29 October, 2012@12:18 pm
Kendrick Lamar has slowly built up a loyal fanbase over the last ten years, most recently raising eyebrows with 2011′s Section.80, his independently released debut album, which reviewed to great critical acclaim. He caught the eye of Dr. Dre just before it’s release, which led him to working on the mythical Detox LP, and subsequently signing with Dre’s Aftermath imprint. With all eyes on Kendrick, he releases his debut for the label, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City.
Billed as “a short film”, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, is a portrait of the artist as a hood; one that finds the overbearing influence of his Compton city weighing down over his religious upbringing. The album is presented in a loose-knit narrative, which begins with Kendrick venturing to the wrong side of town to meet a female by the name of “Sherane a.k.a. Master Splinter’s Daughter”. This event unravels a tangled web of incidents that finds him travelling back-and-forth across Compton, yet not without ruffling a few feathers on the way. Songs like “The Art of Peer Pressure” and “Money Trees” (feat. Jay Rock) put him in compromising situations, taking part in robberies and home invasions just because he was along for the ride. This later leads to “Sing About Me / I’m Dying Of Thirst”, where his actions culminate to a head, leading to unnecessary deaths and an endless cycle of violence. It’s a story all too familiar, but one that has been exploited in the past, rather than taken seriously as tragedy in a stage-play format.
What’s impressive about Kendrick’s Aftermath debut is the road he chose to take in executing it. Very easily he could have plastered the album with wall-to-wall Dr. Dre production – which arguably could have improved the album. However the other side of that coin says that this is so well executed that it does not need it, as the album is devoid of beats by Dre. The Doc’s executive producer role instead has him acting as the overseer of Compton, an almost god-like position that leaves his fingerprint on the work as a whole. Yet unlike previous releases of the post-2001-era, this team of producers aren’t necessarily trying to mimick Dre’s style. The sonic direction of Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City takes the Aftermath sound in an entirely new direction, with the production instead more understated, more laidback, closer to that of The Chronic, if anything. As a matter of fact, there are some classic moments that invoke that 90′s feeling, such as the brooding “m.A.A.d. City” with MC Eiht, Pharrell’s channeling of Roy Ayers’ “We Live In Brooklyn” on the brilliantly produced “Good Kid”, and closing cut “Compton”, with Dr. Dre, where Kendrick professes his love for a still burning city.
Kendrick’s rhyme style is an acquired taste, and may be the only thing that holds him back from ever being seen as a true “commercial rapper” – and we’re fine with that. Like greats before him, such as KRS-One and Freestyle Fellowship, Kendrick is not afraid to experiment with vocal tones, accents, or pronunciations – last album’s “fuck dot” is this year’s “yabish” – but it’s also what separates him from everyone else out there. The uniqueness to his delivery can be jarring at first, but it slowly seeps in until you’re singing right along with it.
Only time will tell if Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City is truly a classic album, but in either case it will certainly sit comfortably at the top of many year-end lists. Kendrick’s unorthodox style, understated-yet-brilliant production, and most of all, bold approach to making an album for the biggest, most respected label in the business, without an anthemic single propelling it, is testament that his art comes first. Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City captures a snapshot of what many inner-city youths struggle with, without attempting to glamorize it or gloss over it’s unfortunate, tragic significance.
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