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Album Review: Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city

By Derrick Williams

The initial reception to rappers who are pegged as harbingers of the “new school” is always tumultuously optimistic – until their first major release. The sinking realization that the same rapper who was destined to be the herald of the impending “new wave” of rap may not be that forerunner for his respective generation hits somewhere around the part where then rap's presumed messiah of yesteryear, J.Cole, had the audacity to rattle off such bafflingly awful lines as: “Hey, Cole heatin’ up like left-over lasagna” on his highly anticipated debut album.

It’s disheartening that J. Cole, who’s not only being backed by Jay-Z, but was preordained by everyone’s favorite half-Jewish Mafioso/professional pillow talking crooner/rapping Canuck, Drake, as having a “Nas-type character”, premiered with such a painstakingly average debut album.

But among the influx of up-and-coming rappers that face the seeming disadvantage of possibly being the face of their generation is the 25-year-old Compton native, Kendrick Lamar. Lamar, like many of the 20-something year-old rappers that have been lauded as potentially being the future of their genre, has a healthy discography composed of warmly received mixtapes.

In addition to his slew of his mixtapes, Lamar released Section 80, an independent album that was critically acclaimed and was believed to only be rivaled by Kanye West’s and Jay-Z’s collaborative album, Watch the Throne, as the best rap release of 2011. And just like J.Cole, Lamar is backed by another massive rap mogul: Dr. Dre. Seeing as how Lamar has recently garnered the backing of Dr. Dre and had one of the best releases of last year with just an independent release, Lamar’s first major release, good kid, m.A.A.d city(which has been abbreviated GKMC by music bloggers long before the album’s actual release), has a lot of anticipation fueling it.

Unfortunately, unbridled anticipation in addendum to lackluster debuts has been the downfall for many young rappers who have been damned to journey down the road to eventual perdition, aka “the future of their generation”.

 Fortunately for Lamar, GKMC is one of the best rap releases of the 21st century

What makes good kid, m.A.A.d city such an amazing album is how lyrically poignant Kendrick is in exhibiting his vulnerability. The album’s acronym, “m.A.A.d” has a double meaning: one of them being “my Angry Adolescent divided”, the other being “my Angel’s on Angel dust”.

The first meaning treads familiar ground: a fledgling inner city brown kid who’s torn between abiding by a destructive lifestyle or to become a beacon of light for his city. The second meaning, “my Angel’s on Angel dust”, refers to how Lamar’s first (and last) encounter with cannabis was laced with PCP, aka “Angel Dust”.

This haunting level of vulnerability - particularly the second meaning of “m.A.A.d” – looms over the entirety of good kid, m.A.A.d city. Each track off Lamar’s album is so tear-chokingly personal that there’s almost a voyeuristic quality about this album. When Kendrick slyly raps on the eerie, twilight-sounding opening track entitled “Sherane, AKA ‘Master Splinter’s Daughter’” about how he Nextel chirped throughout the summer with the titular track’s “Sherane”, it sounds conversational and the listener is eaves dropping on a loud conversation a young Lamar is having with a group of friends.

Lamar’s vulnerability on good kid, m.A.A.d city is a fine example of his lyrical finesse, but the true laudation is in how Lamar tackles the societal woes of his generation with raps that sound anecdotal in nature. While most street-hardened rappers rap about their once destructive lifestyle in a grandiose fashion, Lamar approaches the same topics – gang violence, teen angst, inner city turmoil, etc - and injects a heavy dose of humanity in them, all the while maintaining a strong narrative throughout the album.

On the menacing, treble throbbing track “Art of Peer Pressure”, Lamar coolly raps: “Look at me: I got the blunt in my mouth/Usually I’m drug-free, but s---, I’m with the homies.” Each verse in “Art of Peer Pressure” is interjected with a pipsqueak-y sounding Lamar prattling off gang rhetoric and his undying allegiance to his “homies” to accentuate how childish Lamar was in that point in his life. Instead of coming off as pontificating or preachy in “Art of Peer Pressure”, Lamar addresses the detriments of peer pressure that plagues this generation in a way that’s as sympathetic as it is eye-opening.

Good kid, m.A.A.d city feels like a collage of diary entries from Lamar’s life, and that is why this album defines this generation: it’s unapologetic in its openness. Lamar lacks a rapper’s bravado on this album; he raps as someone that came from the same strife, the same streets, and harbors the same internal anguish as this generation. Lamar’s rapping from a perspective that can resonate with anyone from this generation. Lamar has cemented his place in being “the future of this generation” simply by being honest.

To rate this album would be the equivalent of rating someone’s life story. But for the sake of this review, Good kid, m.A.A.d city receives 5 Kendrick Lamar earflaps in the “Swimming Pool” video out of 5.