Kendrick Lamar, good Kid m.A.A.d. City: Album Analysis


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Kendrick Lamar • Good Kid, M.A.A.D City • Aftermath / Interscope / Top Dawg • US Release Date: October 22, 2012

Intro

West Coast Rap

There seem to be several gaps internally within the rap genre.  One of the sub-genres that has received less notoriety as of late is the West Coast movement.  The West Coast has plenty of notable and legendary artists including Snoop Dogg (now Snoop Lion), Ice Cube, Eazy E, and Dr. Dre but in recent times hasn’t necessarily dominated the scene. Game has had his fair share of success (The Documentary  was certified double-platinum), but his last release, 2011’s The R.E.D. Album sold the fewest numbers of his previous releases despite debuting at no.1.

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Kendrick Lamar materializes at just the right time to give The West Coast the boost that it needs. Lamar’s base has been consistently and constantly growing given the release of mixtape ADHD as well as several singles preceding the release of good Kid m.A.A.d City (“The Recipe,” “Swimming Pools (Drank),” and “Compton”).

Kendrick  Lamar to the Rescue

Kendrick Lamar is easily one of the most unique rappers of recent times. He joins an elite group of ‘odd-ball’ rappers that don’t ‘roll with the establishment,’ but rather pave their own pathway. This group includes the likes of Drake (mellow with R&B sensibilities) or KiD CuDi (stoner, left-field) in the sense that 25-year old Kendrick Lamar brings something different to the table. Good Kid m.A.A.d City ends up being one of 2012’s best rap albums because Kendrick ‘goes against the grain’ tapping into his own experiences and delivering those through rhymes and songs that truly channel creativity to the utmost.

Good Kid m.A.A.d. City is a conceptual album that always returns to the idea established by the title (ultimately a good kid, but trapped within the sins/demons of a bad, rough city).  Lamar is from Compton, California, a city often connoting or confirming the phrase ‘Hell’s Kitchen.’ On good Kid m.A.A.d City, Kendrick Lamar highlights his teens specifically, referencing his rampant hormones with a ‘bad’ girl (“Sherane a.k.a. Master Splinter’s Daughter”), desire to be ‘big’ (“Backseat Freestyle”), or an overabundance of alcohol (“Swimming Pools (Drank)”). Because all songs have a concept or meaningful theme, there are no misses whatsoever to speak of.

Good Kid m.A.A.d City features guests Drake, MC Eiht, Chad Hugo (of Neptunes), Anna Wise (of Sonnymoon) and of course West Coast legend Dr. Dre who also executive produces. Producers include Tha Bizness, Sounwave, Hit-Boy, and T-Minus among others.  Positive for Lamar, good Kid m.A.A.d City is on pace for a big debut somewhere in the 220,000 ballpark, good for a potential no. 2 bow right behind Taylor Swift’s RED  *Good Kid m.A.A.d City debuted at #2, selling 241,000 copies.  

“Sherane a.k.a. Master Splinter’s Daughter” opens with a unison prayer (“Lord God, I come to you a sinner, and I humbly repent for my sins/I believe that Jesus is Lord, I believe that you raised him from the dead…In Jesus’s name, Amen…”), which is the first allusion that the protagonist (Kendrick) is ultimately a good kid surrounded by horrible influences. Sporting exceptional soulful old-school production by Tha Bizness,  “Sherane” details Kendrick’s lust for a girl named Sherane who is nothing but trouble (“I strictly had wanted her thighs around me/seventeen with nothing but p**sy stuck on my mental/my motive was rather sinful…”) There is no hook, but it is not necessary, even given three consecutive verses. Lamar’s rhymes are agile and sport well conceived lyrics.

At the end, an interlude featuring Kendrick’s mother/father leaving a voice mail on Kendrick’s phone for him to hurry up with the car so they can get their food stamps, etc. Kendrick’s father sets up the proceeding cut “B*tch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” as he tells Kendrick’s mother to ‘turn [his] oldies back on.’

“B*tch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” translates Kendrick’s father’s ‘oldies’ reference to soulful production, contributed by Sounwave. Sounwave’s production incorporates live strings (Charly and Margaux), background vocals (Mary Keating), and a Boom Clap Bachelors sample (“Tiden Flyver”).  While the cut has that soul sensibility, it also possesses that lush West Coast sound that has been associated perhaps most notably with Snoop Dogg’s music. On the hook, Lamar proclaims: “I am a sinner, who’s probably gonna sin again/Lord forgive me, Lord forgive me… b*tch don’t kill my vibe.”

Basically, Kendrick admits to his improprieties and ultimately wants/knows he should be a better person, but knows he will fall short despite this. He also, doesn’t want to be compromised as an ‘individual’, hence a play on the title/line “b*tch don’t kill my vibe.” Lamar brilliantly alters his voice and changes inflections, specifically on the second hook where his flow is ultra-rhythmically contrived.  Another winning, conceptual rap cut.

“Backseat Freestyle” is preceded by a short skit at the end of “B*tch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” suggesting necessity for a ‘beat.’ “Backseat Freestyle” ends up being one of the album’s best cuts, easily yielding some of producer Hit-Boy’s best work.  The Intro (later reiterated as the outro) is addictive, particular over Hit-Boy’s beat: “Martin had a dream, Martin had a dream, Kendrick have a dream…”  Lamar remains on autopilot throughout, particularly his confident hook: “All my life I want money and power/respect my mind or die from lead shower/I pray my d*ck get big as the Eiffel Tower/So I can f*ck the world for 72 hours…” Lamar never lets up here, remaining relevant and uncompromising, which may be the magic of “Backseat Freestyle.” It represents both childish fodder yet also lofty self-esteem and aspiration.

“The Art of Peer Pressure” begins with an intro by Kendrick that then goes into soulful, lush West Coast production. The vibe is sort of ‘stoner’ like for sure.  Soon afterwards, the production on Kendrick’s first true verse changes, accelerating the tempo and opting for a more hip-hop oriented sound.  The unpredictability of the cut parallels the ‘unpredictability’ of peer pressure – the things peers urge you to do ultimately.  As expected, an outro (interlude) details getting high(“yeah we finally got that n***a faded…”).  “The Art of Peer Pressure” has a difficult act to follow given the breadth of the first three cuts, but it holds its own.

“Money Trees,” produced by DJ Dahi, contains a sample of “Silver Soul” as performed by indie-pop/alt band Beach House.  The hip-hop production combined with the sunny Beach House sample works well.  The cut possesses a laid back west coast vibe, most evident on the hook. Jay Rock contributes verse three, yielding killer lyric “Dreams of me getting shaded under a money tree…” Kendrick has his own moments as well (“I f*cked Sherane then went to tell my bros/then Usher Raymond “Let it Burn” came on…”)

The Drake feature “Poetic Justice” is even better, produced by Scoop DeVille.  The lush, sensual vibe is shaped by Janet Jackson sample “Any Time Any Place,nothing short of a brilliant choice.  Scoop adds clapping snares to assist the sample to truly put “Poetic Justice” over the top.  Kendrick and Drake both deliver, anchored by the hook (“You can get it…and I know just, know just…what you want/poetic justice, put it in a song”), giving good Kid m.A.A.d City one of its most memorable moments.  A skit at the end contrasts the ‘poetic’ vibe leading into the Pharrell Williams produced title track.

“good Kid” in addition to featuring Pharrell’s signature production, features Chad Hugo’s vocals on the hook (“Mass hallucination baby, ill education baby/want to reconnect with your elations/this is your station baby”).  The groove is highlighted by prominent cymbal/hi-hat work while a prominent bass line gives the cut a soulful timbre.  As always, Kendrick delivers quite the compelling flow.

“m.A.A.d City” features MC Eiht and is produced by Sounwave.  If “good Kid” proves to be more mysterious, “m.A.A.d City” possesses hard production than the multitude of cuts from the album. Kendrick’s rhymes are emotional, with the pitch of his vocals rising with loftier emotion. MC Eiht’s first rap portion switches up the production prior to Kendrick rapping his second verse within the confines of the contrasting production. Following Kendrick’s verse, MC Eiht delivers a full length verse that begins partially spoken and then erupts into standard rap fare. Unsurprisingly, this ‘A’ cut ends with yet another skit, though as usual, it is tightly tied into the overall narrative.

“Swimming Pools (Drank)” appears in extended form.  T-Minus delivers exceptional, capable production work. As he possesses a knack throughout the course of the album, Kendrick manages to tie swimming pools and alcohol together in an incredible and cohesive manner: “N***a why you babysittin’ only two or three shots? I’mma show you how to turn it up a notch/first you get a swimming pool full of liquor, then you dive in it/pool full of liquor, then you dive in it…” One of rap’s best singles retains it’s glory here, even if there are cuts equal and superior on good Kid m.A.A.d City.

“Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” is certainly a ‘juggernaut’ were both length and scope are concerned.  The cut is an incredible twelve-plus minutes in duration and as far as the concept/content, contains multiple songs/ideas within one. The first portion samples jazz guitarist Grant Green of all people (“Maybe Tomorrow”). The sample coupled with the simple, dusty soul groove gives off a somber, emotional vibe. “When the lights shut off/and it’s my turn to settle down/my main concern, promise that you will sing about me…” Lamar sings on the hook.  On the verses, Lamar delivers a number of unique lines.

The cut switches into “I’m Dying of Thirst,” which features completely different production and quicker tempo. The production is mysterious still, highlighted by synthesized vocals and old-school hip-hop drum programming.  Following the main cut, a skit in the same vein follows, featuring Kendrick’s grandmother who urges Kendrick and his company they are ‘dying of thirst’ in relation to faith/baptism.  The prayer from the first cut is placed into proper context here; very clever.

“Real” proceeds, featuring Anna Wise of Sonnymoon once more.  The production is lush and soulful.  On the hook Kendrick/Anna sing “I do what I wanna do/I say what I wanna say/when I feel and I…/Look in the mirror and know I’m there/with my hands in the air/I’m proud to say yeah/I’m real, I’m real, I’m really really real…” It’s not the cream of the crop, but it remains above average by all means.

Closing cut of the standard edition is third single “Compton,” featuring Dr. Dre.  Produced by vet Just Blaze and sampling Formula IV’s “What’s This World Coming To,” “Compton” ends one of the years best albums exceptionally.  Kendrick and Dre essentially get equal rapping time with the way they split verses, etc.  The sentiment of “Compton” is summed up on the hook: “Compton, Compton, ain’t no city quite like mine…”

The Deluxe Version includes more cuts, most notably first single “The Recipe,” which also features Dr. Dre. The iTunes deluxe version includes the single version of “Swimming Pools (Drank)” as the seventeenth and final cut.

Overall, Kendrick Lamar has set the bar high with good Kid m.A.A.d City as it is one of the most creative rap albums I have heard in sometimes.  He makes both a conceptual masterpiece but also an accessible effort that doesn’t overstretch its bounds. There is no miss of note and no lack of creativity either. Rap, regardless of sub-genre has a new star and his name is Kendrick.

Favorites: “Sherane a.k.a. Master Splinter’s Daughter,” “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” “Backseat Freestyle,” “Poetic Justice,” “Swimming Pools (Drank),”

★★★★½

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