Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid, M.A.A.D City
Record Label: Top Dawg / Aftermath / Interscope Records
Release Date: October 22, 2012
Have you ever listened to an artist/band without even knowing who they were, but soon you listen to a song by said artist/band and realize it’s them? That’s how I feel about CA rapper Kendrick Lamar. The other day, I was listening to Drake’s song “Marvin’s Room / Buried Alive (Interlude)” and there’s a rap verse on the “Buried Alive (Interlude)” and it turns out, it was by Kendrick Lamar. I was huge into this record last year, and never knew it was Lamar. I quite enjoyed his verse, but ironically, I listened to that song after I bought a copy of the rapper’s major label debut Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. I’m surprised I never made the connection sooner, but nonetheless, I’m glad I picked up this album. I don’t even listen to a lot of hip-hop, but this is an artist that I’ve heard a lot about, and I really have been meaning to check out Kendrick Lamar. I’m glad I did, because this is one of the best records I’ve heard all year. This record, along with Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, are two records that really took me by surprise, because I never thought I’d get into those artists, but I decided to step out of my comfort zone, and I’m glad I did. One of the biggest reasons I enjoy this album is because it’s a concept record, essentially; the album cover refers to this record as a “short film by Kendrick Lamar,” and that’s kind of what it is. According to him, it’s all about Lamar’s experiences as a teenager in Compton, California, where he’s from, and the harsh realities that he and his friends face every day. There are plenty of themes within the record, such as gang violence (which is a huge theme), love and women, economic hardships, and things that you would find within the “hood,” so to speak. I guess I like this record a lot because it doesn’t glorify the “gangster” culture as most rappers tend to do. Lamar isn’t trying to be a thug, but rather, be something much more. There are a few songs that are more carefree, but this is supposed to be about a 16-year-old Lamar, and most 16-year-olds don’t have any cares in the world, or not that many. But most songs on here are very serious, and deal with a lot of real-world things. Another that’s quite interesting are there are a lot of skits in the album that relate back to the subject matter within the lyrics. They’re phone calls, or conversations that Lamar is having with different “characters” and other people within his world, and a part of me really enjoys them, but another part of me doesn’t quite like them at times, because they do interrupt the record a bit. Some of them are really interesting, but some of them just seem rather pointless, and drag on a bit. I’ll get to those much later, but it is something really interesting that I didn’t quite expect when listening to the record.
The album opens with “Sherane A.K.A. Master Splinter’s Daughter,” and this is what I meant by the album having very interesting lyrics. The song is about Lamar’s experiences with a girl named Sherane, who is caught up in gangbanging, and the gangster lifestyle. It makes him very wary to get involved with her, but he still hooks up with her, anyway. The song itself is quite interesting, though; the beat is very low-key, the production is very crisp and smooth, and Lamar’s flow is pretty nice, honestly. At the end of the song, the first of many “skits” appear, and this one is his mother calling him to warn him about Sherane and how she’s not a good person, basically. While I don’t really like the skits a lot, they do a good job at relating the subject matter to the songs themselves. They serve as breaks in the album, and add to the songs, or also set the plot of another song up, essentially. Next track “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” is a mix between a serious song and a laidback one. It’s an interesting song because this is where the major theme of the album comes up, to some degree; the album is mainly about Lamar’s struggle with faith, and how he tries to reconcile his sinful activities with his faith. It’s also about how he’s not going to let people get to him, now that he has newfound fame. So, there is a lot of meaning in it, but Lamar does use this track to brag a bit. The end of this track has another skit that leads right into the next song “Backseat Freestyle.” It’s a bit different, because this is a song that just has Lamar’s 16-year-old self bragging about himself, essentially. I love his flow on this track, and the lyrics are clever, but it seems to be unrelated to the rest of the record. It’s also one of the shortest tracks on the record, too. Fourth track “The Art of Peer Pressure” is exactly what the song is says – peer pressure. Kendrick starts off the track by saying everyone should listen to a story by him, and the story is about how Kendrick only does the gang-related things because his friends do, not because he really wants to. And one night, he and his friends get into a shooting, and it definitely shows Kendrick the realness of that lifestyle. This leads back to how much I like the lyrics on this record, because they’re so real. A lot of people who are quite ignorant when it comes to music think that hip-hop is all about money, clothes, and “hos,” when that’s not true whatsoever. The outro of this track is another skit that talks about how Lamar is getting into trouble with his friends, and this song takes place before the first track, because it talks about his friends jumping Lamar at Sherane’s house.
Fifth track “Money Trees” is another one of my favorite tracks on the record, because it talks about economic hardships that Lamar and his family/friends face. The ending has yet another skit that shows the album going into a darker direction, that shows his parents in a darker light. This leads into the much more soothing and sexual tone of the next song “Poetic Justice,” which features rapper Drake. I don’t like Drake a whole lot, even though I do enjoy his R&B material, but he raps on this track. He’s not even that bad, actually; he’s great on this song, and doesn’t take the song over, which is nice. This is a song that’s about Lamar’s relationship with Sherane, and it delves deeper into the narration with her, and it’s a really cool track overall. The skit at the end of this track alludes to the the last line of the first track, with Lamar being stopped by the two men in hoodies he refers to, and he doesn’t want a confrontation, but that’s not what happens. The next two tracks are both named after the album’s title; this is also the point of the record where the idea of realization comes into play, too. That’s quite evident with the track “Real,” but even so, the two tracks “Good Kid” and “M.A.A.D. City” are about how Lamar can’t escape from the gang culture, and he hates it, and the next song, he talks about the realization of what’s going on in his neighborhood. Ninth track “Swimming Pools (Drank)” is one of the lead singles from the album that’s all about Lamar’s relationship with liquor and peer pressure, which is quite an interesting song, honestly.
The next two songs are two very interesting ones, because they’re the longest songs on the record, “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” and “Real.” The former is 12 minutes long, and the latter is about 7 minutes. “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” is two parts, the first being “Sing About Me.” It’s all about death being related to sleep, and I quite enjoy that. At the end of this song, there’s a skit that’s about one of Lamar’s friends being killed, and it’s a really emotional skit that makes your heart go out to him and his friends. It’s quite heart wrenching. The second part is called “I’m Dying of Thirst,” and it’s about how Lamar and his friends need God in their lives, hence the album’s theme of struggling with faith. The skit at the end of this track is really interesting, because it features Maya Angelou as a mentor of some kind who gets Lamar and two of his friends to repeat a simple prayer, and Lamar turns his life around. “Real” is one of my favorite tracks on this album because the whole theme of this track is loving yourself. It’s something that not many people do today, and it’s a really important concept to speak about. Last song “Compton” is an interesting song, because it’s just about loving Compton, California, and really nothing else. It features Dr. Dre, who produced the majority of the record, and for good reason. His guest spot on this record is brilliant, and it really works. It ends on the album on a great note, because this song is awesome in every way.