, boasting a classic buttery Kendrick flow over uncomplicated but complimentary instrumentals which are interrupted by brief skits between tracks, giving a narrative sense to the record. There are actually several versions of this album with multiple extended tracks, etc; below is the Extended Version tracklist, with my favorites are in bold:
1) “Sherane a.k.a. “Master Splinter’s Daughter”
2) “Bitch, Dant Kill My Vibe”
3) “Backstreet Freestyle”
4) “The Art of Peer Pressure”
5) “Money Trees” (feat. Jay Rock)
6) “Poetic Justice” (feat. Drake)
7) “good kid”
8) “m.A.A.d city” (feat. MC Eiht)
9) “Swimming Pools (Drank)”
10) “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”
11) “Real” (feat. Anna Wise)
12) “Compton” (feat. Dr. Dre)
13) “The Recipe (feat. Dr. Dre)” [Bonus Track]
14) “Black Boy Fly” [Bonus Track]
15) “Now or Never” (feat. Mary J Blige) [Bonus Track]
Kendrick Lamar has earned himself a place alongside some very established, OG rappers in my roster of favorites. There are many things about him that I like and understand, all of which I can ascertain from his music. He has a unique sound, fresh style and a strong talent for words; he is an artist, a cultural enthusiast, a social activist, and a moral crusader.
Good job Kendrick, keep making sweet rhymes and long live Compton. If you don’t download this album you’re seriously missing out.