To make things easy for everybody: Good Kid, M.A.A.d City is the best Rap album you are going to hear this year. I don’t usually start reviews with a dramatic sentence like the one above, but this time it deserves all the buzz. Before I get into the album, however, let me introduce you to Kendrick Lamar and how I first heard about him.
Lamar is a 25 year old native from the infamous L.A. neighborhood of Compton that has released a good number of mixtapes and collaborated with Dr. Dre, Game, Drake, Rick Ross and Lil Wayne. Before, he appeared in Game’s Red Album decimating everything in front of him with an incredible final verse in the song “The City”. My first contact with Lamar happened somewhere around 2010 when having lunch at the delicious Bludso’s BBQ in Compton. Some guys were blasting a mixtape from a car, which they told me it was Overly Dedicated (2009), and since that day I have kept track of him. Shortly after he released Section.80 (2011), which already showed a huge progression, both lyrically and musically, but I wasn’t prepared for this 2012 release.
From the start, the cover art proves how personal this album is for Kendrick, as he explains: “ In the picture you see two of my uncles, to the far right, that’s my grandpa and a baby bottle next to a 40-ounce next to a gang sign, holding a kid”, a really powerful image that works perfectly to introduce you to the theme of the album. Good Kid, M.A.A.d City works as a movie about Kendrick’s life with characters/chapters and a narrative that is complemented perfectly by the music of the album. Basically without getting into much detail, the album is based around Kendrick growing up in Compton, struggling with the good and bad sides of his persona and explaining how difficult is to stay away from trouble. The storytelling is easy to follow, with a clear narrative but that without knowing Kendrick’s surroundings is hard to explain all the details and hints spread around the recording. There are a lot of voicemails/field recordings that work as connectors of the story and that add realism to the already-hard reality of his everyday life. This is an album that drains you, an album that is so complex and well thought-out that just listening to these songs without “hearing” what Lamar is saying is pointless and causes the music to lose its impact.
Still, all the tracks here are strong from any point of view: the atmospheres/mood of the songs, the lyrics, the simple but masterfully crafted beats, Lamar’s vocal delivery and the collaborations from Jay Rock and Mc Eiht. The least interesting collaboration is Drake’s in the track “Poetic Justice “. This is the weakest of the album, but it works with the theme, as it is about Kendrick going to see his beloved Sherane.
The rest of the album is impressive and takes us on a time travel trip inside the memories of Lamar with songs like the nocturnal and spooky “Sherane”, the heartbreaking “The Art of Peer Pressure” which describes how he learned ‘Peer Pressure’ the hard way while hanging out with “the homies”, “Good Kid” and the dilemma of choosing “red or blue” and how it is to be trapped inside a violent culture, “M.a.a.d city ” with the eery intro that says: “If Pirus and Crips all got along, they’d probably gun me down by the end of this song” and the amazing collaboration of Mc Eiht, the drunken single “Swimming Pools (Drank) “, the groundbreaking ” Sing About Me/I’m Dying Of Thirst” that is a homage to the storytelling of rap or the closing track and new hymn “Compton” with the lyrics: “Compton, Compton, ain’t no city quite like mine”.
I’m not sure if there are other cities like Compton, but it certainly is one of the L.A. neighborhoods that we have to bless for giving birth to so many great artists. Welcome King Kendrick Lamar.
Good Kid, M.A.A.d City will release on October 22 via Interscope/Aftermath/Top Dawg.
01. Sherane a.k.a Master Splinter’s Daughter (Prod. By Tha Bizness)
02. Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe (Prod. By Sounwave)
03. Backseat Freestyle (Prod. By Hit-Boy)
04. The Art of Peer Pressure (Prod. By Tabu)
05. Money Trees (Ft. Jay Rock) (Prod. By DJ Dahi)
06. (Ft. Drake) (Prod. By Scoop DeVille)
07. good kid [Prod. By Pharrell]
08. m.A.A.d city (Ft. MC Eiht) (Prod. By Sounwave & Terrace Martin)
09. Swimming Pools (Drank) *Extended Version* (Prod. By T-Minus)
10. Sing About Me (Prod. By Skhye Hutch + Sounwave) I’m Dying Of Thirst (Prod. By Like of Pac Div)
11. Real (Ft. Anna Wise) (Prod. By Terrace Martin)
12. Compton (Ft. Dr. Dre) (Prod. By Just Blaze)