Beats…check. Rhymes…check. Life…check. Classic album? We’ll get into all of that.
Kendrick Lamar has pulled off an incredible feat; he’s lived up to the enormous hype surrounding his debut album Good Kid m.A.A.D City. The 25 year old Compton MC who has been arguably the most the ‘buzz worthy’ artist of the last year for hip hop heads everywhere, presents his ‘self portrait’ in what can only be described as a cinematic musical experience. When Kendrick first gained critically acclaim and wide recognition within Hip Hop it followed the releases of his 2010 mixtape ‘Overly Dedicated’ and his 2011 independent album ‘Section 80’. Lamar was this gust of wind that just took the culture by storm, the intricacies of his lyrics, the dark yet subdued production that backed the dull rumble of his voice and the multiple flows was something that couldn’t be ignored. He received his biggest co-sign from one of the forefathers of his hometown and Hip Hop, in Dr Dre who endorsed his talent and has been instrumental in helping Kendrick craft, what some are now arguing as a classic album.
He revealed the acronym in his album title stands for My.Angry.Adolescent.Divide and builds off of Kendrick’s preference to create concept centred projects. Good Kid m.A.A.D City follows this model as we’re taken through a day in the life of a young Kendrick Lamar. We listen as he weaves in and out relationships, experiences conflicts with social acceptance, dabbles in violence, experiments with drugs and ultimately attempts to define his own morality. The album that opens with a prayer is the first in the running dialogue that accompanies the albums musical narrative. Sherane A.K.A. Master Splinters Daughter starts the journey with a teenage Kendrick Lamar stealing a family van to go see a summer fling, his ability switch his flows to fit the pocket of the beat and to conjure and relay vivid imagery in accordance with his storytelling is a skill that many in the new climate of Hip Hop ignore and/or don’t possess. It sets him apart from the current ‘norm’ and exposes Lamar as one of the better technical rappers out right now. (He won that BET Lyricist of the year award too).
As the setting takes place in LA during the early 2000s the sometimes menacing stories and descriptions we’re presented with, not only hold more weight because of the numerous interludes at the both the beginning and end of songs that allow us to hear conversations between his friends and mother but because of the lyrical performances he delivers on the songs. The Art of Peer Pressure is a song that shows how the ‘group mentality’ that we can often become subjected to can lead to less desirable outcomes. This is where the first piece of Lamar’s insight comes into play and serves as cautionary tale to his listeners about how adopting whatever values and actions ‘the homies’ are feeling that night can land you in a situation that you wouldn’t have found yourself in, had you just stayed true to yourself in the first place. The complexities of friendships and the want/need to be accepted by your peers can be ones that obscure your view of things, the social stigma’s of being a ‘square’ or a ‘nerd’ can often lead you away from your inner resolve and in Kendrick’s case he commits his first acts of social deviance with the ‘homies’ which results in ‘one lucky night with the homes’ as they escape the police and avoid jail. The dark undertone here is that maybe next time, they won’t be so lucky so be careful in what you do and who you do it with.
Money Trees continues with more message filled rhymes from but the tracks most notable performance comes from his Black Hippy brother Jay Rock, who holds his own and goes all the way in with a distinct flow and lyrical style on the song, cementing Money Trees as one of the fan favourites from the album. An important thing to note with this album is that the song placement is by design and ‘Poetic Justice’ shows why. Poetic Justice was one of the most anticipated and talked about songs after it was revealed that Drake would feature alongside the Compton MC. Poetic Justice comes in half way through the album and shows a maturing Kendrick as opposed to the young teenager we’ve listened to since the first album cut. Here Kendrick has a better grappling and maturity regarding the opposite sex and with Janet Jacksons ‘Anytime’ sample aiding the two rappers as they speak to their ladies in what I would call a rap ballad, his growth is apparent and the record is a perfectly matched pairing with Drake in the mix giving one of his best performances this year. However Poetic Justice indirectly acts as a transitioning piece in the GKMC narrative as the tone and attitude shifts towards a maturing Kendrick Lamar as he encounters gang violence and drugs in the following songs.
Though Lamar is putting out hood tales peppered with realism and warnings he remains grounded in and refrains from ‘preaching’ to his listeners instead he allows the stories to act as fables where you can derive your own meaning and moral from it at the end. Good Kid, M.A.A.D City and Swimming Pools are all songs that follow this format. The last 3 songs featured on the standard version of GKMC are Kendrick’s coming of age. Sing About Me/I’m Dying of Thirst is like a 12 minute baptism where a reflective K.dot makes sense of his past experiences, his legacy and who he wants to be as a young man in growing up LA. Real comes afterwards and is the greatest resolve that Kendrick shows on the tape as he inverts the concept ‘Real’ on itself with great humility and honesty that makes the song one of the stand out pieces. The Dr Dre assisted Compton is a victorious finish for Kendrick Lamar as he now embarks on his new journey as a rapper and hometown hero as he declares himself ‘King Kendrick Lamar’.
The deluxe edition carries 3 bonus songs The Recipe, Black Boy Fly & Now or Never featuring Mary J Blige, all of which are his lap of honour. He’s made it out and GKMC is his break out performance right in line with breaking out of the vicious cycle that captures so many young black youths every day in the ghetto.
I should also mention that it’s rare to have an album that features many high profile producers with distinct sounds and styles to produce such a cohesive project that is completely catered to Kendrick Lamar’s style and persona without any one track being out of place or awkward. Even the Hit Boy produced Back Street Freestyle which was simply an OK track when it hit the internet, enhances in listening experience once played within the structure of GKMC. With Pharrell on Good Kid, to T-Minus on Swimming Pools and Just Blaze on The Recipe. The producers themselves have adopted his vision for the album and the result is one if not the best Hip Hop release this year and most definitely a contender for album of the year (he should get a grammy nod for the Hip Hop one at least).
Everyone’s weighing in, is GKMC a classic album? It’d boil down to whatever your requirements for a classic album were. Do you require exceptional lyrical performance? Outstanding production? Cohesive and focused content? All three. What I will say is that it’s a break out performance unlike many in recent years. It kind of reminds me of Kanye West’s College Dropout and the challenge that album brought to mainstream Hip Hop in both the way it was listened to and approached as craft. Kendrick has already spoken openly about taking responsibility for bringing the essence of Hip Hop back with lyricism and projects such as Section 80. I guess we’ll just see, some of the albums we hail classics today we’re not deemed as such at the time. I do believe Kendrick needs time to grow and released more work before GKMC can really contend with the greats. However it’s still a pretty impressive piece of art overall.
Album Picks: The Art of Peer Pressure, Money Trees, Poetic Justice, Good Kid, Real