Kendrick Lamar - it feels good just to say his name. Good kid, m.A.A.d city is Lamar's second studio album after last year’s Section.80 caused a rumble within the hip-hop community. It’s the same community that gave us Frank Ocean's Channel ORANGE and Death Grips' The Money Store. You wouldn't be wrong in saying it's been a great year for hip-hop. With these albums already well-established as frontrunners for hip-hop album of the year, Kendrick Lamar emerges late on to contest it. He establishes himself on the opening track "Sherane a.k.a Master Splinter's Daughter". Lamar raps about young teenage lust and sex, without caring about other aspects of a 'relationship'. Lamar is a 17 year old enthused by sex, ending in a tricky situation where two gang members are waiting for him. It cuts to a phone call of Kendrick's parents leaving a message on his phone. It leaves the listener on the edge, an instant cliff-hanger - good kid, m.A.A.d city.
"You're killing my mother fucking vibe," ends the phone call, linking perfectly into the second track "Bitch Don't Kill MyVibe". Lamar's furious lyricism works in a fun-filled five minute track with one of the catchiest hooks of 2012. The repeat of the line: "Bitch don't kill my vibe," with a raised pitch on the third line of the hook is fantastic. It's a track that you just want to learn all the words too and sing out loud, especially on the heavily effected hook: "I am a sinner who's probably gonna sin again. Lord forgive me, Lord forgive me, things I don't understand. Sometimes I need to be alone." Single material is spread out on good kid, m.A.A.d city, but the early few tracks are just phenomenally superb, whilst keeping in with the concept of the album and ultimately, the flow.
The intense "Backseat Freestyle" is among my favourite tracks of the year. It was produced by the up and coming producer Hit-Boy, and features the best instrumental on good kid, m.A.A.d city. Backseat Freestyle opens with a sample of The Chakachas - "Yo Soy Cubano", with the same effect of Nas' recent "The Don", which samples Super Cat's "Dance in New York". The bass hits hard with a percussion based instrumental which sits nicely above Lamar's youth lyricism: "I pray my dick get big as the Eiffel Tower, so I can fuck the world for 72 hours." This lyric pays homage to Tupac's staple mark statement of 'fuck the world'. Being from Compton, Tupac is a major influence on both Lamar's lyrics and instrumentals. Lamar raps in his optimistic and desirable style; with the young rappers theme of women, money and cars. The outro repeats the intro - Lamar mentions Martin Luther King having a dream, then ends the outro with: "Kendrick have a dream," a slick and relevant lyric to the storytelling flow of good kid, m.A.A.d city.
Unlike many popular hip-hop artists, Lamar specialises in story-telling. His main influences have all been star story-tellers, from Tupac to the early and prestigious flow of Eminem. "The Art of Peer Pressure" asks for the listener’s attention with a gritty bass riff and atmospheric percussion. Lamar reads his story of crime, nightlife and peer pressure. The act of indulging in activities for 'cred / respect' is a reoccurring theme in hip-hop and especially this album. The track reveals a story where Kendrick and his 'homies' break into a house, steal expensive commodities and leave the scene, after the sound of police cars occur. This track takes place before Kendrick pulls in to where two gang members are waiting for him.
"Money Trees" opens with a sample of Beach House's sultry "Silver Soul". It's a very sweet and melancholic loop that works with Lamar's slow, mellow feel. This track features some of Lamar's greatest lyricism and flow so far. It's a re-cap of the previous four tracks, with an emphasis on gaining money, having sex and living the 'thug' life: "Dreams of living life like rappers do." Lamar's moment of clarity comes with the hook: "Everybody gon' respect the shooter, but the one in front of the gun lives forever." Jay Rock delivers a fast paced, reference heavy verse on the back end of this track before one last Lamar hook. In good kid, m.A.A.d city fashion, "Money Trees" ends with another skit / phone call from Lamar's mother, where his father is obviously drunk. Comically, the track ends with Lamar's father saying: "Did somebody say Domino's?" Referring to the first track where Lamar is supposed to be bringing back Domino’s pizza.
Lamar re-cap's on the day's events as the album progresses. "Poetic Justice" features a touchy verse by Canadian rapper Drake about his ex-girlfriend. Lamar raps about his relationship with Sherane and what his perception of what love is. The track is a reference to both a twist, and the film of the same name starring Tupac and Janet Jackson. Jackson's "Any Time, Any Place" is also sampled in this track. Like many of the previous tracks, the event takes place before Lamar pulls into where Sherane is staying, where two gang members are outside. This time however, the skit is the confrontation between both gang members questioning why Lamar is on their turf; Lamar stays silent in his van and "good kid" kicks in. This track describes the life as a 17 year old living in Compton. He raps about not being "red or blue," a reference two the two biggest gangs in LA, the Bloods and the Crips. He then goes on to mention the troubles he has for not joining either gang, for which he explained was to 'play it safe'. During the first verse, Lamar mentions that he "got ate alive yesterday," referring to the previous skit with the two gang members, to which he was beaten up. The second verse describes the prejudicial effect of the police, referring to 'red and blue' as police sirens this time. He raps: "Lift up your shirt, cause you wonder if a tattoo of affiliation can make it a pleasure to put me through. Gang files, but that don't matter because the matter is racial profile. I heard them chatter: 'He's probably young but I know that he's down'. Step on his neck as hard as your bullet proof vest. He don't mind, he know he'll never respect. The good kid, m.A.A.d. city." This lyrical segment has excellent flow and a separate meaning of the album's title with Lamar himself being, a good kid in a mad city.
"m.A.A.d city" features a powerful opening with Lamar delivering a harsh story of life in Compton. He refers to a murder outside a burger van, possibly the same place where his uncle was shot, which is mentioned earlier in the album and on Section.80. It's all about ignoring the commodities that might come with a thug life, and realising all that's wrong in the place you live. The second verse is a change in direction and style. Lamar tells the listener a deeper story of why he doesn’t smoke weed, why he's a good kid and why he's trying to do his best in "the belly of the rough," referring to Compton. In a contrasting style, MC Eiht delivers a pro-gang life verse.
Lamar's lyricism is at the heart of this album. The instrumentals are also top notch, including the magnificently produced "Swimming Pools (Drank)" by T-Minus. It opens with a gritty bass riff, on its own with a simple bridge, highlighting the party life, but more specifically alcohol. The track is about the excess drinking of alcohol as a means of both peer pressure and reasoning. Lamar’s rap differs from quiet and loud, to melodic and discordant. It features one of the best hooks of the year: "Nigga why you babysitting only two or three shots, i'mma show you how to turn it up a notch. First you get a swimming pool full of liquor then you dive in it. Pool full of liquor then you dive in it. I wave a few bottles then I watch em all flock. All the girls wanna play Baywatch. I got a swimming pool full of liquor and they dive in it. Pool full of liquor I'mma dive in it." The instrumental certainly turns it up a notch as reverberated strings hit hard. The relationship with alcohol is too much for Lamar as he goes beyond his limit - where the listener hears the whisper of "Sherane," lightly, in a closed off and effective dreary, drunken section. It ends with Lamar being sick, with his friends unable to notice his 'sin'. Then comes a skit involving a 'revenge' attack on the gang that attacked Lamar outside of Sherane's. Needless to say, one of Lamar's close companions, Dave, is shot and killed.
"Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst" is split into two sections, the first being a compassionate six and a half minute track, with Lamar rapping from two people's perspectives, both affected by Lamar. He then delivers his own perspective. The second half is a realisation of the previous nine tracks and wanting a 'get out' situation, heavily influenced by religion. With Sing About Me, Lamar raps from Dave's brothers perspective. It ends with Dave's brother being shot, as he delivers the line: "And if I die before your album drop I hope..." Followed by the hook: "Promise that you will sing about me. Promise that you will sing about me." The second perspective is delivered in the voice of Keisha's sister - Lamar included a very delicate track about Keisha on his debut album titled "Keisha's Song". Keisha's sister is upset over Lamar's representation of her sister and her death. Lamar's vocal fades out as the lyrics read: "Don't ignore me," referring to Lamar walking away and ignoring Keisha's sister. The third perspective is Lamar's own, addressing both situations with reality and self-confession. The second part, I'm Dying of Thirst, is a track in itself. There's a gospel feel with the hazy melancholy female vocals. The feeling of drowning in this life is getting too much for Lamar and his friends, as he reads, "I'm dying of thirst." It's a look back at his sins, and his need to get away from his sins. This track ends with Lamar and co reciting The Sinner's Prayer, after bumping into an elderly lady who notices one of them has a gun.
The penultimate track "Real”, is also the most important track on the album. After reciting The Sinner's Prayer, Lamar revels in understanding the true meaning of commodities, desires and life. Love makes an appearance in a sophisticated nature, with Lamar using the word love as a throw-around adjective. It's about Lamar realising the peer pressure, moving beyond it and seeing what is real, himself. The skits at the end reflect the first few phone calls from his parents. His father gives up on his Domino’s pizza and his mother offers Lamar a word of support. This track finishes on a bang with Lamar’s mother saying: "Let 'em know you was just like them, but you still rose from that dark place of violence, becoming a positive person. But when you do make it, give back, with your words of encouragement, and that's the best way to give back. To your city... And I love you Kendrick." A tape recorder can be heard fast forwarding, indicating that the story of 17 year old Kendrick Lamar is now complete.
Finalising the album is a present day theme with Lamar rapping alongside one of his idols and an important figure of both gangsta rap and West coast rap. "Compton" is a fast paced track with reflective lyrics by both Lamar and Dr. Dre, the latter raps about his millions after a very successful year with his business ventures. This track pays homage to Compton, the home of West coast hip-hop and the home of Lamar and Dre. Listeners can make the connection between Dre's success stories to Lamar's very own success story as an emerging artist.
At 72 minutes, good kid, m.A.A.d city is a hard album to digest. The concept of the album starts to reveal itself as the listener pays more attention to individual tracks. Lamar's lyrical flow is outstanding from start to finish, as is the flow of the album. Imagine a hip-hop version of Pulp Fiction, this is that. The mixed order only enhances the quality of the album. Singles present themselves in "Swimming Pools (Drank)", "Compton", "Backseat Freestyle" and "Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe". Good kid, m.A.A.d city is remarkable in the fact it's incredibly individualistic, however the concept sticks throughout. The 17 year old Kendrick Lamar is represented by the 25 year old established rapper, in a way that some hip-hop artists could only ever dream of doing. Lamar has released his masterpiece early on, but it won't be his last. The lyrical content on this album is unique to Lamar, Compton and everyone who can relate to any of the expressed themes, and there's plenty of that. This isn't a regular hip-hop album; instead it's one in a million - a modern hip-hop classic. Concepts are hard to pull off'. Lamar put's 'enough work in' and delivers the goods from the opening to the ending. It's doubtful that Lamar's dick will grow as big as the Eiffel Tower so he can fuck the world for 72 hours, however on good kid, m.A.A.d city; Lamar fucks the world for 72 minutes.