Kendrick Lamar is on top of his game this year. Since his first mixtape, Youngest Head Nigga in Charge, came out in 2003, he has worked nonstop depicting the world around him. He was just 16 when that album was released. Every album since has taken his skills to a new level, constantly raising the bar for himself and the people around him. This brings me to the importance of his first studio album Good Kid M.A.A.D City: at times when club anthems and booty bangers are flooding the airwaves and artists like Drake and Wiz Khalifa are making money off stripper raps and stoner jams, it feels good to have someone come above that and rap to us about higher level concepts. Good Kid M.A.A.D City represents a powerful change in the direction of hip hop and in itself–says something.
Starting off the album Lamar draws listener in with a cinematic feel. In the opening track “Sherane a.k.a Master Splinter’s Daughter” we hear a story of a young Lamar meeting a girl at a party and questioning his commitment to her, “Love or lust regardless we’ll fuck/ cause the trife in us/ It’s deep rooted the music of being young and dumb.” Now at first this track may not sound like much, but think of this as an introduction to a man. Conflicted with thoughts that contradict himself and his surroundings.
On “Bitch Don’t Kill my Vibe” the album blooms. From here forward, we start to hear Dr. Dre’s influence. The production ante has come up significantly from his previous work. Not that prior beats and producers lacked skills, it’s just that the details and intricacies are something that Dre has mastered. Even though Dre has not personally produced any of the tracks on the album, it’s easy to spot such a fingerprint and know that he was helping him along the way. Of the producers credited there are some heavy hitters: Hit Boy (co-produced Niggas in Paris with Kanye West), Scoop De Ville, Pharrell, Terrace, Martin and Just Blaze. It should be mentioned, this is an all star cast. As if Lamar didn’t already have a star studded introduction, this list only further suggests who’s the “new king of the west coast.”
Not since Eminem’s Infinite have I heard anyone with such technical ability as Kendrick Lamar. The way he embodies different styles and personalities, sometimes on a single track, shows just how familiar he is with Slim Shady. Take a listen to “Backseat Freestyle” and tell me how many ‘voices’ you can hear…crazy right? He has always cited Tupac and Eminem amongst his influences–and it shows. What’s surprising is that no one has ever come close to reaching their level of skill, until now. Lamar is a force to be reckoned with. Songs like “The Art of Peer Pressure” and “Money Trees” showcase his cerebral rapping, the production minimized, his vocals amplified exposing the honesty of his lyrics with lines like:
Quick to turn it up, even if we ain’t got the CD in /But Jeezy still playing and our attitude is still “nigga, what is you saying” /Pull in front of the house that we been camping out for like two months /The sun is going down as we take whatever we want
Good Kid M.A.A.D City also has it’s small share of featured artists, all of which seem to fit. He takes pride in his relationships and in his ability to feel out a record, making decisions on the fly and making sure every part of a song works together for the bigger picture. It makes sense that Dre is featured on songs both “The Recipe” and “Compton,” giving his nod to California love and the city for which they both gained their fame. The ever romantic Drake is featured on the album’s only love song, making good use of his softer voice.
As for the stand out tracks on the album, I think that “Good Kid” is definitely on top It isn’t one of the easiest songs to listen to on the album, in fact, it definitely takes more than one listen to like. If you dig deeply, and try to understand Lamar’s lyrics, you can see he’s grown. He’s taken the hard way out of the streets and avoided the gangs and violence that surround him when he raps, “But what am I supposed to do/ When the topic is red and blue/ And you understand that I ain’t/ But know I’m accustomed to.” The hook itself, sung by Chad Hugo of the Neptunes, with its smooth flow projects the theme of not only the song and the album, but of his view on life itself as Lamar continues, “Mass Hallucination baby/ Ill education baby/ Want to reconnect with your elations/ This is your station baby.” This is a lesson in socioeconomic issues in between those lines if you dare to dig deeper.
Kendrick Lamar gives us his magnum opus with Good Kid M.A.A.D City. A game changer of an album. A carefully crafted, personal and influential wake up call to the current state of hip hop. Let this not go unheard, for it’s the most important album of the year, and in my opinion, maybe even the last 5 years. Hip hop history is being written by a 25 year old from Compton, California.