Often when one of my peers recommends music to me, I immediately shrug it off and scoff, “If I haven’t found it yet, there’s no way it can be that good.” However, as I finished good kid, m.A.A.d city last week, I couldn’t help but be grateful to my friend Kyle. On a warm night in August, he had queued up the song “Swimming Pools Drank” on my car stereo as we rode around downtown White Plains, N.Y. The beat hit me and brought back thoughts of an old “Chopped and Screwed” beat that I had heard back in middle school. But, no. There was more to it.
I pushed my foot down on the accelerator to merge onto the highway, and as I did, the chorus hit. It had punches from a heavy bass, accents from a full orchestra and a simple chorus that resembled more of chant. I just couldn’t understand. Is this the song of a recovering alcoholic? Who is this rapper? Why is this small-time rhymer putting out his main single condemning alcohol, while many of his peers are acting like salesmen pushing their own bottles of Ciroc, Sizzurp and Conjure?
Kendrick Lamar grew up in Compton, Calif. As a boy out of Compton, he had it tough, but he blew up young as a rapper and gained more recognition as he matured. At the age of 16, he released his first mixtape, and by 20, he was on tour with fellow Compton rapper, Game. But if you were to cast him into the same category of rapper as Game, you would be sorely mistaken. Many of Game’s rhymes are centered around the history of his involvement in the drug game, garnished with the bloodshed of Crips and Bloods on the streets of Compton. As one listens to Lamar’s rhymes, you can find some of these same topics. However, Lamar speaks about the emotional and physical destruction that is left in the wake of the often idealized “Thug Life.”
The album opens in a very unorthodox manner, with a young Kendrick and his friends repenting for their sins over the mic. But what did they do? Why are they pleading for forgiveness? It draws you in just like the hook to a great story. As one sits there and listens to the “outerspace” beat that follows, you can’t help but be drawn into the deep lyrics that Lamar offers. In “Sherane a.k.a Master Splinter’s Daughter,” Lamar speaks of a girl that he yearns for the way that a young boy does after his first lustful experience. But there’s more to it than the superficial wishes of a lustful boy. As the album continues on, the pieces come together and reveal a more complex narrative. Lamar tells a story that you can’t stop listening to, just like that great novel you can’t put down.
One of the most distinct choices that Lamar makes with his album is found in the way he provides interludes between each of his songs. At the end of each track, the beats stop, and he fills this absence with the dialogues of people from his childhood. Whether it is the voices of Lamar’s parents leaving him frantic voicemails, or a group of gang members questioning what he’s doing on their block, the rapper never lets you stray too far from his narrative. It’s absolutely beautiful and is what helps to qualify this album as a “work of art.”
The way that much of contemporary rap is plagued with “DJ Khaled & Maybach Music” type superstar mash-ups, good kid, m.A.A.d city brings me back to the storytelling that I fell in love with when I first started listening to rap. However, when he does choose to feature other artists on his songs, Lamar does so with great class and taste. Toronto-born rapper Drake is featured on the sensual and smooth sounding track “Poetic Justice.” While this song is a complete change from the rest of his album, stylistically speaking, Lamar doesn’t let you forget the story he is weaving, by cutting the beat with 40 seconds left throwing you straight back into the raw world that is Compton.
The beats on this album are hypnotizing. The lyrics on this album are deep. But above all, what makes this album great is how raw the story is. It spans the topics of crime, drugs, love and, most importantly, the “new faith of Kendrick Lamar.” 9.5/10