Album of the Week: ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’
The album I’ve chosen to review this week is by an artist who has been regarded as one of the most influential musicians of all time: Kendrick Lamar. While Lamar had released an album a year prior, it was the 2012 release of ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ that shot him into the spotlight, solidifying his status as a hip hop icon. This album also marked Lamar’s first release with a major major label, since his debut album had been an independent release. What makes the fact that the album was his first major label release even more interesting is that the tracks are laden with verses from some of hip-hop’s biggest names.
Throughout the 12-track run of ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city,’ listeners are taken on a journey through the mind of Kendrick Lamar as he comes of age. Even in the album’s singles, the lyrics remain powerful and true to Kendrick and his image as an artist. Songs like ‘Compton’ and the two title tracks (‘Good Kid’ and ‘M.A.A.D City’) are standouts in their storytelling tactics. ‘Compton’ is an ode to the rough streets of Compton, CA, which features fellow Compton native, and rap legend, Dr. Dre. Lamar and Dr. Dre lament about the ways in which the streets shaped them and built them into the artists they are today. It is enchanting to hear these two men with similar stories able to convey these things through such different styles of rap. Even through their differences in their flow, it is easy to notice that Lamar has undoubtedly been influenced by Dr. Dre.
We cannot forget that ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ also gave the world some of Kendrick Lamar’s greatest hits. This is the record that blessed us with tracks like, ‘Poetic Justice,’ ‘Swimming Pools (Drank),’ ‘Money Trees,’ and ‘Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe.’ No hip-hop album would be complete without the integration of a sample from a previously released song; Lamar manages to sneak a clever sample of Janet Jackson’s ‘Any Time, Any Place’ into ‘Poetic Justice.’ Although not explicitly stated, this is undoubtedly a concept album. ‘Money Trees’ adheres very well to the storyline of the album, as Lamar uses the song to reflect on the state of his hometown, as well as to reference his love interest from a prior song, and the death of his uncle.
Lyrically, I am most moved by ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ and ‘Money Trees.’ Both of these tracks cover dark themes relating to family members of Lamar and the ways in which things like alcoholism, gun violence, and gambling contribute to the dysfunctionality of the family as a unit. When listening to the album in its entirety, listeners can pick up on common themes and conversations in the intros and outros of the songs which contribute to the overall storyline of the album. These intros and outros are presented in the form of brief telephone calls, and are used to convey the everyday conversations of the people that helped create the Kendrick Lamar we know today.
Choosing a favorite song on ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ was a challenge, but I think I have to give that title to ‘Backseat Freestyle.’ This track, featuring MC Eiht, is a lot more hardcore than the rest of the album, which makes it stand out, but only in the best way. This song hints at the style that Lamar would eventually begin to favor in his album ‘To Pimp A Butterfly,’ which was released three years after ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city.’ The chorus of ‘Backseat Freestyle’ is infectious! The alignment of the syllables Lamar speaks and the downbeats is beautiful, and creates an alluring piece of cohesive rap music. It is fun to dance to, to listen to while studying, and even to sing in the shower. ‘Backseat Freestyle’ takes everything that I seek in modern rap and amplifies it by 10.
Wholistically, I would give ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ a rating of five stars out of five. Every song contributes to the storyline of the album, every guest rapper fits seamlessly into the songs on which they are featured, and Lamar puts his soul into each and every word. There is not a song on this album that I find myself skipping when I listen to it.