The early releases certainly set the bar high. The first single, "The Recipe," quickly gained traction thanks to an infectious, iconic chorus and Dr. Dre production. "Swimming Pools" made waves with its multiple meanings, proving suitable for partying and introspection. "Compton" saw Lamar reunite with Dre over Just Blaze production that allowed Kendrick to lavish praise on his native city of Compton while defiantly marking his claim as King. Finally, "Poetic Justice," featuring Drake, dropped, creating a frenzy of excitement from fans of both artists. Eyes gravitated towards Compton on October 22nd.
Upon first listening to Compton lyricist Kendrick Lamar's major label debut, my first thought was just how difficult categorizing good kid, m.A.A.d. city is. The Compton proudly declared in Section.80 highlight "Ab-Soul's Outro,"
I'm not on the outside looking in, I'm not on the inside looking out.
I'm in the dead fucking center, looking around…
I'm not the next pop star, I'm not the next socially aware rapper.
I am a human motherfucking being, over dope ass instrumentation.
This concept holds true for several aspects of Kendrick's deeply personal, multifaceted, and introspective chronicle of the inconsistencies and contradictions of life growing up in a mad city. Musically, Kendrick has grown more comfortable in his sound and more decisive in his innovation. Seasoned listeners will hear distinct west coast stylings indicative of the influence of fellow Compton native Dr. Dre and musicality comparable to the early Outkast era. Kendrick takes on multiple personalities throughout the record, ranging from a young power-hungry adolescent, to a seasoned veteran looking back wearily on the madness of the violence of the city life.
He manages to do so without seeming too simple or too preachy, a rare feat, especially valuable after our digestion of Lupe's latest delivery. The Black Hippy member released several of his tracks beforehand, but maintains the fresh feeling of his record with a series of extraordinary transitions that change the character and context of the songs. "Swimming Pools" specifically has a new verse that totally alters the original feelings listeners get when the song is over. good kid, m.A.A.d. city is without a doubt a lot to digest, but more than worth consumption.
Production on the album is diverse, yet manages to maintain cohesion at the same time. Section.80 featured great production, but good kid m.A.A.d. city elevated and expanded upon the ambiance listeners had grown to associate with Kendrick. It's as if the previous works were the meals of a chef who was still feeling out how he wanted to season his meal. The more experienced and confident chef of 2012 had no reservations in creating a unique and memorable meal that is unmistakably the product of an expert Compton kitchen with global influences. After the intro, "Sherane A.K.A. Master Splinters Daughter," a spacey track that gently lowers listeners into the story of Kendrick's Compton, the audience is treated to "Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe," a wonderfully introspective sonically dense song featuring Anna Wise (unconfirmed) providing uncredited vocals in the chorus. Next, listeners are quickly jolted into the adrenaline-pumping rush of excitement of "Backstreet Freestyle," featuring Kendrick rapping as a power-hungry adolescent who's not quite in the drivers' seat of determining his path.
"The Art of Peer Pressure" takes listeners on a dense sonic journey, as listeners hear a Tabu-produced introduction embracing the atmosphere given off by an early Snoop Dogg record, which quickly transitions into a much darker canvas upon which Lamar weaves a story of a violent night and narrow escape from a police chase inspired by Young Jeezy records and influence of 'the homies.' "Money Trees" seems to draws inspiration partially draw inspiration from early Outkast, featuring a long, winding, chorus prophesying that "the one in front of the gun lives forever," which serves not only as a memorable tag line but also as a foreshadowing to the future events in the storyline of the album.
The album featured a small series of well-placed guest verses and choruses. "Poetic Justice" is potentially the most high-profile for its inclusion of Toronto native Drake, whose guest verse served to highlight the differences between the two stars. Kendrick Lamar is without question a premier lyricist with a powerful delivery. He has dominated a series of guest verses, such as The Game's "The City" and Baby/Mack Maine's "B Boyz" to the point that many listeners forgot about everyone else involved in the records. But in this case, Drake's charisma might have shone through a bit more than Lamar's cadences and lyricism. Drake only spit one verse, but he was clearly more at home on this sensual, soulful instrumental. This is a key reason behind Drake's rapid ascension to the forefront of mainstream popularity, and Kendrick's delay in attaining similar status. He's certainly a supremely talented artist, but it is still uncertain if he will reach the level of superstardom that only a handful of artists reach.
Other highlights include the two title tracks, the first of which is the Pharrell-produced "Good Kid," a real life actualization of Kendrick-meets-N*E*R*D. The next track, "M.A.A.D. City," featuring guest contribution by MC Eiht, is a two-part song beginning with an adrenaline pumping journey into the violent, numb, madness that envelops cities such as Compton. The second part is a bit more theatrical than heart-clenching, but maintains a tight grip on the audience's attention as he attempts to find a solution to the violence, noting that "Compton, USA made me an Angel on Angel Dust (m.A.A.d.)."
Kendrick Lamar's album features an intriguing storyline and amazing wordplay. At times, his voice makes his jam-packed rhyme schemes a bit of a blur for many of his listeners. You'll need a second, third, or fourth album to truly understand the complexities of what's happening in this work. Thankfully, the story and production make this record one that will not get old any time soon. Diversity and quality ensure that records have continuing replay value. Kendrick manages to balance the concepts of "good kid" and "m.A.A.d. city," providing an insightful view of a mind who has seen both sides of the spectrum.