Kendrick Lamar - good kid, M.A.A.D city - (Interscope)

20 Nov 2012

"Whether he eventually breaks away from the pack and becomes the superstar he’s being touted as is a concern for later, not for now.  For now, you’ve got a really bloody good album to get your head around..." 

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I came to this album in a pretty old fashioned way – off the back of really loving one hit single.  Prior to ‘Backseat Freestyle’ grabbing my attention, I was relatively unaware of Kendrick Lamar, and probably more familiar with seeing the name mentioned than I was with hearing the guy rap.  But the song – in which Kendrick adopts the persona of himself as an adolescent to pray for enlarged genitalia with which to “fuck the world for seventy-two hours” – is so much more astonishing than mere recanting of its lyrical content will suggest that I was instantly sold on the idea that he might be a superstar.

People are already calling good kid, m.A.A.d city a ‘modern day classic’, which is the kind of oxymoron only used by people who are themselves morons.  I will however go as far as to say that it’s really bloody good.  As with most albums of its ilk, it’s easy to spot what it could do with less of – bitches and hoes, biblical passages, voicemail skits – but such things have been part and parcel of enormous major label hip hop records for donkey’s years now, and as such are easy enough to ignore.  What it’s difficult to imagine however is what more you could actually want from a hip hop album in 2012.  good kid leaves pretty much all the boxes ticked.

Kendrick Lamar is a funny, insightful and frightfully talented storyteller, all things which are showcased in equal measure across this major label debut (his second LP thus far).  He’s got a similar kind of love/hate relationship with having loadsamoney as Kanye West– even the line in ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ about how he entertains visiting ladies (“get a pool full of liquor and they dive in it”) sounds as happy as it does forlorn - but also is as playful as ‘California Love’-era Dr. Dre, gleefully talking of how people visit the sunshine state for its “women, weed and weather” in the chorus of ‘The Recipe’, a track that features none other than the man himself. 

It’s testament to the largeness of his own personality though that despite cameos from names as weighty as Dre, Drake and Mary J. Blige, Kendrick is certainly the one who shines brightest.  His vision across good kid might be daringly diverse sonically (from Dre-like G-funk right through to modern day Drake-like wooziness), but it’s also coherent, clear, and captivating.

Highlights abound, for every playful chorus like the true ear-worm ‘Real’ or delightfully playful ‘Money Trees’, there’s a decidedly more profound moment a la the epic ‘Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst’ that really drives the album’s narrative thread (that of the initial excitement and eventual tragedy of being involved in gang culture) home with a punch.  Such displays of Lamar’s expert yarn-spinning ability ground good kid in a realism that – even acknowledging the skits and ‘praise Jesus!’ moments – is absent from the work of many of his contemporaries.  Lamar, both musically and lyrically, covers all the bases without spreading himself anything close to thin.  Whether he eventually breaks away from the pack and becomes the superstar he’s being touted as is a concern for later, not for now.  For now, you’ve got a really bloody good album to get your head around.

good kid, M.A.A.D city is out now.

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