Review: Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city
Published on November 20th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
There’s been a lot of love flying about lately for this, the second album from Compton-raised rapper Kendrick Lamar, and we’re afraid we can only add to the plaudits. good kid, m.A.A.d city tells a life story in the way only a great hip-hop LP can, but this would be relatively meaningless were it shorn of Lamar’s spiky, unorthodox flows, frequently poetic rhymes, and a set of strutting, nocturnal beats propping up luxuriously jazzy hooks, leering snatches of G-funk and some rather ghostly samples. Basically, if Outkast carried more emotional baggage, one of their first three albums might’ve sounded like this.
Rocksucker for one is reminded of two stellar hip-hop releases from this very summer: MA_Doom: Son of Yvonne by Masta Ace & MF Doom, and Life is Good by Nas. In combining the family aspect of the former and the raw, enlightened honesty of the latter, good kid, m.A.A.d city manages to outstrip them both, not least because Lamar boasts character and technique in spades. “It’s deep-rooted, the music from being young and dumb / It’s never muted, in fact it’s much louder where I’m from” we’re told on opener “Sherane a.k.a. Master Splinter’s Daughter”, and this sets the tone for a quite startling set of lyrics that, in amongst the narrative, sees Lamar seemingly explore every facet of everything he’s ever felt.
Both “Sherane…” and the immediately ensuing “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” juxtapose religion (“Thank you Lord Jesus for saving me with your precious blood” and “I’m a sinner who’s probably going to sin again/ Lord, forgive me”) with sex (“I strictly had wanted her thighs around me / 17, with nothing but pussy stuck on my mental / My motive was rather sinful” and “I’ll take your girlfriend and put that pussy on a pedestal”), representing through respective associations the tug of war between family and the ‘hood lifestyle that turns Lamar’s mind round and round, over and over across the course of the album. It may not go out of its way to tug at the heartstrings, but the pronounced overriding feeling of our protagonist lying awake in the wee small hours, casting aspersions and drawing conclusions, is surprisingly moving nevertheless.
Even when the music itself is at its most frivolous, as on “Backseat Freestyle”, we get little alarm calls like “All my life I want money and power/ Respect my mind or die from lead shower” snuck in alongside an expressed desire for his member to match the scale of the Eiffel Tower in order that he may “fuck the world for 72 hours”. Meanwhile, “The Art of Peer Pressure”sounds like “Murder is the Case That They Gave Me” as gritty TV drama, as opposed to Snoop Dogg’s cartoon gangsta profile; here Lamar professes to being “a sober soul” and “a peacemaker”, but he’s “with the homies now”. There is also mention of karma, which incidentally would fit snugly into an anagram of his name.
Partial title tracks “Good Kid” and “m.A.A.d city” both deal eloquently with the harsh realities of the street culture he grew up with, yet rather than celebrate it are laced with the hope that things will change, before “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” form another alliance over the former’s dark, filmic, brilliantly addled soundtrack, and the latter’s stunning 12 minutes’ worth of deliciously lounging jazziness and lush strings. The water in question would appear to be that of the holy variety, but you needn’t be a Christian to appreciate such verses as “Sometimes I look in a mirror and ask myself / Am I really scared of passing away / If it’s today I hope I hear a / Cry out from heaven so loud it can water down a demon / With the holy ghost till it drown in the blood of Jesus / I wrote some raps that make sure that my lifeline / Rake in the scent of a reaper, ensuring that my allegiance / With the other side may come soon / And if I’m doomed, may the wound / Help my mother be blessed for many moons”.
50 Cent this ain’t.
Curtain-closer “Compton” featuring Dr Dre effectively rolls the credits up on what’s been one hell of a film, Just Blaze’s blaring, streetwise production reminding of “Nutmeg” from Ghostface Killah’s classic Supreme Clientele LP, the self-referencing lyrics providing a recap of the upbringing that shaped all we’ve heard before. “Mum I’m-a use the van real quick, be back in fifteen minutes” says a young Lamar, and then it’s all over; one suspects he was longer than fifteen minutes, and with an album this strong under his belt his time in the limelight appears destined to follow suit.
Before then, we hear mother Lamar say: “If I don’t hear from you by tomorrow, I hope you come back and learn from your mistakes. Come back a man… Tell your story to these black and brown kids in Compton… When you do make it, give back with your words of encouragement. And that’s the best way to give back to your city. And I love you, Kendrick.” We dare say Kendrick’s done her proud.
Rocksucker says: Four and a Half Quails out of Five!
good kid, m.A.A.d city is out now on Polydor. For more information, please visit www.kendricklamar.com