good kid, m.A.A.d city
5:00PM ET October 26th, 2012
Contributor: Todd Williams
A Rocky Williform Company
The Age of the Internet Rapper has brought with it heightened expectations. Young emcees drop their debut albums sometimes two to three years after garnering steady headlines on music blogs and entertainment sites or snagging their first high-profile guest spots alongside A-list artists. All too often, these highly-anticipated debut albums fall short of the advertising that preceded them—whether it be artistically or commercially or both. From Drake to Wiz Khalifa to Yelawolf—so many current superstars delivered lukewarm-to-mediocre debut albums following tremendous mixtape/indie buzz.
Compton’s Kendrick Lamar, however, has broken that curse. And broken ground.
The gifted rhymer from the West Coast has been building his name for more than six years, and it reached fever pitch after he dropped the acclaimed digital release Section 80. last year. Nonetheless, he didn’t the fanatic fanbase that pre-Thank Me Later Drake boasted, nor did he have the devoted and impatient cult of a Big K.R.I.T. What Lamar did have, was a steadily growing groundswell of respect and adulation from peers and audiences. And the mentorship of the legendary producer/Aftermath CEO Dr. Dre.
On Lamar’s official Aftermath/Interscope debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city, he crushes fans’ expectations for the project while simultaneously exceeding them. Lamar delivers an album that builds on his early promise without repeating old tricks, and the bevy of producers behind the boards somehow manage to craft an album that’s more cohesive mainstream hip hop albums tend to be in 2012. The soundtrack to Lamar’s life experience growing up in Los Angeles’ most notorious area, good kid…, like Ice Cube’s incendiary debut, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, cinematically strings together days in the life of a young, Black Angeleno. But where that earlier masterpiece delved almost exclusively into the nihilism and rage, good kid… also explores the subtleties and idiosyncrasies of the rapper’s environment and lifestyle—an aspect that echoes the quirkiness of another, albeit slightly-lesser-known classic West Coast debut: Del the Funkee Homosapien’s I Wish My Brother George Was Here.
But, he’s not some quirkier-than-thou backpacker, nor is he obsessed with “street kid” clichés. More than anything, Kendrick Lamar is a real person, with a unique perspective, and over the course of this cinematic opus, he invites you into his world.
The album opens with the sound of young men praying, then jumps into the ode to confused, awkward and all-consuming teenage lust, “Sherane a.k.a Master Splinter’s Daughter.” The reckless horniness of the 17-year old protagonist is all-too-relatable to anyone that remembers their youth, and on “The Art of Peer Pressure,” he again nails the reality of adolescence without sounding at all preachy. “Really I’m a peacemaker, but I’m with the homies now,” he raps, admitting what too many young ‘gangstas’ won’t: that most of their wildin’ is rooted in the need for approval. The Tabu-produced track bubbles with inner conflict and the vivid realism in his storytelling.
Lamar’s gifted wordplay is on full display throughout the album—but you should know by now that the guy can rhyme. He again displays more vision and conflict on the radio-friendly “Swimming Pools (Drank)” where he rhymes “Making excuse that your relief/Is in the bottom of the bottle/And the greenest indo leaf” in a cautionary tale that masquerades as a party anthem. Preceded by the sounds of young men plotting, then committing, a murder; “Sing About Me (I’m Dying of Thirst) could be the finest moment on an album that’s chock full of ‘em; with K. Dot rapping from the perspective of the murder victim’s brother.
Kendrick Lamar has delivered the most assured major hip hop debut since Kanye West’s unexpected 2004 classic The College Dropout. Avoiding both musical and lyrical clichés, the Compton-born rapper has given his city its latest masterpiece and given Aftermath it’s star for the next decade. But more than that, he’s given mainstream hip hop a swift kick in the pants. And given fans reason to believe the hype.