The roar of praise for Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city is deafening, but if you can tune it out long enough to give the record an objective listen or five, you’ll hear it’s not unwarranted.
The Dr. Dre-backed rapper is getting hyped as a savior of West Coast hip hop. He released his first mixtape when he was 16, but it wasn’t until the last year’s Section.80 that all ears came to attention and set expectations high for the next record. good kid, m.A.A.d city does not disappoint. It stuns. It’s an intensely autobiographical story of a 17-year-old Lamar growing up in Compton. Woven in and out of scenes of family prayers, angry voicemails from mom, arguments in cars and gunfire, he covers relentless teenage lust, a struggling family, gang violence and dreams of money and power.
On “Backseat Freestyle” he’s all confidence and his words — “All my life all I want money and power / Respect my mind or die from lead shower” — strut over a clacking, bell-ringing beat. Then there’s the 12-minute “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst,” which has Lamar taking a serious, reflective tone: “I woke up this morning and figured I’d call you / In case I’m not here tomorrow, I’m hopin’ that I can borrow / A piece of mind, I’m behind on what’s really important.”
Across the whole album we hear Lamar’s propensity for playing with his voice, rising up into a nasally high pitch, dropping into a growl, wavering and yelping, then delivering complex imagery in his natural but distinctive mid-range pitch. The impressive gymnastics of his delivery, plus the emotional punches and carefully styled lyrics are more than enough to distract from a creeping sense that the thumping old school beats, smooth R&B grooves and jazzier instrumentals might be overproduced.
If anyone has noticed, they don’t seem to care, and rightfully so. The story’s conclusion comes with heavy realizations on “Real,” but the album’s conclusion, “Compton” (featuring Dre), is like a hero’s send-off.