AOTW Review :: Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid, m.A.A.d City
November 15th 2012
Oftentimes it’s rewarding to be ignorant of hype and listen to an album with zero expectations. However, this is an almost unachievable goal in a world where listeners are constantly flooded with opinions on new music. You can imagine the hype machine’s flurry of activity as word spread of rising rapper Kendrick Lamar’s record – ‘Good Kid, m.A.A.d City’ – including high-profile production and superstar guest verses, on top of Dre’s involvement in the project.
As easy as you might think it would be to check facts on a database as extensive as the internet, people can take Pitchfork reviews for gospel and create mini cyclones of ‘purple monkey dishwasher’ scenarios which spread interpretations as fact. To circumvent at least one of these misconceptions, Lamar makes the album’s intentions clear by printing “a short film by Kendrick Lamar” on the cover. It might seem to make the album a little too obvious, but it truly allows the listener to enjoy the album as it was intended by the artist, despite all the hype.
Listening to the album, it’s clear that Lamar’s intention was to tell a chronological story: one that is constantly intriguing and thoughtfully pieced together. With the listener cast as Lamar’s shadow in this ‘film’, the first track conjures up images of a seventeen year old Kendrick who encounters his first real taste of the danger that many of the following years would be filled with. That danger comes from a girl he meets at a house party (as always, right?!). He says of her: “family history of gangbanging did make me sceptical, but not enough” as he starts to fall into the trap. The end of the track leaves the ominous image of our protagonist driving the final couple of blocks to the girl’s house and seeing her waiting for him, only to be confronted with “two niggas two black hoodies, I froze as my phone rang”. Then we’re left listening to a long voicemail message from Lamar’s parents, voicing their concerns about the crowd he’s getting involved with, and asking for him to return their car. The end of the tale is left up to the imagination, before a new one begins.
The album jumps around between stories like this, outlining the overarching curve of the man’s life so far, as well as dropping the listener directly into tiny moments of Kendrick’s youth – such as rapping over a beat tape with his boys in his fledgling years. From his rap career to alcohol problems and issues with gang culture, it’s quite a journey.
The actual rapping is full of character. The man switches between different voices and characters on a whim, much like Nicki Minaj did in her stunning verse from Kanye West’s ‘Monster’. However unlike Minaj, Lamar delivers a huge record at the right time, that displays both his technical skill and artistic relevancy, rather than just coating everything in easily-digestible sweetness. Kendrick has a dream, and he knows how to pursue it.