By Anthony Rivera
With last fall’s release of the advance single “i”, (an uptempo number introduced with a live band on TV’s Saturday Night Live) and Kendrick Lamar’s new album coming out soon, I think it’s a good time to look back at Lamar’s previous album, good kid, m.A.A.d city (GKMC).
On his major label debut, Kendrick Lamar offered fresh insights into what life inside of the city of Compton is like, and more importantly,offered insightful comments about a few life-changing events he himself experienced. The album starts off with a somewhat nocturnal and ominous musical mood which relates to the events described in the song, but makes a gradual uplift in tone. This album follows a certain storyline, slowly being pieced together as it progresses, which is what made it especially interesting to me. There are constant shifts in mood and beats to give the listener an extremely accurate sense of Kendrick’s mindset and emotions, and although it may seem inconsistent as a whole, it helps to better understand the album, and Kendrick himself.
The album tracks are not placed in chronological order which is why it may be a bit difficult to understand the storyline at first. It takes a few times through for a listener to get a grip on the story. In addition,there are individual tracks which seem out of place, such as “Backseat Freestyle”, but I now think it actually gives a better sense of the overall nature of the album. For anybody who knows Kendrick, the aggressiveness and arrogance displayed throughout the song seems enormously out of character, when in actuality it helps further our understanding. By listening to the voice-recordings at the end and the beginning of every song, it becomes clear that Kendrick is in the backseat of a car, freestyling, being as loud and violent as those surrounding him. It is out of character for the purpose of showing how Kendrick has to put up some sort of a front around his cousins, because he feels uncomfortable and out of place with them.
We later see a clearer depiction of this same problem on the cut called “The Art of Peer Pressure,” which serves as a subconscious monologue while he is riding around with his cousins, robbing people and starting trouble. Throughout the track he expresses how unhappy he is, and how misplaced he feels, but he continues to put up a front and act like everything is fine. This is a story about how he was sucked into a life of crime, and how he wants out, hence the album title: “good kid m.A.A.d city”.
I think this album has made its way into my top five hip hop / rap albums of all time. Not only did I find it to be an extremely interesting story, I also found it was relatable to a certain degree. As a kid from the South Bronx, I’m no stranger to gang-related violence or the problems of drug abuse, and I’m especially no stranger to the need to escape it. Listening through Lamar’s good kid m.A.A.d city over and over it was pleasing to hear someone else express similar thoughts and morals, which was also a nice variation from the music I hear on a day-to-day basis. Again, something else that puts Kendrick above others, he doesn’t speak on the same meaningless subjects most rappers do. He managed to tackle topics such as gang violence, police abuse, prostitution and others, all while telling his own story, and all while performing in a pretty unique style.
The songs on the album vary immensely, from tunes that sound like modern day hip hop, to songs that have a smooth jazzy feel in the background. Kendrick successfully changes up the musical styles while making this all feel and come together like one grand story. Overall, this was a matchless album, loaded with messages and deep thought throughout. I don’t recommend listening to any one of these songs only a single time, and while this CD can be discussed continually, I believe no review can really do the album justice.