Unearthed: Kendrick Lamar— good kid, m.A.A.d city
Posted in Unearthed
"I Put my life in these 12 songs"
Going back and listening to Kendrick Lamar's fourth verse on his 2009 EP track "Let Me Be Me" today instills an almost eerie sense of a prophecy come to pass. Kendrick muses on his relentless commitment to individuality, proclamations of him as "the messiah of rap," his desire to "tell a story that the whole world can feel," his firm and honest belief in his own talent, ready to make the world turn, as soon as his records spin.
"Let Me Be Me" is as good an example as any previous Kendrick track when determining the context for his major label-debut good kid, m.A.A.d. city. In the wake of K-Dot's magnanimous mission statement on Section.80 and his subsequent signing to Aftermath/Interscope, it is not much of an overstatement to say that the world HAS been waiting for this record. As the most naturally gifted rap lyricist of his generation, - rarely disputed - with his organically grown posse intact, and rap's greatest executive mogul, plus a highly professional rap star-manufactury in his corner, Kendrick Lamar can be sure that his musical maturation will be heard.
So what do you say when as a reflective young man from Compton you are faced with the task (and opportunity) of having the world on the receiving end of your facetime dial? Kendrick starts at the realest common denominator, the self, telling his own story, musically compressed into a catch-riddled coming-of-age-narrative that his listeners can feel. good kid, m.A.A.d. city is, in every sense of the word, Kendrick Lamar's masterpiece, the definitive statement of a life-spanning grind come to fruition.
The brilliantly simple and perfectly effective dualist formula in the title comprehensively envelops the contrasting forces at work on the album. Through hedonist excursions, gang violence and greed, good kid Kendrick is determined to remain on the path of the righteous. It is a formula that in its ambivalence has accompanied K-Dot ever since his early beginnings. His torn persona between chosen one and fallen angel is Kendrick Lamar's trade mark and, next to his indubitable skill-set as a rapper, the main reason why he is so overwhelmingly welcomed from all stylistic and generational ends of the hip-hop spectrum.
What mainly sets good kid, m.A.A.d. city apart from Lamar's previous releases is a) the narrative ambition of having a backstory of skits providing linear structure, and b) the clarity and grandiosity of the production. Although we cannot be sure about the extent to which Dr. Dre was involved in the making of the project, the album carries the Doctor's signature of a coherent and willfully monumental debut sound. The skits give a quasi-autobiographical account of Kendrick's evolution as a teenager growing up in Compton, serving as touchstones for his tales between vivid street reporting and psychological testimony. The production (courtesy mostly of Lamar's extended inner circle) mirrors the at times pathos-heavy existentialism of his lyrics.
On "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst" we find the culmination of this precept executed in full form all on one (admittedly 12-minute-spanning) song. Introspection, self-reflexivity, pars pro toto lyrical analogism and flow experimentations are interspersed with swelling orchestration, echoing vocals and the staging of both a killing scene and a baptizing ceremony. As he uncynically proclaims in retrospection on his newest non-album-cut "The Heart Pt. 3," Kendrick puts his life in the song - and creates something that is musically individual and ambitious, and lyrically complex, relatable, though-provoking.
What is more, is that Kendrick ingeniously offsets the strongly conceptual nature of his album with persuasively placed sweet spots. Never threatening to, um, kill the vibe, tracks like "Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe," "Backseat Freestyle", the Drake-assisted "Poetic Justice" and "Swimming Pools (Drank)" provide all the right catches for the casual listener, while never straying too far from the vision of presenting a good kid in a m.A.A.d. city. To be impartial, "Compton" is a disappointing failure of this approach as the album's closer.
"Money Trees" with TDE-top dog Jay Rock represents the perfect middle ground. At once immensely catchy, poetically ambivalent and thoroughly street, the Black Hippy-tag team bulldozers in hit-worthy fashion over an intricate, backmask-alluding composition arranged by DJ Dahi. "good kid" follows a similar path. Pharrell goes for an orchestral, Scarface-referencing home run and tries on his socially conscious Gil Scott-Heron-steez for the hook. Meanwhile Kendrick fires away with food for thought on gang life.
good kid, m.A.A.d. city is the best major debut rap album in a while. Many of us might have seen that coming. But the extent to which Kendrick Lamar excels on all grounds should impress even those with the highest of expectations. He incorporates his persistently refined individual artist persona into a piece of music that is as trunk-rattling as it is a cautioning voice and an alluring bait, universally personal, conscious and consciously ignorant. Mission good kid, m.A.A.d. city: obtained to the highest degree.
Purchase Kendrick Lamar's good kid m.A.A.d. city on iTunes here