Album:good kid, m.A.A.d city
Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Released: October 22, 2012
good kid, m.A.A.d city is not the first album to describe street life, nor is it even the first album to describe life in the infamous city of Compton. Kendrick Lamar’s seminal sophomore album isn’t concerned with what’s ‘real’ and ‘true’; at its core it is an album about adapting to survive. GKMC is intriguing, right from the get go, because of the stark juxtaposition between its narrator and its context – for every clichéd mention of violence, drugs and sex, the album’s narrator (ostensibly a younger Lamar) has moments of introspection and reflection that allow him to reject the unpleasantness of his environment, thereby setting up an interesting conflict between what the narrator wants to be and what he has to be. However, GKMC isn’t just a narrative message, it is a display of Lamar’s incredible lyrical dexterity; each line feels like it has been painstakingly mulled over before being put into place. Top that with sublime production from a host of first class producers, and it isn’t hard to see why critics and fans alike heralded this album as the ‘West Coast Illmatic’. Such praise is premature but perhaps not entirely undeserving.
Structurally, GKMC is told in a non-chronological matter, an unusual choice for a hip-hop album. The album is interspersed with the two pillars of the narrator’s life – faith and family – that appear periodically throughout the album in the form of voicemails and recordings. The album opens with a fervent prayer possibly at a family meal but is followed by the opening tracks that sets the narrator in pursuit of a crush. The opening track is extremely effective in establishing the time frame and mental state of the narrator – he is young, naïve in some ways, yet desensitized in others, but like altogether too many men his age, he has ‘nothing but pussy on his mental’. The prayer from the beginning is repeated throughout the album but becomes more devastatingly relevant as the tragic events of the night unfold. Meanwhile, the opening tracks also set the album’s context – the narrator, Kenny (Kendrick, K-Dot, etc.), has stolen his mother’s van, making the prayer suddenly relevant as we see Kenny’s conscience bugging him before being brutally suppressed by his lust.
As the album progresses, we see the narrator slowly swallowed by the gang lifestyle, even though he frequently has moments of clarity and introspection that remind us that he does not truly belong in a lifestyle that he describes as ‘circling life’ instead of dealing with it. The album hits its climax over the course of three tracks – ‘good kid’, ‘m.A.A.d city’ and ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’. The first details the difficulty of being cornered by gangs, whom the narrator is loosely affiliated with, the police, who insist on seeing him as a thug and finally, the drugs that are part of the lifestyle he has adopted. ‘m.A.A.d city’ deals with the fallout of him trying to survive in a gang while still retaining his values and being honest to himself while Compton old-timer MC Eiht laughs at his feeble attempts and welcomes him to the gang life. Finally, in ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ Kenny tries to deal with being betrayed by Sherane (the girl from the opening tracks) and assaulted by her cousins, by drowning his sorrows, but the tracks ends devastatingly as his friend dies in the revenge attempt. All through this, the production shifts and changes subtly to reflect the album’s tone just as Kendrick Lamar shows his considerable versatility as he adopts different styles. He shows himself just as adept as a brash, loud-mouthed newbie trying to earn his stripes in the streets in ‘Backstreet Freestyle’ over a relentless Hit Boy beat as he is in the more conventional ‘Money Trees’ which features a magnificent verse from guest Jay Rock. Meanwhile, the production continues to shift from more a rich, layered sound style to a more minimalistic, somber tone as the albums approaches its close, with the album’s tour de force ‘Sing about me, dying of thirst’ concludes with the most minimalistic beat of the album.
Lamar subtitled the album a short film and the level of detail in the album does, in fact, lend it some visual element. This is most evident in the track ‘The Art of Peer Pressure’, where the narrator, ostensibly a younger Lamar, meticulously details his first close-call with the police, describing the car (a ‘white Toyota’), what he was doing (‘drinking orange soda’) and the meandering chase that follows. Yet, if this were indeed to become a short film, then its final track would be a tribute to the setting of the album itself, a sort of pan out from the specifics of the narrative to the surrounding context. Having said that though, ‘Compton’ feels like an outlier to the rest of the album as the quiet sobriety of ‘Real’ gives way to the polished production of Just Blaze and Dre and Lamar return to the familiar topics of money, cars and drugs. In some ways, it’s easy to see why it flies in the face of what the rest of the album is about, but on the other hand, there is a sense of conclusion to the track almost as if the narrator were looking back at his childhood experiences and reminiscing with a kindred spirit.
On the whole, it isn’t difficult to see why the word ‘classic’ is being bandied about so much – this is an incredible album, easily one of the most creative and competent releases the West Coast has seen in a while. Some have even compared it to Nas’ Illmatic – a premature comparison given that while Kendrick Lamar has put in a great deal of thought into this album, he still lacks the raw talent that Nas had on Illmatic, his flow is nowhere near as fluid. Lyrically, they stand on similar pedestals, but where Illmatic was a one hit KO, GKMC is a slow grapple. That isn’t to say that GKMC is not a classic, but like its creator, it needs time to develop and only time will tell what influence this album has on the future of the genre. Having said that though, this is far and away the best album from the new crop of up-and-coming hip-hop artists and lends some substance to the hype surrounding hip-hop’s newest would-be savior, Kendrick Lamar.
|Track Title||Producer||My Rating|
|Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe||Sounwave||
|The Art of Peer Pressure||Tabu||
|Money Trees||Dj Dahi||
|Poetic Justice||Scoop Deville||
|m.A.A.d City||Sounwave, THC & Terrace Martin||
|Sing About Me, Dying of Thirst||Skhye Hutch, Sounwave & Like||