The BT Review: Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city

Written by The Rap Up. Posted in Reviews, Spotlight, TRU Brain Trust

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Published on October 26, 2012 with No Comments">No Comments


Section.80 already scored the top spot in TRU’s list of 2011′s best albums, so now that TDE is in a joint venture with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath behemoth for the release of the follow-up, expectations could simply not be higher. Let’s not pretend you haven’t heard tons of people already mention the “c-word” (not that c-word, dirtbag) while describing the album on the very day of it’s release or even before that, but that’s not how TRU rolls. Now that we’ve had the album on a loop for a week, the Brain Trust once again assembles to find out whether it lives up to the hype or not.

Anybody who compares this album to Illmatic (yes, I’ve seen some reviews actually go there) should be shoved into traffic. That being said, good kid, m.A.A.d city truly is a superb debut album that proves that an independent emcee can drop a thought-provoking, out of the box record on a major label, given the right amount of artistic leeway. With good kid, m.A.A.d city, you’re getting an authentic aural documentary/autobiography of a kid growing up in post-N.W.A. Compton , California. In his lyrics, Kendrick walks the narrow bridge between his city’s bloodshed and pitfalls, offering his own sketches on hope and triumph. The production on the record is far from formulaic, delivering a slew of neo-gangsta rap beats for K.Dot to bounce off of. Hearing MC Eiht on a major label LP reference “Hood Took Me Under” in 2012 is a damn-near surreal experience, as is being reminded of Pharrell’s prowess on the soundboards (where ya been all these years, P!?). Meanwhile, new school beatsmiths like Hit-Boy, T-Minus, and Scoop DeVille, all add impressive credentials to their budding résumés. But the star of the show is Kendrick Lamar, who presents himself as a true poet of the rap tradition. Nothing about this album is conventional; that’s a risky move, but it pays off. good kid, m.A.A.d city is a victory of creative merit.

I can’t recall the last time I felt this way about an album. I joked around on Twitter that I wouldn’t be mad if people called Good Kid m.A.A.d City a classic because at least that meant people liked the album. The word “classic” has been reduced to a marketing buzz word for music but the collection of music that Kendrick crafted may eventually fall under the true definition of “classic”. As it stands currently, Kendrick Lamar’s GKMC is one of the best albums I’ve heard in years. Kendrick takes listeners on an audio journey that’s as vivid as any of the hood movies made famous in the late 80s and 90s like Boyz In The Hood and Menace II Society. My personal favorite track is “Sing About Me” which ties together several stories told throughout the album as well as the previously released Section.80. GKMC isn’t perfect when your break up the tracks – I’m not a big fan of “Backseat Freestyle” or “Real” – but it is perfect when you look at it as a collective unit. Most rappers are hard pressed to drop a high quality album, especially one where they aren’t featuring half of the Marvel Universe on every track. Kendrick Lamar managed to create a great album telling his story on his terms while keeping the guest voices to a minimum. Time will tell if the consensus opinion will declare GKMC a classic, but as of right now it is an outstanding album.

Good kid, m.A.A.d city is awesome. Dr. Dre served as executive producer for the album, and allowed Lamar complete creative control. It was a smart move. Lamar gets his creative juices flowing, treating his album like an epic period piece. Hence the album’s subtitle: A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar. K Dot weaves a narrative about his teenage self, a good kid who becomes involved in all sorts of illicit activities, because he’s “with the homies.” Every song is worthy, and “good kid” and “m.A.A.d city” are clear standouts. The producion is spacy, entertaining, and cohesive.

Classics are defined by time; K Dot said as much himself in a recent interview with Hot 97. So for the time being, I’ll call good kid, m.A.A.d city a masterpiece. Lamar’s major label debut is both lyrically and sonically pleasing, as well as fresh, cinematic and starkly original. What more can you ask from a rap record?

Like usual I’ma keep this very short. I was a big fan of Section.80. good kid maad city is not Section.80 and it stands on it’s own without comparison to the last album. It’ll likely be one of my favorite albums for this year and it has some jams on the playlist. It’ll get more play up until the New Year. But that’ll probably be the end. Cool album. Kendrick be doing his thing.

Big hype albums rarely deliver. Good kid, m.A.A.d. city is an exception that lives up to every ream of pre-release buzz. It’s beautifully conceived, tightly sequenced, and soundly packaged. This is an album so good it’s hard to believe it dropped on a major imprint. So good I discover new ways to appreciate it every time I listen. So good the bonus songs shit all over some of the album tracks (and by “some” I mean “Poetic Justice,” which suffers from a mild case of inertia). Also: “The Recipe” is a better Compton anthem than “Compton,” and “Black Boy Fly” may be the best song on the entire thing. Good kid is a laser-focused portrait of the underdog, the trapped, the forgotten, the abused, and the fallen. Nothing wrong with that. And nothing wrong with delivering a clear winner after a remarkable run of mixtapes and guest spots. A great musical journey.

The word “classic” gets thrown around way too often, so I’ll refrain from it’s use for a few years. good kid, m.A.A.d city is definitely one of 2012′s best, though. Kendrick Lamar has been hyped up for great reasons, and he delivered. He delivered the album people wanted – that next step past Section80. He did it on a major label, and while he’s signed to Dr. Dre, it doesn’t feel like some grandiose, over-the-top reach to make him a pop star. This album is one that deserves critical acclaim. It tells a story over proper beats and in his own style, which at times can be confusing given “the voice” he inflects. But it all fits. And there’s no way you can just skip to track five – you play this one from start to finish, like a great movie. Anyone dissing this album but wanting something real in Hip-Hop is really confused.

Despite what you may have heard from all the gushing reviews and gathered from all the raving by rap nerds (yours truly included) on the web, Kendrick Lamar did not deliver a flawless album. The narrative the tracks build is glued together by an amount of skits that render casual listening impossible and start to feel like interruptions after multiple listening sessions. Then again, this album isn’t fit for casual listening by it’s very nature. It’s thematically heavy, nuanced and doesn’t feature a single track that doesn’t push the plot forward, a storyline that’s both emotionally engrossing and has a captivating arc to it. The production fits the various moods like a glove and even more agressive tracks like “Backseat Freestyle” don’t disrupt the album’s cohesiveness or overall sense of melancholy, like a Boyz in The Hood directed by Wes Anderson. When the pulse-raising finale of “m.A.A.d city” not only features Compton veteran MC Eiht but is hit with an Ohio Players sample as well (“Funky Worm,” of course), it’s not a cheesy nod to westside nostalgia, it’s underscoring the notion that Kendrick just might be most recent addition to the long line of west coast legends.

To listen to good kid, m.A.A.d city – a short film by Kendrick Lamar is to live as its author in Compton, California circa 2003. As the title implies, the album spins a cinematic hip hop tale about a well-intentioned teenager seeking salvation from the life-choking influences of his environment. Whether that deliverance comes through Jesus or a rap career (or both) is left for the audience to decide. But there’s no doubt this collection of songs and skits will drive the audience to this point. Through N.W.A.-meets-Outkast stylings, K.Dot offers a multitude of tracks that delve deep into the psyche of its cast. Many are mash-up song splits that share a theme but provide different perspectives on the same scene. Voice mail interludes and track titles also give clues to the narrative’s ultimate direction.

GKMC is best digested by listening to all of the cuts in sequential order – preferably in a single sitting (perhaps a foreign concept to those who only consume music via shuffled playlists of singles.) To me, it’s Oscar-worthy hip hop and the album of the year.