Album Review: Kendrick Lamar, Good Kid, m.A.A.d City

Kendrick Lamar

Good Kid, m.A.A.d City (to be released October 22, 2012)

Buzz. Every rapper wants it. But sometimes that buzz is so deafening the artist’s music is totally drowned out.

Look at J. Cole last year. After an astounding series of mixtapes, many christened him the second coming of Nas (including me). Sadly, his debut album didn’t reach the monumental heights we were promised. It wasn’t a bad album at all, it just couldn’t match up to legendary status it attained before it even hit our ears. It’s certainly not fair, but that’s the tradeoff for acquiring huge buzz.

Cole became another victim of The Buzz’s venomous sting.

Kendrick Lamar finds himself in a similar spot. After his unbelievable mixtapes and guest verses captured hip hop’s attention and a ton of co-signs from legendary artists raised his profile, Kendrick positioned himself to become the newest West Coast superstar. All Eyez on him.

Once again, the Buzz is deafening. But Kendrick ain’t hearing it.

What makes Good Kid, m.A.A.d City a phenomenal album is that Kendrick refuses to change what brought him to the forefront. Longtime K.Dot fans won’t hear out-of-place club beats begging for radio play or shoehorned collabos with flavor-of-the-month rappers (paging Tew Chaaaynz…). This is the Kendrick you know and love.

Kendrick is first and foremost a storyteller. Good Kid, m.A.A.d City lives up to its billing – a coming of age tale in an urban jungle. Kendrick excels when he takes the usual rap cliches of women (“Sherane aka Master Splinter’s Daughter”), fame (“B*tch Don’t Kill My Vibe) and success (“Money Trees”) and amplifies them with his mind-bending, double-time flow.

“As the record spins I should pray/for I recognize I’m easily prey, I got ate alive yesterday,” he spits on “Good Kid,” showing that a toxic environment can even poison those with the best intentions. When the track fades into the follow up, “m.A.A.d City,” the listener is bombarded with tales of street violence. K.Dot reminds listeners what the city made him: “Kendrick, aka Compton’s human sacrifice.” He’s really the hip hop John Singleton.

“Sing About Me/Dying of Thirst” likely will be the most poignant combination of songs you’ll hear all year. In the former, Kendrick steps into the roles of those damaged by the “m.A.A.d City.” The most powerful verse comes from the point of view of a woman damaged by the system, who, among other horrors, justifies domestic abuse: “You needed to learn something you probably need to beat her/That’s how I was taught.”

But in the latter song, there is hope for redemption: “Too many sins, I’m running out/somebody send me a well for the drought.” Hopelessness catches up to the broken souls but holy salvation becomes their replenishment. Who would have thought Kendrick would take us to church?

If that’s too heavy for you, there’s plenty of lighter moments. The best is “Poetic Justice,” in which the new West Coast poster child coyly samples Janet Jackson. If you don’t get that reference, just stop reading this blog right now. There is no hope for you. And “Compton” is just a speaker-knocking ode to the West that could be this generation’s “California Love.” It’s so good that I won’t even complain about Dr. Dre showing up to spit a verse he probably didn’t write on a beat he didn’t even produce.

Good Kid, m.A.A.d City is a triumph for the West Coast, and more importantly, for hip hop as a whole. There’s not a lot of commercial appeal here so don’t be shocked if K. Dot doesn’t go triple-quadruple platinum. But that’s irrelevant. Good Kid, m.A.A.d City is an album that stays true to Kendrick and his fans.

Kendrick says it best on “Real,” where he brags about the love of his vices but ends with this line: “I’m talking about hating all money, power, respect in my will/I hate that fact none of that s*** makes me real.”

Kendrick’s not listening to buzz, he’s listening to himself. And that’s how you craft a masterpiece.

Best tracks: “Sing About Me/Dying of Thirst,” “Poetic Justice,” “Compton,” “m.A.A.d City”

4.5 stars out of 5


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