good kid, m.A.A.d. city

Kendrick Lamar

Aftermath / Interscope / Top Dawg, 2012

REVIEW BY: Daniel Camp


After listening to hundreds of albums, music fans have been conditioned to expect certain things from an artist’s major label debut. Like a first novel or a rookie season, the major label debut arrives on the scene as a short burst of raw talent, a curated explosion of ambition meeting opportunity. But paired with that power is the weakness of inexperience, rough cuts that will need to be sanded down into something more palatable in order for the artist to produce their best work. Major label debuts, in other words, are meant to be first impressions – no one captures the crown on their first go-around.

But Kendrick Lamar did. With an album that functions as an autobiography, a three-act play, and both an ode to and a warning about his native Compton, good kid, m.A.A.d. city announced to the world that hip-hop had found its next genius.

The stage is set with, of all things, a recording of several men reciting the Sinner’s Prayer, a move that foreshadows the album’s constant recognition of both the darkness of thug life and the possibility for redemption from it. After a brief interlude, “Sherane .k.a. Master Splinter’s Daughter” then launches into the story the album tells, that of a brash young black man in Compton focused on girls, friends, and looking cool, only to be met with the harsh realities of life in the hood when the song ends with the foreboding line “I pulled up a smile on my face / And then I see / Two niggas, two black hoodies / I froze as my phone rang.”my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

That dance between the thrill of danger and the reality of its consequences is the heart of this deeply personal album’s story. Bouncy songs like “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” and “Money Trees” have you bouncing along with the beat and Lamar’s brash lyrics celebrating life in the hood. But those customary delights of hip hop are contrasted with the ominous messages of “The Art Of Peer Pressure” and “m.A.A.d. city,” tracks which make clear that the dangers of drugs, gangs, and police brutality bring with them not just excitement but life-and-death consequences.

This tension touches every aspect of life in Compton, according to Lamar, from the violence of the streets to the dangers of the house party. The hook of “Swimming Pools (Drank)” sings “Why you babysittin’ only two or three shots / I’ma show you how to turn it up a notch / First you get a swimming pool of liquor, then you dive in it,” making the song sound on a first listen like a celebration of alcohol and drug use. But upon closer inspection, the verses warn of the emptiness of excess: “All I have in life is my new appetite for failure / And I got hunger, pain, that grow insane / Tell me, do that sound familiar? / If it do, then you're like me / Makin' excuse that your relief /Is in the bottom of a bottle / And the greenest indo leaf.”

It all culminates with the masterful, brutally honest “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst,” in which Lamar lays his soul bare, expertly expositing what life in Compton really looks like for a young black man: a world of gangs and guns, money and women, life and death – a world Lamar loves and hates in equal measure, having escaped by telling its story. As Drake raps in his verse on “Poetic Justice,” “I can never right my wrongs /unless I write ‘em down for real.”

good kid, m.A.A.d. city is exhibit A in the argument that hip hop can be art, a masterpiece of street theater weaving themes of faith, family, and friendship into the darker fabric of destruction. Not everybody gets out of Compton alive, Lamar seems to be saying, but since I did, I’m obligated to tell its story. Tell it he has, with the lyrical prowess and the musical mastery of a rapper much more experienced than he. With good kid, m.A.A.d. city, Kendrick Lamar brings power and polish, entertaining bravado and insightful honesty, a profound story told by a wise storyteller. If major label debuts are intended to be first impressions, then rest assured, you will leave this one impressed in every sense of the word.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 2018 Daniel Camp and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Aftermath / Interscope / Top Dawg, and is used for informational purposes only.