Hip Hop is a culture filled with opinions and conflict. The issues rest in the fact that sometimes the chatter can become too relevant amongst the music. A double edged sword in this industry, word of mouth has proved to be powerful. It adds grey to the black and white of the game and gives the fans (and critics) a voice. That said, despite a lot of positivity within, there’s a persistent tone in Hip Hop that there is a measurable portion of mediocre and disappointing material drowning our civilization as we know it. While this is a collective opinion from a large piece of the masses, it should still be considered: Do we praise good (but not perfect) contributions to our love known as Hip Hop more now because of the run-of-the-mill majority? The question has raised itself to be unavoidable when considering Kendrick Lamar.
Compton’s unlikely hero, Lamar has carefully built a monstrous fan base along with the mesmerizing Ab-Soul, the charismatic Schoolboy Q and the solemn Jay Rock; forming the young lyrical entity known as Black Hippy. They hold down the fort known as Top Dawg Entertainment, the record label in which they represent as they individually (though retaining synergy) manufacture a reputation for quality tunes that deserve universal appreciation straight out of the West Coast. As they have proceeded with their own intricate master plan, we find the masses clamoring over Lamar’s second studio album (and major label debut under Aftermath and Interscope records) good kid, m.A.A.d city. Critics and fellow artists have nothing but positive and encouraging words for the young emcee, leading the rumors to manifest into constant use of the word “classic” but as we arrive at the moment of truth, is Kendrick Lamar’s project proving to be worth the intangible aura the world is creating around him?
“Hello my name is Kendrick” She said “No you’re handsome…”
The opening ditty “Sherane A.K.A. Master Splinters Daughter” is smooth, as KDot unravels while testing the listening ability of the listener with unconventional delivery. There’s a rich image of Kendrick’s infatuation with Sherane, a woman who we can assume is part of his past. A great record, It’s also a fitting start tagged with a voicemail from his parents, as they speak on their issues in a irreplaceable personal way that leads perfectly into…
“I am a sinner, who’s probably gonna sin again…”
The polished feel continues on with “Bitch, Don’t Kill my Vibe” which feels as great as the title suggests. Lamar tackles various topics such as what comes with newfound fame, analyzing other artists that may not have the freedom of being themselves and the contrast between his and another’s life. All of this and more is looked at on this track, resulting in one of the better records early on in the project. Once again we get a very short message attached at the end of the track, setting the trend and telling Kendrick to get his bars ready. Foreshadowing at it’s finest, we know the lyrical aggression is en route.
“All my life I want money and power, respect my mind or nigga it’s GO TIME!”
Hit-Boy impresses once again with the instrumental for KDot’s “Backseat Freestyle” managing to play perfectly with the story while refusing to sound aged. Now that’s all I will say about the beat. As for Kendrick Lamar? The man manages to effectively dismantle, dismember and disrespect as he proceeds, getting meaner with each verse. By the (oddly catchy) hook after the third verse it goes without saying that Lamar is indeed proficient with his rapping ability, completely decapitating those three and half minutes before continuing into the next track.
“But I’m with the homies right now…”
Quick to deceive, “The Art of Peer Pressure” flips between two different sounds utilizing the feel of cruising music. Kendrick continues his story as he rides with his comrades, getting involved with a situation that he’d never fall victim to without the stress that might come with his allies. Cunningly crafted, it feels like the flagship track on the project defining a possible result of what happens when you place a good kid in a city full of corruption, tagged with another recorded discussion between Kendrick’s boys filled with clues that makes it worth revisiting.
“Money Trees” feels like a illustrious checkpoint in the story so far, allowing room for Kendrick to express in a recap what he’s dealt with so far, referencing robbing those who look as if they come from a better background, the “Backseat Freestyle“, being with Sherane and more. Assisting with this track is TDE’s own Jay Rock, who shows out on the track, lyrically putting together one of the best verses on the album. Along with the track comes (unsurprisingly) another skit from his parents that they possibly left while Kendrick was captivated with Master Splinter’s daughter.
“N*gga don’t approach her with that Atari, n*gga that ain’t good game I’m sorry…”
“Poetic Justice” moves along with some sensibly placed bass and a sample of Janet Jackson’s “Anytime, Anyplace.” A good (as expected) verse from Drake and a decent effort from Kendrick, the track effectively lends itself to the story, as this record surrounds Kendrick and his feelings for Sherane. Although on paper it looks like the track that people will appreciate most, it’s not the best record on the project, being overshadowed by Lamar’s other efforts.
“All I see is strobe lights, blind me in my hindsight…”
As the album reaches the half-way mark, “Good kid” acts as moment of realization in Kendrick’s life, as he deals with gang affiliation and dealing with the authorities who will generalize him regardless of his decisions. With a canvas provided by Pharrell, Lamar deliver’s a fantastic look into his mindset as he carries forward with the tune, allowing the lyrics that fill it to make the record itself enough to stand alone.
“Brace yourself, I’ll take you on a trip down memory lane…”
“m.A.A.d city” is a treat. With assistance from Compton legend MC Eiht and a very small yet efficient assistance from Schoolboy Q (his signature “YAWK!”), Lamar acts as a martyr, sacrificing himself in an attempt to unify Pirus Bloods and Crips. The first half of the track feels intense in itself, but only impresses further with the second half, allowing Compton’s sound to burst through on the latter. Dr.Dre has overseen this album and this remains relevant here, as Kendrick tackles his various moments worth recalling in life regarding corruption, like his first experience with weed that led to dangerous results. He dons himself “Compton’s human sacrifice” and informs you of the warfare and hardship that the good kid suffered through in the m.A.A.d city, which he explains to mean “my Angels on Angel dust.”
“Pool full’a liquor, Ima diiiive in it…”
Next comes “Swimming Pools (Drank)” which now fits seamlessly into the project. The lead single on the album, it does a phenomenal job of being a hit single while simultaneously telling the story. It’s a minute in which KDot takes the moment to reflect on how he watched those who raised him indulge in the darkness of liquor and the transition into how he very possibly deals with the same demons now. At the end of the track is now a skit, one that leads to a death that acts as a wake up call for Lamar’s actions.
“Promise that you will, sing, about me…”
“Sing about me, I’m Dying of Thirst” takes 12 minutes but fills it with worthwhile content. It tells two stories (one positive and one negative) with the first two verses, and allows Lamar to reflect on his own with the third verse, in a fashion that can only be appreciated for the raw emotion behind it. A calm beat allows the stories to be told, and they’re all rewarding to the ears before hearing a skit in which Lamar and his friends attempt to rid themselves of the subconscious thirst for holy water and being cleansed of the corruption.
“I’m Real, I’m Real, I’m really really Real…”
A short and firm moment of clarity, Kendrick is fully aware of his realness following the moment where he’s washed of the corruption he was surrounded with. An airy record and a nice light step away from the gritty look at things thus far. Equipped with this track is a wonderful clip of his mother explaining how she feels about him and what he should do with his life once he overcomes the darkness that tried to engulf him.
“Ain’t no city quite like mine…”
Just Blaze pulls out a three year old instrumental for Kendrick Lamar and Dr. Dre to display their hometown pride with “Compton.” The familiar duo work together as they explain what they’ve done, what they will do and how far they’ve come representing where they have come from. A fitting way to end with the good kid… expressing his love for the m.A.A.d city.
Kendrick Lamar’s project is a concept album, first and foremost. This means it is a project that is aiming for another goal besides being a great body of work, it must make sense and follow a theme or story, resulting in a more rewarding project but at the same time, possibly limiting the artist depending on the story. A dangerous move unless carefully executed, Lamar cleverly conveys a narrative that defines his own past experiences. A brilliant decision, choosing to disclose his own anecdote in the form of each track, tackling the task of making an amazing album without failing in any field.
Is it a classic? We won’t know for the foreseeable future. For now? Enjoy the stellar triumph that has come from Kendrick Lamar. This is comprised of many more hits than misses and even with it’s minor flaws, this is a tale about growth and corruption that will want to be heard years from now.
Timeless Tracks: (Really, this is hard to do) Sherane A.K.A Master Splinter’s Daughter, Backseat Freestyle, m.A.A.d City, Swimming Pools (Drank), The Art of Peer Pressure