22 October 2012

REVIEW: Kendrick Lamar: good kid m.A.A.d. city

When you look at the state of Hip-hop and where it has been going over the past decade, you notice that every year it branches off in a completely new direction. One may say that the divide began after the death of Tupac Shakur in 1996, when it became acceptable to get "Jiggy" and rock shiny suits. Back then you had two choices, either fall in line with the circus headlined by Puffy, or stick to the essence that you had grown up on.

Your choices are far more broad in 2012, as the genre has evolved and expanded in so many different directions it has become difficult to label certain artists, and nearly impossible to keep up with new acts. One reason it's hard to follow newcomers is because so many artists have taken the independent route in order to maintain a level of integrity with their music that would otherwise be sacrificed if put in the wrong major label situation. The struggle nowadays has come down to, 'How do I acheive success on a grand scale while at the same time not losing myself in the whirlpool of the mainstream?'

Kendrick Lamar tackles this very issue masterfully with his major label debut album "good kid m.A.A.d. city," which is presented as a cinematic journey through his life growing up as a youth in Compton. It begins with K.Dot using his mother's van (which is also the cover art for the deluxe version of the album) to go see a girl he was involved with named Sherane. As he pulls up to her house, he sees two dudes with hoodies on waiting for him, and then the album segues to a voicemail from his mother warning him to stay away from her "crazy ass."

The heads-up from his mother leads into the first standout track on the album "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe," where Kendrick gets busy with his consistently inconsistent cadences over a relaxed Section.80-esque beat. His ever-changing flows are, in fact, the staple of what keeps fans tuned in, even if the lyrics fly over your head at first. It's this type of song that defines Kendrick Lamar, and reinforces what fans already know about his music. It almost plays it safe, which is fine as it is only the 2nd track in this short (audio) film. The strongest line in the song "I'm tryna keep it alive and not compromise the feeling we love / you're trying to keep it deprived and only cosign what radio does" shows exactly what Kendrick is trying to accomplish with this album.

The basis of this album is illustrated on this next track "The Art of Peer Pressure," where Kendrick gives you a first class ticket on how his boys used to influence him into acting wreckless throughout the city knowing good and well he would not have done half of what they got into if he was by himself.  The first minute of the song eases you in to his story with a light-hearted beat while Kendrick sings about how they would pre-game before hitting the streets, and how his mother warned him about getting burned out eventually. Then, with a Bohemian twist, the beat switches to a dark theme as K.Dot and his boys load up in a car to rob someone's house and narrowly escape without getting caught by the people that lived there, as well as the cops. It ends with the crew bragging about their recent heist, while smoking a couple blunts. Kendrick mistakingly hits a blunt laced with cocaine and angel dust, which is the "A.d." part of "m.A.A.d" in the album's title.

The original leader of Black Hippy, Jay Rock, joins Kendrick on the track "Money Trees," but it's the next track where the album truly begins to shine. The Drake-assisted Janet Jackson-sampled "Poetic Justice" is an absolute banger. One that true K.Dot fans and radio heads alike can appreciate. It's songs like this that show Kendrick is ready to tackle both sides of the fence. He proves that it's not impossible to make music that appeals to everyone without sounding like you've sold your soul for the almighty dollar.

When the song concludes, you find Kendrick back in front of Sherane's house with two guys in hoodies. It leads into the next track "Good Kid," which is a stellar re-telling of how his chick set him up to get beat down just because he didn't rep that red or blue flag. The following track "M.A.A.D." city expands on this premise of how he grew up living right in the middle of the Blood and Crip madness within his city.

After smoothing things out with an extended version of Swimming Pools, Kendrick delves into "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst." The first half of this 12 minute song is told from the perspective of a gang banger whose brother was just killed, and the perspective of Keisha's sister, the prostitute from "No Makeup" and "Keisha's Song" off Section.80. Flawlessly jumping from character to character, if you lack a strong Hip-hop ear, you might think Kendrick is speaking from his own perspective. In reality, he's simply telling more stories of situations he's grown up around. There is so much rewind-worthy lyricism throughout this album that you are often challenged with trying to follow this "movie," while at the same time catching every stellar verse he spits.

There's a thin line between underground and mainstream that has been buried by 15 years of garbage truck juice and younger generations simply forgetting when Hip-hop existed as one unified entity. Kendrick Lamar removes the curtain that has blocked this union and incinerates it with rapid fire flows and masterful lyricism that simply does not exist in the realm he is now trying to conquer. Only time will tell how this album stacks up to the G.O.A.T.'s, but you couldn't have asked for a better first effort from this kid.

There's a pic of a BITM crew member holding two copies of this album above. It may seem like we are obsessed with this cat, but that's not it at all. There's just been a huge void in the game where an artist can appeal to more than just one side without alienating another. I feel like Kendrick has conquered this obstacle and surpassed it with this amazing debut.

The good kid from a mad city of Compton has placed his first true stamp on the game.

The question is, do the masses have the capacity to embrace an artist who refuses to dumb down his craft to catch their ear?

~ TwonJohnson

TWITTER: @Twon_Johnson

GMAIL: antoine.thorn@gmail.com

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