Eagerly anticipated, hyped up to the max, and with the buzz of a thousand hornets, good kid m.A.A.d. city is the major label debut album from Compton’s own Kendrick Lamar. Without doubt the most discussed project of recent years, hip-hop aficionados, frat boys, and industry insiders have set the internet ablaze the past few months discussing the TDE/Aftermath/Interscope Records release. The question is, does it justify the hype?
Hype is something rarely justified, especially in today’s money-driven, brand endorsing, watered-down music business (with emphasis on the word business). With so many fans quick to label something a classic after only being available for a few hours, it’s understandable why listeners might be a tad bit skeptical about a release from an emcee who up until a year or so ago was relatively unknown.
With Dr. Dre constantly looking over Kendrick’s shoulder, let’s put things in to perspective. As part of NWA the good doctor ushered in a new wave of rap music that meshed both politics and gangster rap together whilst at the same time inspiring a generation. As a solo artist he released two classic albums in two different decades, both of which are still in heavy rotation amongst music enthusiasts today. Responsible not only for the world’s biggest selling rapper, but the world’s biggest selling artist period, Dre’s signing of Eminem made him the most bankable businessman in hip-hop. Then co-signing the second biggest rapper on the planet at the time, 50 Cent, he proved that yet again he knows exactly what to look for when it comes to talent.
With the above said, are there still any doubts about Kendrick Lamar, his lyrical abilities, or his hotly tipped debut album? If the answer is still yes then all that’s left to say is that the proof is in the pudding – and there’s absolutely no question at all that listeners will demand seconds, thirds, fourths, and fifths of good kid m.A.A.d. city.
Telling the story of a good kid (Kendrick) growing up in a mad city (Compton) as the title suggests, never has there been a conceptual hip-hop release quite like this one. As good as they were, Sticky Fingaz’s Black Trash: The Autobiography of Kirk Jones and Prince Paul’s A Prince Among Thieves lacked believability. The way in which reality is etched in to this release is somewhat refreshing. Each skit sounds as if they’re actually occurring, while every track tricks you in to thinking that you actually know Kendrick Lamar on a personal level.
With so many moments of realisation throughout the 12-track mini movie, and where having an epiphany reigns supreme, it’s hard to identify every point of importance first time round. Then aside from the story you need to also take in to consideration Kendrick’s lyrical delivery, which switches up on more than one occasion; the on-point production, which plays more like a score on this go round; and of course the album’s overall rewind value.
Hearing Kendrick tell tales as three separate individuals on “Sing About Me” is a stand out immediately. Playing the part of a disgruntled friend whose brother died coming to Kendrick’s aid, the sister of Keisha [who Kendrick pushed on to the public via his critically acclaimed indie release Section 80 ("Keisha’s Song")], and a deep in thought version of himself, the lyrical delivery is first rate. The emotionally drenched instrumental comes courtesy of Skhye Hutch and Sounwave, and with that said both points combined offer more rewind value than a D90 and a HB pencil.
The key to your listening pleasure is understanding that it’s more than just an album. It’s an event. The skits are placed in different points for particular reasons, and each time you listen to it you’ll learn something new. For example, the word m.A.A.d. taken from the album’s title is actually two acronyms; the first stands for ‘My Angry Adolescent Divided,’ while the second appeals more to the story’s main subject matter – ‘My Angel’s on Angel Dust.’ Apparently the reason K. Dot doesn’t smoke weed anymore is because of a previous bad experience that included a blunt laced with cocaine (peep “m.A.A.d. City” featuring MC Eiht). So with that said, every little word, line, and voiceover has a bigger meaning than it originally lets on.
Opening with a prayer, that actually appears later on in the story, which then leads in to ‘Sherane A.K.A. Master Splinter’s Daughter’, you’re already faced with a few questions. Who is Sherane? Why is she also known as Master Splinter’s Daughter? Is this really the beginning of the story? As it turns out, Sherane is the object of Kendrick’s affections and proves to be a focal point throughout the album. Labelled a hood rat by Kendrick’s mother in a voicemail, the Sherane and Master Splinter association starts to become clear, especially when she later becomes a low down dirty rat setting up an unlucky Kendrick (‘Good Kid’).
As far as if this is the actual beginning of the tale or not, clues lead to it not being the case. Borrowing his mother’s mini van to go and visit Sherane right after the Just Blaze-produced “Compton,” which physically stands as the album’s final cut, K. Dot is heard shouting to his mother that he’s borrowing the van quickly and that he’ll be back in 15 minutes. However, during her voicemail on the album’s opening record his mother says, “I’m sat here waiting on my van. You told me you were gonna be 15 minutes.” So already you’re thrown in to a confusing yet incredibly intriguing concept. Is it just a reoccurring occurrence? Does this type of thing happen on the regular and the end of the album sets up the beginning because some people’s daily lives are trapped in the hood doing the same thing over and over again with the same daily dramas? Only K. Dot can answer that question, but it’s fun guessing in the meantime.
A movie trapped within an audio presentation, everything from the album artwork – which actually reads “A Short Film By Kendrick Lamar” – to the repeating vintage movie reel crackles show the kind of attention to detail and effort put in to creating this unforgettable offering. And with the opportunity to interpret the album’s underlining story your own way, there’s definitely a few twists and turns designed to throw you off your thinking game when you get close to figuring out the album’s actual concept.
Religion is another subject that plays a key role throughout the story and is revisited on more than one occasion. “Dying of Thirst” hears an explanation of the title having something to do with requiring holy sustenance. Quenching their thirst with holy water, some street disciples, who are looked at as lost souls, are asked if they want to take the Lord in to their life. While Kendrick doesn’t shove religion down the throats of those whose ears are glued to GKMC, he just explains it’s an every day thing where he’s from. On “Money Trees” he asks, “Halle Berry or hallelujah/ Pick your poison, tell me what you’re doing.”
The way in which Kendrick Lamar spits his verses with conviction and a burning passion is very reminiscent of an early 2Pac. He’s heard the comparison before. Those types of comparisons are something that most artists would bow down to and crumble with a lackluster performance. Not Kendrick. With a natural ability to make you continually want to keep coming back, and with the power to have you hear something that perhaps you missed upon first listen, reinstalling faith in to a generation who appear to be lost at the best of times looks very possible if artistically motivating music like this is Kendrick’s norm.
Whilst not a Crip or Blood, or a renowned troublemaker, Kendrick admits on “The Art of Peer Pressure” that when he’s with his crew his more mischievous side comes out of hiding. Describing a home invasion with Columbo type detail, Kendrick’s words speak volumes that cross the line from the light in to the dark. With extra storyline audio edits not featured on the original leak, the typical hood tale is transformed in to a John Singleton-meets-Hitchcock movie. Listen with care.
The general gist of the story is as follows: Boy meets girl. Boy wants some ass. Boy gets influenced by friends to step outside of who he is and commit a crime. Boy then goes to see girl. Girl sets boy up. Boy gets stomped out. Boy’s homies retaliate. One of boy’s friends gets killed. Boy reflects on his life and tells the tale. All the while the listener is given the opportunity to dissect the movie track by track, verse by verse, and lyric by lyric.
No album has been this lyrically precise or exciting this side of the millennium. With bars aplenty throughout, some touch the heart – “You love a good hand whenever the card dealt/ But what love got to do with it when you don’t love yourself,” some are witty – “I had a Fif in the trunk like Curtis Jackson for ransom,” some go hard – “In fact I got fired cos I was inspired by all of my friends to stage a robbery the third Saturday I clocked in,” and some are key to the explanation of his whole persona on this project – “I’m like Tre, that’s Cuba Gooding/ I know I’m good.”
The most notable verse on the album comes at 2:18 on “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe.” Musical landscape has changed forever with this verse. Opening minds up to the actuality of daring to be different, Kendrick spits, “I’m trying to keep it alive and not compromise the feeling that we love/ You’re trying to keep it deprived and only co-sign what radio does/ And I’m looking right past ya.” As the verse goes on eyes are opened up to a truth that’ll involve a few individuals having to take a look at themselves in the mirror with the intention to change.
It’s hard to admit you’re staring perfection in the face sometimes because flawlessness isn’t an every day, every month, or even every year occurrence as far as the music industry goes. GKMC is the trend kicker. It’s an escape to victory. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but with every track a piece of a puzzle, every skit a chapter, and every beat an accompaniment to a reality check, there’s absolutely no room for average here. Flawless.