New Releases 10.26.2012

by Ryo Miyauchi

Courtesy Rate Your Music

9 / 10

Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City by Kendrick Lamar

Genre: Hip Hop

Kendrick Lamar’s major label debut good kid m.A.A.d. city starts with a film roll of people gathered for a prayer. It’s similar to his indie breakthrough Section.80’s storytelling intro gathered around a fire in “Fuck Your Ethnicity.” But whereas Section.80 had Lamar telling separate tales about his corrupt ‘80s generation, m.A.A.d city is a full linear feature in a more first-person perspective from the rapper as Kendrick Lamar: The 17-year old Compton teen. The presentation may seem limited in point-of-view, but it’s through this scope Kendrick Lamar masterfully succeeds at discussing many broad, heavy issues. The rapper’s scholarly retrospection delivered with his superb technique makes good kid m.A.A.d city an incredible record.

The story of 17-year old Kendrick Lamar begins with his lustful obsession with a girl named Sherane. Dying of sexual frustration, Lamar borrows his mom’s van and from there, events spiral down into a grim sequence. Throughout his mischief, Lamar doesn’t waste a single detail. Every step of “The Art of Peer Pressure” is an adrenaline rush story-telling with vivid imagery. From his scorching hunger, panicked break-in (Nintendos, DVDs, plasma-screen TVs) and the heart-pumping car chase, the details brings everything to life as a first-hand experience. And when paranoia surrounds him in “good kid,” the fear of being a victim of gang violence through Kendrick Lamar is hair-raising. That fear kicks in full gear as he takes an accidental hit of cocaine-laced weed in “m.A.A.d city.” Kendrick Lamar’s changed voice delivers a panicked wail, racing to return to an ordinary conscience. Pedestrians soon turn into devils and through Lamar, you can’t help but to look over your shoulder.

Paranoia of the ghetto is only a part of the things we experience from good kid m.A.A.d. city from Lamar’s rapping. Kendrick Lamar goes through heavy issues in experienced in his Compton lifestyle. Lust, peer pressure, blood money, and identity crisis to name a few. Of course, Lamar doesn’t hit these issues directly. Instead the themes are invisible forces driving the carefully crafted sequence of events in the night meeting up with Sherane. “Money Tree” has the rapper discussing the cruel hunger for money. The desperate, blood-thirsty means of acquiring simple cash is sang poetically. The liquid single “Swimming Pools (Drank)” deeply taps into alcohol temptation and abuse, not just the drink intake but the sources of the glass. The pressuring chorus of “Swimming Pools” sound delivered from the devil, offering a shot to ease the pain, and Kendrick Lamar’s other role of his inner consciousness is superb.

These important themes run through a technician’s rap as a linear narrative. Tracks inside good kid m.A.A.d city descends into a downward spiral where mischievous attempts for sex, money and excitement gets shadowed into the dark realities of the ghetto. The sequence is run well calculated, giving the following songs more significant and understandable value. Added with various voicemails and dialogues to help guide the scene along, the story becomes very engaging. The existence of “Swimming Pool (Drank)” in its spot plays a great part, placed after Lamar’s friend giving him alcohol for comfort after a panic from the heist in “The Art of Peer Pressure” and the drug mishap in “m.A.A.d. city.” It’s even possible to deduce his cocaine-laced weed was from the blunt he nonchalantly lit in “The Art of Peer Pressure.” Taking these songs out of their sequence do not ruin their quality however. Each of them stands individually as a solid track.

The sequence also help as a guide to understand the growth of Kendrick Lamar from his tribulations. good kid m.A.A.d. city overall should be classified as a golden coming-of-age if it ever made it into the big screen. And the lessons of the ghetto are the true beauties inside the rapper’s major debut. The struggle of being raised in a corrupt environment that breeds misguided children is the driving force of this debut. Even if you never lived in such an environment, the vivid details and heart-stopping stories bring the bleak reality to life. “Swimming Pools (Drank)” can be marked as the beginning of Kendrick Lamar realizing the misguidance him and his peers has been raised by. But he checks in a bit too late as his friend’s brother is gunned down towards the end, leading to the ode to death and struggle  “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.” Kendrick Lamar flips through a perspective of both sexes and the dark life they end up leading in the ghetto. While the male struggle to survive through proving their power through violence, the woman try to prove their independence from the need to sell their bodies. Neither of them get out alive and well, echoing a harsh truth inside the ghetto.

As the story heads to the end, second half “I’m Dying Thirst” ends in the same prayer that began good kid, m.A.A.d. city. What seemed like a warm, family congregation now feel dark and painful. But this marks the resurrection as a better man through prayer in the following song “Real.” The rapper gathers his lessons from his mistakes while looking at himself in the mirror. His parents who’ve repeatedly left voicemails ends “Real” with the deepest sentiment. Their message of “real as responsibility” resonates the importance of good kid m.A.A.d. city as a Hip Hop record that doesn’t succumb to its violent narcissism but channels the bloodshed as a powerful work of a million lessons. The debut ends in a happy note as the epilogue “Compton” finds Kendrick Lamar crowned as Hip Hop king, reborn as a changed rapper along with Compton legend and hero Dr. Dre. Not quite a rag-to-riches story, but good kid m.A.A.d. city echoes just as powerful. In a harsh climate of Hip Hop, Kendrick Lamar proves how artfully and creative a rapper can craft an impacting major debut.