I will admit that I am a recent fan of Kendrick Lamar. My first encounter with the West Coast MC was when a friend suggested that I listen to his 2011 independent release, Section.80. Beyond impressed, I was instantly hooked, listening to the entire album over and over again for months on end. And then he dropped “The Recipe” with the legendary Dr. Dre, further capturing my attention. For about a year, he had made appearances on several major albums and mixtapes, including Game’s The R.E.D. Album, Drake’s Take Care and Meek Mill’s Dreamchasers 2. He even collaborated with Lady Gaga before removing the tracks from his album. After a year of excitement in the genre, Kendrick Lamar’s major label debut was released, and it was simply breathtaking.
The first thing that immediately captures your attention on good kid, m.A.A.d city is the use of sound to tell a story. The eerie, gospel-esque chants in the background of “Sherane A.K.A. Master Splinter’s Daughter” throw you for a loop while you listen to Kendrick’s storytelling about his affair with the girl. The track ends with a phone message from his parents, asking about his whereabouts and their car. It transitions seamlessly into “B—-, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” a laid-back song performed over guitars and more mellow chants.
Described as “a short film by Kenrick Lamar,” m.A.A.d city flows track-to-track detailing the story of a young boy growing up in the ghetto. As the story goes on, he becomes slowly corrupted until he is metaphorically lost to the streets of Compton. The album features love stories (“Sherane A.K.A. Master Splinter’s Daughter,” “Poetic Justice”), hanging out with friends (“Backseat Freestyle”), as well as the concept of the “good kid” juxtaposed with the harsh city around him (“m.A.A.d city”). Songs such as “Swimming Pools (Drank),” “The Art of Peer Pressure” and “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” showcase a balance of obscure and abstract production with traditional hip-hop storytelling and imagery.
As it is a concept album, good kid, m.A.A.d city shines brightest when listened in one sitting, with entertaining, original interludes that sound like snippets from Friday or Barber Shop. The themes and storytelling techniques portrayed on the album are comparable to those of Lupe Fiasco (Food & Liquor) or Nas (Illmatic). The main album does not contain “The Recipe,” but it does feature another Dre-assisted gem in “Compton.”
Similar to Section.80, one of the best parts of the experience with this album is enjoying something that is rare in present-day hip-hop –– a significant lack of features. This album features only Dr. Dre, Drake, MC Eiht and fellow Black Hippy rapper Jay Rock. It also features production from Hit-Boy, the Neptunes and Just Blaze to name a few. However, with so few guest vocalists, Lamar takes center stage on his major label debut, and rightfully so.
good kid, m.A.A.d city is a blessing in the realm of hip-hop. Kendrick Lamar has given the genre a masterpiece.