To say that Kendrick Lamar’s major label debut, “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City,” was highly anticipated would be like saying that Charlie Sheen has a slight issue with moderation. Fans of hip-hop have been waiting on it like paparazzi waiting for the first picture of Brangelina’s most recently adopted African child.
Ever since he was first co-signed by Dr. Dre, Kendrick has been labeled as the MC of the future by rap aficionados. Unfortunately though, all of this attention comes at a price. Too often it seems we are fooled by hype, sucked into the buzz surrounding something, only to be vastly disappointed by the ensuing results (We’re looking at you, Facebook IPO). Luckily for listeners, “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City” does not fall into this category. In fact, it might even go above and beyond the hype.
This album, in its entirety, has the opportunity to become a debut so powerful that it changes the course of hip-hop a la “The College Dropout” of 2004. It could be one of the most transcendent rap albums of the past 20 years. It’s that good.
The first track, “Sherane a.k.a Master Splinter’s Daughter,” starts the album off in a conversational yet introspective tone with twists of spirituality and sexuality playing off each other. “Lord God/I come to You as a sinner/And I humbly repent for my sins,” says the hymnal-like church chanting that starts off the track before Kendrick opens the album mid-sentence. He talks about Sherane saying, “I met her at this house party on El Segundo and Central she had the credentials of strippers in Atlanta/Ass came with a hump from the jump she was a camel /I want to ride like Arabians.” The song ends with a voicemail recording from Kendrick’s parents with his mother begging him to come home and go to school and his father harassing him over a set of lost domino tiles.
The track functions as a microcosm of the album, with Kendrick starting off the narrative of just another day in Compton while juxtaposing spirituality with reality. This is what is so unique and so beautiful about Kendrick; he is able to intertwine both gospel chanting and horny teenage ramblings so deftly and fluidly. He is the rarest of rappers: the introspective and lyrically innate rapper from the hood who is able to talk about the struggles of coming up in Compton without sounding too preachy or ignorant.
The entire album flows beautifully through both skits and songs, as Kendrick paints a vivid portrait of a day in the life of a kid growing up in Los Angeles. Kendrick showcases his verbal skills in “Backseat Freestyle” and “Poetic Justice,” the only truly uplifting song of the entire album which benefits from a compelling partnership with Drake.
But where he really excels is in his storytelling abilities, as showcased in “The Art of Peer Pressure,” where he juxtaposes the reality of growing up in a violent area with the internal monologue of a thinking man saying, “We seen three ni**as in colors we didn’t like then started interrogating/I never was a gangbanger, I mean I was never stranger to the funk neither/I really doubt it /Rush a ni**a quick and then we laugh about it/That’s ironic ’cause I’ve never been violent, until I’m with the homies.”
The album continues to flow with bangers like “Swimming Pools (Drank)” while retaining it’s intense lyricism with songs like “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst,” before coming to an intense climax with “Compton,” a collaboration with his mentor Dr. Dre that features blaring horns and over-the-top production. As the album ends, there is no doubt in a listener’s mind that this album is a classic and Kendrick is the future of hip-hop.