For “good kid, M.A.A.D city” a kitchen too full of cooks has served up an all-time positive outcome for the burgeoning talents of rapper, Kendrick Lamar. A feast for both the common and particular ear, this sumptuous spread of contemporary hip-hop has received nothing but praise and rave reviews since its major label release on October 22nd, 2012. Nearly every track is weighted with a unique set of competing personae, ids, and super egos, dished out by a wide assortment of big name producers and guest appearances – Dr. Dre, Drake, T-Minus and Mary J. Blidge to be named among many.
The album in its entirety is cinematic to IMAX proportions. Short skits in the form of voicemail color the subject matter with striking subjectivity, in a way quite similar to “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”. Lyrically and atmospherically speaking, Lamar, Top Dawg, Aftermath Entertainment, and Interscope Records have created a short film, telling the all too familiar tale of an impressionable kid growing up in the rough-and-tumble communities of Compton, California – with a subtle twist. There is more to growing up in L.A. than the glorification of “women, weed and weather,” as in “The Art of Peer Pressure” and “Poetic Justice” we learn that mob mentality and running from gang violence were a very real source of fear for Lamar’s younger self.
The message “good kid, M.A.A.D city” delivers marks the difference between a rapper who has succumb to corruption only to perpetuate it, and Kendrick, who hints at his aim to rise above it, and pass on his wisdom. The voicemail clip in “Real,” seems to sum it up. Lamar’s mother speaks prophetically to her missing son: “Come back a man, tell your story to these black and brown kids in Compton, let ‘em know you was just like them. But you still rose from that dark place of violence, becoming a positive person.”
Beyond the mastery of story-telling, which commands the overall success of this album, the music in and of itself is textured and uniformly enjoyable throughout all 17 tracks of the deluxe edition. The beats take a cue from the neo-soul genre; warm, at times esoteric, laid-back, tuneful and understated, while reminding the ear of an era when music was rebellious and fully conscious. Basslines are velvety smooth, and drawn out, underscoring the busy helium-harmonies and drone-like sound effects which reoccur as a modern motif (i.e. the hook of “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”).
Lamar demonstrates his flare for voice acting, or a possible tendency toward multiple personality disorder, animating each track with a set of Compton characters, versions of himself at different stages in life and his own torn subconscious, all the while showcasing his talent for lickity split, breath defying turns of phrase.
It is advisable to listen to “good kid, M.A.A.D. city” from start to finish toget the full affect of the album. However, some of the more memorable tracks include “The Recipe,” featuring Dr. Dre, “Poetic Justice,” featuring Drake and sampling from Janet Jackson’s “Any Time, Any Place,” and “Swimming Pools, (Drank),” produced by T-Minus.