Now in 2015 it’ll be hard for anyone with any connection to popular culture or a Twitter account to not know who Kendrick Lamar is. After surprise dropping one of the best rap albums in years, Lamar has rocketed to world wide fame, despite being a prolific rapper since the early noughties. Back in 2012 Lamar released his first official studio album good kid, m.A.A.d city after catching the attention of producer Dr Dre who has since named Lamar the “New King of Rap” a moniker Lamar proudly and rightly so, touts himself. The album takes on a narrative cycle of a night that took place in Kendrick’s youth and we learn what happened through a clever use of “voice mails” from his mother, father and friends that link all the songs throughout.
Lamar skillfully uses his intriguing flow and narrative metaphor laced lyrics to paint a picture of a young man influenced by the opinions of his “homies”. After smoking a Joint with ‘the shenanigans’ in (Angel Dust) Lamar rides around his neighborhood in ‘The Art of Peer Pressure’ where they flirt with girls and rob houses barely dodging the police. The song’s hazy thumping beats capture the feelings of uncertainty and a drug addled perspective before we quickly jump into the exciting ‘Money Trees’ where Lamar is joined by fellow TDE rapper Jay Rock as they spit “Money Trees is the perfect place for shade and that’s just how I feel”. There is conflict in Lamar’s songs as we hear him enjoying the “gang banging” lifestyle him and his friends are used to: making money and smoking up with the girls from the hood.
But as the album progresses to its midway point Lamar takes us into his own deep introspective thoughts. Poetic Justice featuring Drake is a soulful yet mourning love song and ‘Swimming Pools’ whilst sounding like a slightly “pop-y” Lamar song, delves into the issues of using alcohol as means to solve your problems and the devastating effect it can have on peoples mind, body and soul. This is when the album makes its most significant change as we hear one of Kendrick’s friends shot and killed after they chase down the gang members who beat on Kendrick earlier in the album. The song ‘Sing about me/ Dying of Thirst’ is quite simply one of the most innovative rap songs ever created. Kendrick begins rapping from the perspective of a prostitute who’s sister Kendrick wrote about on his previous record ‘Keisha’s Song’, who was murdered in Kendrick’s neighborhood. She expresses distaste for Kendrick’s apparent demonetization of her sister in the song “How could you ever just put her on blast and shit, judging her past and shit” as she states “And if you have an album date make sure I’m not in the song, I don’t need the attention, got enough of that on my own”. He then shifts to his own perspective apologizing to this woman stating that he was inspired by her life and death which motivated him to “spit something that’s realer than the TV screen” and left him wondering “Am I worth it? Did I put enough work in?”. The song then blends back into one of the voice mails as Kendrick’s friends argue about how to deal with their friend being killed when one of them emotionally begins shouting “I’m fucking tired of this shit! Im tired of running, they killed my brother homie” as Kendrick comes back with the powerful ‘Dying of Thirst’ as he tries to make sense of the violence so prevalent in his community. “How many sins? I’ve lost count” “My best days are stress, say fuck the world,” As Lamar laments over the mindset of his brothers we go back to the voice mail of the distraught friend as an elderly woman’s voice says “Talk to me, is that what I think that is? Why are you so angry? See you young men are dying of thirst. Do you know what that means? You need water, Holy water to be baptized in the spirit of the lord.” As she leads the young angry men in a prayer Lamar perfectly captures the feeling of the whole album. Anger is a cancer and love for yourself and your brothers is the only way forward.
After receiving universal acclaim for To Pimp a Butterfly, with some critics even calling it a master piece hopefully now people will discover Kendrick Lamar’s incredible debut album. With good kid m.A.A.d city Lamar already began crafting his incredible talent for telling relevant powerful stories about life, love, society and racism and this album definitely deserves your time.
good kid, m.A.A.d city was released in 2012 via Interscope/TDE/Aftermath records.