Kendrick Lamar has been blowing up for the last couple of years, culminating in 2011’s critically acclaimed Section 80 independent album. After the whole Top Dawg label signed a joint venture with Interscope and Death Row Records, pressure was on Kendrick for his major debut album. As usually happens with rookie MCs, to release an album you need a popping radio single, handfuls of recognisable guests and to ditch any individuality you previously had. Thank the lord, this was not the case on good kid, m.a.a.d. city.
Before I delve into this review fully, I need to note that on a personal note I was so hyped for this album. And again as usual, when my hopes are raised I’m often let down (see J. Cole, B.o.B, Wale). However, on GKMC Kendrick retains his identity entirely, delivering a complex and intricate piece of work. This really is “a short film”.
The album presents the narrative of Kendricks upbringing in Compton and he does so in such exquisite detail that its impossible to not visualise what hes saying and immerse yourself in the story. The albums opener acts as a flashforward to the story, with K.Dot driving to “Sheranes” house, whos family are known gangsters. The music is slurred and trippy and reflects the sexual tension he’s trying to express between him and this woman. It ends with a voicemail from his mother, ordering him “to bring her van back”, thus beginning the narrative.
“Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” is a chilled and reflective song which starts the story, with Kendrick looking toward his future and “the changes” he can feel happening in his life. However this early hope is left with an ominous tone, the hook stating “I am a sinner/Who’s probably gonna sin again”.
The next song on the surface seems like a typical braggadocio rap, driven by a thumping beat produced by Hit-Boy. However, the odd flow and delivery and the title “Backseat Freestyle” reflect the story, with Kendrick driving round with his boys just rapping. However the narrative takes a dark corner with “The Art Of Peer Pressure”. It starts with an ignorant and naive hook to a piano-laden beat with a deep bassline, discussing how Kendrick and his friends are going to “jump someone then laugh about it later”. Then from nowhere, the beat turns into a menacing synthy backdrop, and Kendrick uses his exceptional story telling ability to narrate how they rob a house. The change musically is perfect for setting the scene, and it’s clear how much thought went into this.
“Money Trees” and “Poetic Justice” revisit events so far, and join the story where “Sherane” left off. In these two songs, guests Jay Rock and Drake deliver standout performances and show why they were two of only a few to gain a place on this album. Poetic Justice has a sample-driven beat, reminiscent of Kanye Wests “Devil In A New Dress“, giving a classically hip-hop vibe.
“Good Kid” is an important moment on the album, where the young Kendrick realises that the gang culture of California isn’t all it cracked up to be. The song features backing vocals by Pharell, who also provides the upbeat, yet murky instrumental. Its second part “M.A.A.D. City” has Kendrick discussiing how the “whole entire city will turn against me” if he leaves the gang culture. This is one of the standouts of the album, with a banging 808 led beat and Kendrick sounding utterly terrified throughout the whole song, discussing the things hes seen, like someone with “their brains blown out” and “bodies on top of bodies”. His unorthodox delivery leads to a very menacing and vivid track, which also boasts a return for veteran rapper MC Eiht.
The lead single “Swimming Pool” is better than ever, with an extended mix on the album. The woozy T-Minus beat is perfect for Kendrick discussing the alcoholism he himself has experienced, as well as alcoholism in his family, and it’s hilariously ironic how he’s disguised it as a club/party tune.
“Sing About Me/I’m Dying Of Thirst” and “Real” deal with the backlash from Kendricks gangbanging actions, and climax with him turning his back on the California gang life forever. These songs are typical with the rest of the album, providing detailed insight into his life. It’s the final track, “Compton” which steals the last few songs limelight however, which is produced by Hip-Hop legend Just Blaze. Boasting an old school, head knocking beat, a feature from Cali legend Dr Dre, as well as pushing forward a bold statement; “aint no city quite like mine”. Judging by the tales he tells in this album, that’s very much the truth.
Overall, this is an incredible piece of work. This is if The College Drop Out and Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ had a CD baby… yet at the same time its like nothing before it. Kendrick Lamar is one hell of a wordsmith, and this is one hell of an album.