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

Posted: October 24, 2012 in Dyscyplynary Action, Hip-Hop, Music Review

Artist: Kendrick Lamar

Album: good kid, m.A.A.d. city

Release Date: October 22, 2012

Record Label: Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope

One of the primary topics of discussion for Kendrick Lamar’s second studio album and major label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d. city, is the simplistic cover art. The first piece is with a young Kendrick along with two of his uncles and grandfather, all with their eyes censored except for the baby, which holds a grain of innocence. The other cover, which is used for the deluxe edition of the album, consists of a van parked outside a Compton neighborhood. Both play a significant role within the context of the album, which Lamar describes as a “short film”. The ending result of this leads to one of the most gripping and conceptually dense albums of 2012.

Serving as the follow-up to 2011’s Section.80, good kid acts as a cinematic play with several acts, focusing on a 17-year old Kendrick Lamar on his life in Compton entangled with bouts of love, lust, internal conflict, and the social instability that surrounds him. It opens with “Sherane a.k.a Master Splinter’s Daughter”, a silly Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reference that portrays the lady in question as the prototypical “hoodrat” preying on his hormones… (I’m trying to get off/I was in heat like a cactus, my tactics of being thirsty/Probably could hurt me, but fuck it I got some heart). The end of the song leads to Kendrick getting jumped from two of her cousins as his mother leaves a message on his phone, one of many skits that are prevalent throughout.

From there, he is traveling with his friends in between the events, exfoliating the internal dilemma of being tugged into a world of violence and keeping himself at peace. The boisterous and brash “Backseat Freestyle” holds a fitting paradox to the reflective nature of Lamar, which comes back to the forefront with “The Art of Peer Pressure”. To him he’s only “circling life” with his crew, running up on unfamiliar folk and robbing houses all the while questioning his motives. The quest of finding self-identity and purpose weighs deep into the album’s conclusion as it comes full circle.

Kendrick doesn’t stray from his musical direction, maintaining the sound that has made him prominent with producers Sounwave, THC, and Terrace Martin providing the atmospheric backdrop for Lamar’s lyrical prowess. Other notable names such as Hit-Boy, Just Blaze, Pharrell, and T-Minus also help complete the cohesive feel with woozy vocals, orchestral strings, and catapulting synths that altered the mood for the duration of 68 minutes. Quite the testament as many artists would sacrifice a part of their integrity for mainstream appeal, though Kendrick finds a way to retain much of his artistry while pushing the envelope.

It is quite obvious that Lamar and the higher ups of Aftermath took this project seriously, from the subtle promotion of his singles to carefully having the guest features on the right tracks. The guests help narrate the story with their verses, with Jay Rock having another impressive spot on the funky “Money Trees”. Drake comes through on the radio-ready “Poetic Justice”, complementing well over a vicious Janet Jackson “Anytime, Anyplace” sample. It is this chunk of the album that serves much of the climax and resolution leading to the gritty one-two title tracks, “good kid” and “m.A.A.d. city”.

Things are snapped into a more serious note with the former, with Kendrick digging deeper introspectively battling through racial profiling and the death of his uncle. With “m.A.A.d.”, Kendrick undergoes a crackling change in his voice halfway through, a sign of puberty, speaking on his first (and only) experience smoking a sherm stick and seeing the violence that arouse on the streets. Compton veteran MC Eiht appears as a mentor to young K. Dot, rapping over a stylized 90s West Coast instrumental, “Funky Worm” synthesizers and all.

The story hits its peak with the sentimental “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”, a two-part epilogue that with Kendrick rapping from the perspectives of those that listened to his music and the effect it has on them. The third verse closes with him responding to how much his observations play a big part in telling not only his story but his city’s story as well:

By any means, wasn’t tryin,

Explain to offend or come between

Her personal life, I was like “it need to be told

Cursing the life of 20 generations after her” so

Exactly would have happened if I hadn’t continued rappin

Or steady being distracted by money drugs and four

Fives, I count lives all on these songs

Look at the weak and cry, pray one day you’ll be strong

Fighting for your rights, even when you’re wrong

And hope that at least one of you sing about me when I’m gone

Now am I worth it?

Did I put enough work in?

The entire song ends with Kendrick and his friends coming together in a prayer that was heard in the beginning of “Sherane”. It is the spiritual and personal undercurrent that ties everything together in this album. Although it hits a nearly exhausting stretch leading to the closing “Compton”, good kid is an amazing body of work. Kendrick Lamar and the TDE camp continue to reinvent the wheel of Hip-Hop: retaining the crucial parts of its essence while molding something new and refreshing. This is modern urban cinema at its finest and a hallmark that should be cherished in the years to come.

Good job, kid.

Rating: 9/10


  • Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe
  • The Art Of Peer Pressure
  • good kid
  • m.A.A.d. city
  • Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst

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