Today's throwback review see's us look at Kendrick Lamar's 2012 modern classic 'good kid, m.A.A.d city'. Kendrick's major label debut was highly anticipated after the previous 'Section.80' becoming a critically acclaimed project. This album stole the year 2012 in hip hop and made Kendrick a household name within the genre - but just how good is this album?
The production on here is incredible, it has that classic west coast vibe with more modern elements, such as on 'Compton' as Kendrick reflects on how far he’s coming following the narrative of this album, gives thanks to those (including Dr. Dre) who made rap what it was and gives props to the city that made him who he is. He provides some great punchlines and confidence to his lyrics, "Where you sword at, hand on the cross and swore that // I do it big as Rasputia for them shooters // Kama Sutra scream fuck your position and make you hold that", as Dre provides some hard braggadocio, "I crash the Porsche then you report that you see me in Benzes", and this is one of the most underrated Kendrick songs, it isn’t the most technical but it sounds so good, Dre and Kendrick going back and forth is incredible, it’s catchy and it wraps everything up perfectly. The production is used to great effect, whether that's to reflect moods or even foreshadow what's about to come, as on 'Swimming Pools (Drank)' as the woozy beat with heavy drums gives it a very eerie and unsettling mood to reflect the content and suggest which direction this songs going as Kendrick reinforces the theme of peer pressure as it leads on from the previous skit – Kendrick is drinking an excessive amount of alcohol at this party and looking for sex etc. but somebody is always telling him he isn’t partying enough – and this excessive alcoholism is damaging his health but he keeps drinking more due to peer pressure. He sets the scene well with vivid imagery but it's not the most lyrically dense on here, although that’s fine as the track has a mainstream sound attached to it. The skit at the end is the turning point in the album where he realises his actions have consequences as now his friend is dead as they seek revenge on those boys who jumped Kendrick (touched on more in the next song). It has this infectious hook and the whole song is a banger disguised as a drinking song with a deeper message – it’s one of my favourite Kendrick songs and the first song I heard from him (GTA5 fans will know). The album version has an extra verse where Kendrick just snaps with a great flow over this altered atmospheric beat which signals he’s drunk at this point, as he starts to realise the damage drinking is doing to him. It's produced immaculately and the production helps push the narrative along so it's pretty incredible. 'Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe' has these guitar strings which partner with that bass and it sounds amazing as a chilled but party type beat, as the song talks on his distaste for the rap game at the minute and people who strive for radio success as he wants to be successful while staying true to himself (the only song to not keep the content moving). Kendrick's lyrics are so poetic in the way it's worded with great bars, "Tell me your purpose is petty again // But even a small lighter can burn a bridge // Even a small lighter can burn a bridge". It's a mainstream song disguised as such to get a point across, it does its job perfectly and it's just so incredibly replayable.
Kendrick's biggest attraction is his incredible storytelling, as shown on the centerpiece of this album, 'Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst' as Kendrick provides powerful verses over this stripped back guitar with a quick drum pattern over it – allowing Kendrick to do his thing as the second part has these haunting vocal samples come in on this minimalist beat with drums creating a morbid atmosphere of hopelessness (reflecting the theme of this part of the song). The song talks from different perspectives, with Dave telling his story post his brothers death and thanking Kendrick for his support, until he’s shot dead, then in verse 2 Keisha (from 'Section.80') is calling Kendrick out for putting her sister’s lifestyle of prostitution out there without understanding it before fading away into the same lifestyle. Verse 3 talks on his thoughts of death and the reason he raps, hoping that one day he’ll be remembered for it and people will sing about him. The overall message is for Kendrick to put these peoples experiences in his music, so people know the truths of a place like Compton and what people do to just get by. The second half talks on dying of thirst for holy water and needing Jesus in his life as he talks on the constant cycle and evils of the hood. This is a powerful, emotional piece of music, the best song on here and it just has you so engrossed and makes you feel something, that hook as well is a reminder of all Kendrick has been talking about and while so simple is packed with such realisation and emotion. The first part is much better than the second but the second half still enjoyable as this is an amazing song. He also provides some great bars or punchlines throughout as well, as on 'Sherane a.k.a Master Splinter's Daughter', "I had a fifth in the trunk like Curtis Jackson for ransom", as the first song tells us a story of meeting a girl called Sherane at a party, they get talking and eventually Kendrick drives to her house to meet for sex until 2 guys in black hoodies are waiting for him as he pulls up. The mysterious, eerie atmosphere builds suspense throughout which is a reoccurring part of the album. It's a great start, it sets the tone well for what’s to come and finishes on a cliff hanger which just entices you to go further into the project. He has such a poetic way of wording things and his style is very reminiscent of a young Nas in my opinion, as on 'Poetic Justice', "If I told you that a flower bloomed in a dark room // Would you trust it?", which is another love song dedicated to Sherane as he talks on his desires with her and the true meaning of love over this seductive, slow drum pattern with great female vocal samples to give us an amazing beat. Drake's verse is perfect with very descriptive lines as he talks on his ex and how she'll realise she wants him back and wants the lifestyle that comes with it back, he fits the vibe perfectly, sliding over the beat with great charisma and personality as he really adds to this song. It's a banger on here, really catchy and smooth sounding while adding to the concept thematically. He has a very good, smooth, effortless flow which is versatile as well, but a unique tool of his is his delivery as K-Dot uses his voice carefully like most elements on here, using it to portray moods, time periods, feelings etc. as he uses it to brings the story to life.
The features on here are all amazing, as some of them provide the best verses of 2012 and even outdo Kendrick on his own song, such as Jay Rock on 'Money Trees' as he compares the reality of his life to his dreams, saying a lot with a little with some great bars, "Broken promises, steal your watch // And tell you what time it is", and an amazing flow as he just spits his ass off on this verse and steals the show. Kendrick was still amazing as he wraps the story up so far talking about his robbery, freestyling in the car and Sherane, as well as talking about how money is the root of evil (especially in the hood) and what people might do to attain money. The really light, daydreaming beat with heavy drums sounds amazing as well as a really catchy hook, solid verses, great vocals from Anna Wise and an amazing feature – an iconic song and one of the best on this classic album. Some don't do as well, but even so stand out and add to the track, such as Anna Wise on 'Real', a track which see's Kendrick provide poetic lyricism that we’ve seen all through this album as he uses this song to really sum everything up. He’s escaped the mad city mindset and become more real – and instead of filling the void with materialistic items he’s learnt to love himself – he even loves Sherane and his homeboys despite the fact they held him back – but becoming real means despite that love he won’t succumb to peer pressure anymore as he’s realised who he truly is and wants to follow his dream. The deep bass, lowkey beat with a West Coast feel to it is solid enough but this hook is annoying yet catchy, so it kind of evens out, but overall this is probably the weakest song on here due to the delivery being a bit meh but still the verses contribute to the theme of the song. The skits are engaging and it’s a good song that’s definitely enjoyable just quite flawed and not as gripping as other songs. Kendrick carefully selected his features to make sure they don't damage the narrative and help it along. 'm.A.A.d city' see's MC Eiht tell us his situation growing up in the hood with detailed bars and imagery and a great, classic West Coast flow and aura as Kendrick provides amazing storytelling, vivid imagery and impeccable metaphors and poetry to describe his situation. The first half of the song has these fast paced piano keys which suggest panic as the verse depicts a banging turn up beat as part 2's low bass is a different style but same feeling of panic in the beat with great violins as he paints an image of all the gang violence that goes on in Compton then talks about the mad city using his own stories, contrasting how hard it is to be a good kid surrounded by all the violence of this city - before he gives into his vices (and that’s the key to the album). The whole songs a banger and he paints an image perfectly, he really uses his voice to get across his feelings about the events he’s describing and this is a perfect example of this key skill of his.
This album is a concept album, and Kendrick describes his life in a movie like manor taking you through his life surrounded by temptation, crime and gangs - despite being a good kid in the mad city of Compton, as shown on 'good kid' as he explains how he’s just a good kid in a mad city on this song, talking about being attacked by gangs as they think he’s part of their rival but he’s stuck in the middle, and how police attack him as they just assume he’s in a gang because he’s black. He is looking for change and trying to persevere but is struggling with all the violence surrounding him, he drops some great wordplay, metaphors and a great social commentary of what's going on around his environment over this beat with these haunting vocals with these glossy piano keys, good bass guitar and drums to contrast it as well as this brass synth line. Pharrell William's hook is nice and while not my favourite song sonically on the album, it's still a great song heavily layered with important content to this songs narrative. There are key themes found all throughout this as well such as peer pressure, appropriately featuring on the track 'The Art of Peer Pressure', as he tells a story of him and his mates beating people up as well as robbing a house, escaping the police and taking drugs/alcohol – all this happens to Kendrick due to peer pressure, he’s just doing what his friends tell him to do. The beat has this heavy synth bass, nice drum pattern and eerie atmosphere to really create the foreshadowing vibe as his storytelling is great - he really sets the scene and even describes his senses at the time. The story is gripping, his subdued delivery really reflects his thoughts of disappointment reflecting back on it and it’s another impeccable song. There's also the theme of realisation and finally love, lust and naivety are key themes here. The content is incredible and is so vivid, Kendrick has mastered the concept as he takes you on a story about troubled kid in Compton to rap phenomenon. 'Backseat Freestlyle' is an interesting song in the concept, as we go back to K Dot's youth, as he's in the car freestyling what most kids freestyle about - pussy, money and drugs. There's some funny lines and the dumb lyrics which reflect the theme over these booming drum kicks, rattling wind chimes and all around banging beat which fits the style of the song perfectly. This is the perfect turn up song, with a catchy hook, banging beat, great energy and it just fits the narrative so perfectly and uniquely.
To conclude, Kendrick masters this album, everything from the production to features to the concept is absolutely perfect here. The music is also just so good which is an added bonus and there’s a mix of dark tales to party turn up songs to enjoy. There’s a few moments not as good as the others, but even so they aren’t bad and are enjoyable and overall this is a modern day classic and the birth of a star. He doesn’t just use the content to push the narrative, he uses whatever he can from the production to the delivery and honestly it’s just so smart and executed perfectly and I still don’t think Kendrick has topped this masterpiece, but I can tell you he’s come pretty close. The most important part of this album is the skits, which go full circle as it ends with Kendrick using his mums van and starts with Kendrick's mum asking for the van back. The skits help push the main narrative, Kendrick meets with Sherane for sex before being jumped by 2 men, his boys go out for revenge and Dave’s brother is killed in the process before they pray with a woman while looking for revenge and Kendrick realises the person he wants to be. Most importantly, the skits aren’t a burden, they’re entertaining and like a movie in your head.
FAVOURITE TRACKS: Sherane a.k.a Master Splinter’s Daughter, Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe, Backseat Freestyle, The Art of Peer Pressure, Money Trees, Poetic Justice, m.A.A.d city, Swimming Pools (Drank), Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst
LEAST FAVOURITE TRACK: Real
OVERALL RATING: Solid 10/10