At the top of 2012, we had no real reason to believe that Kendrick Lamar would actually drop his debut album within the confines of the calendar year, much less have his good kid, m.A.A.d city LP be counted among the top releases.

Balanced by sound storytelling, progressive instrumentals and creative radio standouts, GKMC proves that hip-hop doesn't have to go pop to be successful.

Beyond earning the Compton rapper a gold plaque, Kendrick's first shot will now be the standard by which all coming hip-hop debuts will be measured. It's the type of benchmark hit by artists like Nas and 50 Cent during their rookie campaigns. It's the type of distinction that cannot be predicted, and because of his effort, Kendrick Lamar now stands unequivocally as music's newcomer of the year.

Part of good kid's appeal is that most music fans didn't see it coming. It wasn't until March that K-Dot officially announced his deal with Dr. Dre's Aftermath label, and let's face it: For every Snoop Dogg or Eminem, there is a Stat Quo or Bishop Lamont who sits on the Doctor's storied shelf.

K-Dot continually messaged that his album would drop in 2012, but so did his contemporary A$AP Rocky, who saw his project moved to January 2013. The fact is, rap releases are routinely pushed back several times before hitting retail, so fans have come to expect delays. So, even when Kendrick dropped GKMC's first single, "The Recipe," in April, it didn't necessarily mean an album was on the way.

When good kid did drop on October 22, music fans everywhere took notice. The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Time and of course MTV News all listed it among the year's top releases — and what wasn't to love? The LP told a tightly weaved narrative in which, after a coming-of-age encounter with his seductress Sherane, Kendrick found himself in the middle of a Compton turf war that claimed the life of one of his closest friends.

At 25 years old, Lamar told an engaging tale over the course of 12 cohesive tracks — a feat that hasn't even been attempted by rap's top storytellers like Slick Rick, the Notorious B.I.G. or Ghostface Killah. Kendrick's execution was so perfect that the youngster will have to walk on water if he wants to top good kid his next time out. Until then, the rap rookie can go into the new year knowing he changed the game.

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