good kid, m.A.A.d city
[Top Dawg / Aftermath / Interscope, 2012]
Jack McGrew, November 6, 2012
Listen: “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”
I was 12 when The College Dropout came out. It was one of the first things I bought with my own money. I remember pretty aggressively not being able to identify with a bunch of things Kanye was rapping about at the time. I wasn’t really poor (yet) and I wasn’t really stressed (yet). That wasn’t what instantly grabbed me; it was the pure thirst of Ye’s words. You can tell it was his everything. If ever you desire to hear what a real life human soul sounds like encapsulated in a 70-minute opus, College Dropout is the best possible example. Until now.
Everyone’s already saying that Kendrick Lamar is the 2012 version of 2004 Kanye. The critics have compared his latest effort good kid, m.A.A.d city to Nas’ Illmatic. Everyone’s saying he’s the new Tupac & the new Biggie somehow marvelously sewn together into a new translucent rapping deity, and he’s for sure not.
That’s not to say that Kendrick Lamar’s newest album isn’t a masterpiece. It’ll unanimously top end of the year lists, and rightfully so. The true debut album from Lamar has a flow that’s oft attempted but rarely done well in the modern hip-hop scope. He paints a picture with his lyrics as evidenced in “The Art of Peer Pressure,” “It’s 2:30 and the sun is beaming / Air conditioner broke and I hear my stomach screaming / Hungry for anything unhealthy and if nutrition can help me / I’ll tell you to suck my dick then I’ll continue eating.” In the way he can tell a story, Kendrick Lamar has similarities to some of the best of all time. But comparing him to Nas is unfair.
There is a distinct West Cost vibe of the album. There are high synths and 808s that kick teeth in. The bass starts approximately a minute into the album and barely stops to breathe. The sounds that Lamar brought together definitely have their roots in the West feel, but it doesn’t stop there. There’s haunting, airy piano lines. They’re manipulated vocal beats that call to mind Nosaj Thing. Lamar has taken his distinct blogosphere-adored sounds and combined it with the Compton sound to create this album. To say he is the next Tupac is shallow.
He’s telling a whole narrative that is painfully real. As anybody who has talked to you about this album has surely said, the 12 tracks play out like a story. Roughly translated Lamar borrows his moms and pops van to go do hoodrat things with his friends, and then encounters real hoodrats. It’s a story about Lamar feels about his hometown. On “Real” he hits “living in a world that come with Plan B / Cause Plan A only can make another mistake/ And you can’t see success coming from plan C.” There’s a Hemingway complexity in the simplicity of many of Lamar’s lines.
The way Lamar literally shifts his voice to double speed or triple speed lines while emoting different feelings is nothing short of revolutionary. You legitimately feel the terror as well as the cock-sureness as he says his part. A lot of the time he somehow manages to make you feel both.
Not to mention this album has goddamn skits.
I was 21 when good kid, m.A.A.d city came out. Once again, it wasn’t the situations I was relating to so much that it hurt. It was all the intangibles. It was the pain behind the voice, and the confident mask put on as a distraction. It was the overwhelming honesty on literally every line of the album. It is the sound of a kid who is accomplishing everything in the world, but it’s not even halfway to where he needs to be. It’s 2012 now and that thirst is back. It’s not Ye or Jay or Pac or Nas or Biggie. It’s Kendrick Lamar.
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