Ever since the release of his critically acclaimed mixtape/indie album Section.80 in 2011, Kendrick Lamar has been well on his way to being the next Hip Hop “It” artist to emerge from indie success to mainstream prominence. Pretty much the poster child for both the Black Hippy movement and for Top Dawg Entertainment, Lamar is leading a charge of artists that include Jay Rock and Ab Soul that are continuously making strong name brands steeped in intricate lyricism and sincere yet diversified wordplay in new millennium Hip Hop.
Even though he had already recorded and released material through T.D.E., Section.80 was his coming out party to heads across the country. Now, having been blessed as the next big thing in Hip Hop by everyone from Dr. Dre to BET, Lamar just released his proper album debut with Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City.
Kendrick Lamar is the personification of Hip Hop in the post-Hip Hop generation: not confined by generational, cultural or regional boundaries yet still maintaining a brazen arrogance and pride that can only be a product of Compton, and a flow style that combines a plethora of different kinds of Hip Hop music from the last 10-plus years. From the sprinklets of social consciousness peppered throughout his rhymes that pays homage to old school East and West coast artists like Public Enemy and N.W.A., to the rapid-fire linguistics that remind listeners of Midwest rap heroes like Twista and Bone Thugs and Harmony, to the screwed and chopped voice manipulations that are a clear ode to the South. Kendrick refuses to have himself of his music marginalized into a box, and that desire to break away from the mold is constantly on display throughout Good Kid… .
Undoubtedly one of the best tracks on the album has to be “M.A.A.D. City” featuring West Coast O.G. MC. Eiht. Kendrick’s jittery, quivering yet focused flow about a day in the life in the Cali streets paired with a beat that starts out simplistically enough, then rolls into a vintage low-rider banger that harkens back to the heyday the West’s sometimes forgotten heroes Spice 1, Mack 10 and Eiht himself, will be enough to get even the most staunch Kendrick Lamar hater to nod their head. Also effective is “The Art of Peer Pressure”, a standard romp-through-Compton adventure that quickly evolves into Kendrick detailing the elements of drugs, violence and theft that gets him engulfed in the street life, and how both sides of his guilty conscience try to pull him in conflicting directions as he struggles with both his own inner demons and the desire to impress his homies.
On Good Kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick does better than many of his peers at finding that ever-elusive balance between radio jams and introspective songs that are heavy on reality. The current radio favorite “Swimming Pools”, along with “Poetic Justice” featuring Drake and “The Recipe” with Dr. Dre, will all bring the emcee more casual fans that may not have been following his career progress until now, while “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” finds Kendrick contemplating the questionable choices he’s made and their impact on those around him, with his own brand of gut-wrenching self-deprecation and pity fully on display, and might just make believers out of those same casual fans.
Simultaneously, Kendrick pays more than enough homage to some of the West Coast’s most well-loved Hip Hop institutions, from sampling Janet Jackson on “Poetic Justice”, to the shades of 2Pac heard on “Sing About Me…”.
The greatest thing about Good Kid, m.A.A.d city is not only that it’s refreshingly cohesive and simultaneously multi-layered, but that it displays so many of the contradictions that Hip Hop too many times doesn’t want to admit that it has. True, other artists like Drake, Kid Cudi, J. Cole, Lupe Fiasco and others have been effective at doing this as well, but many times they seem to revel in them. Kendrick realizes and embraces those contradictions, but he doesn’t glorify them. He simply puts them on display as real as he knows how, and the end result is this body of work. While it’s very much a departure from Section.80, Good Kid… stands on it’s own as arguably the best concept album of 2012.