Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city
8.5 / 10
Orwell once wrote that “the best books are those that tell you what you know already”. Kendrick Lamar, “Compton’s human sacrifice”, was born the hood, stayed in the hood, and learned from the hood, and most of the lessons were of the “would-rather-have-stayed-unaware-of-this” variety. Through good kid m.a.a.d. city, Lamar’s major label debut, the young MC raps about how violently and unfeelingly the wool was ripped from his eyes. Beginning with “Sherane aka Master Splinter’s Daughter”, in which our protagonist is lured out of his neighborhood and into hostile territory by a siren with gangbanging brothers (“I pulled up a smile on my face/ And then I see/ Two niggas, two black hoodies/ I froze as my phone rang”).
When I first started digesting this album I was finding it hard getting behind our protagonist. Clearly there was an element of contrition in his retelling of these experiences, but I also felt he was trying to deflect blame to the influences around him; that he wasn’t owning up to his own sins. But with repeated listens it becomes clear that, in the most completely basic way possible, he had no choice. In a place like Compton you cut your teeth early (“No better picture to paint than me walking from bible study/And called his homies because he had said he noticed my face/ From a function that tooken place/ They was wondering if I bang”) and there are certain things you have to accept (“Gang files, but that don’t matter because the matter is racial profile/ I heard them chatter: “He’s probably young but I know that he’s down”). Living above the violence and struggle of Compton is kind of like living in New England and never getting snowed on; it’s something that’s just going to be there, totally ingrained, no matter how much people complain about it.
The album is excellent throughout, but really locks in during the four song set beginning with “Good Kid” and continuing through “m.A.A.d. City”, “Swimming Pools (Drank)”, and “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”, the last of which finds Lamar spitting from the perspective of two other individuals, as a different person in each verse. First he raps as one of his homies who lost a brother to the violence. He gets his revenge, and ponders the possibility of leaving it all behind (“I wonder if I’ll ever discover/ A passion like you and recover/ The life that I knew as a young’n”). Then, as he seems to be coming around to his last 8 bars, “And I love you cause you love my brother like you did/Just promise me you’ll tell this story when you make it big/And if I die before your album drop I hope — (BLAP! BLAP! BLAP!, silence)”. Next, Lamar takes on the persona of the sister of a woman he used to see, who was a prostitute. (“You wrote a song about my sister on your tape/And called it section .80, the message was simple: Brenda’s Got a Baby/ Whats crazy was, I was hearin about it/ But doubted your ignorance, how could you ever/ Just put her on blast and shit/ Judging her past and shit/ Well it’s completely my future/ A nigga behind me right now asking for ass and shit” ). Towards the end of the verse things get really tough: “Matter fact did I mention that I physically feel great?/A doctor’s approval is a waste of time, I know I’m straight/I’ll probably live longer than you and never fade away/ I’ll never fade away, I’ll never fade away”, then, after a few more lines, Kendrick (still as the woman) does indeed, begin to fade out of the song.
The influence of early 90s boom-bap is all over good kid. As a protégé of Dr. Dre Lamar wears the musical badge proudly, but the lifestyle badge feels a bit more like an encumbrance. Kendrick is deeply suspicious of some things that have been glorified by his peers – it’s telling that the most traditionally “catchy” track on this album is about being peer pressured into drinking too much — and he’s not afraid to be contrarian. His flow and skill with rhymes are outstanding, but there’s a sadness to this album that is impossible to shake. Kendrick is a young man searching the sky for stars and finding only darkness.