By Rob Markman
With all of his underground stripes if Kendrick Lamar wanted to reach for crossover appeal with a song or two on good kid, m.A.A.d city no one would’ve held it against him, but that isn’t how the Compton, California MC is built. Rather than pander, K-Dot chose to tell his story, his way on his Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope debut, which hit stores Monday (October 22).
"No compromise at all," Kendrick told MTV News of his LP from a Las Vegas studio early Saturday morning. "They told me to go, and continue doing what I'm doing, Interscope, Dre, continue doing what I'm doing."
In every sense, good kid is a continuation of the story K-Dot began to tell on his 2009 mixtape The Kendrick Lamar EP and throughout last year's indie LP Section.80. On the album opening "Sherane a.k.a Master Splinter's Daughter," fans are officially introduced to a seductress whom they knew all along, not by name, but by reputation. After meeting Sherane at a house party, Kendrick hijacks his mother's van and is lured to a rendezvous five songs later on the Drake-assisted "Poetic Justice." It's the same rendezvous that Kendrick referenced on 2009's "P&P," where he winds up in the wrong neighborhood caught in the middle of a gang beef.
In fact, for the entire album there is young Kendrick, caught in the middle. On "The Art of Peer Pressure" the spirited Compton MC rides shotgun while his homeys break into someone's home and on "m.A.A.d city" he mistakenly smokes marijuana laced with angel dust (the album's m.A.A.d. acronym stands for My Angels on Angel Dust). "They wonder why I rarely smoke now/ Imagine if your first blunt had you foaming at the mouth," he raps painting the picture.
To balance out the evils, each track is bookended by frantic voicemail messages from his mother that get more desperate each time out as she urges her son to choose the right path and avoid the perils of L.A. gang life. Sadly, even when Lamar uses his voice for good, there are consequences.
The 12-minute-long "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst" tells a few stories, one of a deceased friend who when he was alive made K-Dot promise that he'll dedicated his raps to him. Another track narrative harks back to last year's tragic "Keisha's Song" from Section.80. With the second verse of "Sing About Me" Kendrick raps about the backlash that he received from Keisha's real-life sister who chastised the rapper for revealing intimate and embarrassing details of the slain prostitute. "My sister died in vain, but what point are you trying to gain," he raps mimicking Keisha's sister.
The power of good kid, m.A.A.d city is apparent in its storytelling and sharp attention to detail. Even Lamar's latest single, the drinking ode "Swimming Pools (Drank)" comes after a skit where the rapper is passed some alcohol to ease the pain after he was beat-up for being going to see Sherane on the wrong side of town.
To keep a consistent narrative flowing throughout the course for an entire album is a tall order even for hip-hop's greatest story tellers like Nas, Slick Rick, Ice Cube, Ghostface Killah and Scarface, but leave it to Kendrick Lamar to deliver the unexpected.
What's your favorite track on Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d city?