Illmatic. Ready to die. Reasonable Doubt.
No, good kid, m.A.A.d. city is neither one of these albums, but Kendrick Lamar used his major label debut to tell his story in a similar fashion.
While his previous release Section.80 was socially conscious, it was mostly on a macro scale. Good Kid, m.a.a.d. City puts a magnifying glass over Compton, and specifically a 17-year-old Kendrick Lamar Duckworth.
As the cover says, good kid, m.A.A.d. city is truly an audio biopic. It’s a coming of age tale of a teenager who is truly good at heart but must fight off external influences. What makes this album work, besides his great story telling, is texture. Yes, texture. Just like any great movie, a great score is needed to carry the story along. Great thought was put into hand picking instrumentals and sequencing them in a way to make a sonically sound project.
For example, the album opens with “Sherane AKA Master Splinter’s Daughter”, which features a very dark instrumental. This helps paint the picture of Kendrick driving down Rosecrans Avenue i search of Sherane, his current love interest.
As Kendrick tells his story, the major theme unfolds fantasy vs. reality . In “Backseat Freestyle”, Kendrick is arrogantly rapping in the backseat of his friends’ car, possibly to escape the reality of what lies ahead-“The Art of Peer Pressure”. After the robbery in the song before, he snaps back into the fantasy realm with “Money Trees”. Surely his heist didn’t produce the wealth he speaks of in the previous song, but this song explains why he did it. “Poetic Justice” is an almost foolish love (lust) song about his main interest Sherane, but judging from the title of the first track, he doesn’t think too highly of her now (Master Splinter’s Daughter = Hoodrat).
Kendrick departs from his personal anecdotes to describe Compton as he sees it. “Good Kid” and “maad city” contrasts each other but are important to the story. “Good Kid” is Compton as he sees it and “maad city” what Compton will make him if he allows it. Kendrick is often criticized for his inflection when he raps, but it is used well on “maad city”. His high pitch voice on this shows youth and once again texture to his content. On “Sing About Me” he actually talks about how his songs affect those around him. This song connects to “Dying of Thirst”, where he seeks salvation for the sins he previously commited. Although the themes previosly mention includes lots of different issues, it never becomes too heavy for the listener.
Enough of singing this album’s praises, let’s talk the negatives. Like past Kendrick albums/mixtapes, the hooks aren’t the best. Anna Wise is sure to get on your nerves singing “I’m real, I’m real, I’m really really real” but you won’t even care by the end of the song because of the message. “Backseat Freestyle” will get REALLY annoying towards the end, but this song still fits well into the album’s context. Another weak point is the production. If banging beats are your prequisite for an album, then this one won’t blow you away. But once again, texture applies. The production on this album fits well sonically, even though there’s few amazing instrumentals here. As you can tell, any real negative criticism of this album is just nitpicking.
Final Grade: 4.75-5
Even though this album is great in every way possible, it’s still far too early to call it a classic. If this album can stand the test of time then it deserves to be in that conversation. For now, we can just admire the effort that Kendrick and crew put into this great project. There’s no filler here. Each song is significant. Each verse serves a purpose. Every word matters. Kendrick skillfully resurrects the lost art of storytelling to give you his biography. It’s personal…sometimes even too personal, but it is truly appreciated. As his mother states at the end of “Real”, this album is truly an inspiration to anyone who has ever had to overcome hardships. This album is a phenomenal beginning to the legacy of Kendrick Lamar.