Coming off of his 2011 debut “Section.80,” Kendrick Lamar has come into his own as an MC and lyricist with “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” which like his first album is a concept album. Unlike his debut he decided to opt out of using fictional characters and instead tells us naturalistic cohesive stories about teenage years. Gang bangers, chasing women, driving around in his mother’s minivan and interwoven audio recordings of his younger years color the atmosphere of the album in a very interesting way.
Each track on the album is smooth, yet flourishes with a beautiful kind of chaos as Lamar tries to get all of the voices in his head down on paper and into a polished and masterly crafted product. “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” and “Poetic Justice” have down tempo flows and sultry R&B samples, especially “Poetic Justice” with Drake providing a verse and adding some mainstream flair to the album.
“Sing about Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” is the album’s longest track, clocking in at twelve minutes, is actually two songs put together. With jazzy samples reminiscent of The Pharcyde, and hard-hitting, solemn lyrics about family, it is a bit of a daunting but rewarding listen.
Lamar shines brightest when working with proficient producers, and with The Neptunes, Just Blaze, and Dr. Dre offering up their collective musical geniuses for him to pilfer though, much like Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange” from earlier this year, this opus begins to transcend and redefine West Coast hip-hop.
Dr. Dre’s presence on the album is notable in many ways, beyond him being the executive producer. “Compton” is the album’s closing track about the titular city in Southern California that sired both men. With Dre throwing in a verse or two, it’s a wonderful ode to the gangster rap and g-funk that shaped Lamar’s childhood. What makes “Compton” special, though, lies in-between the bars and synths, it’s the symbolic passing of the torch happening between Dre and Lamar. With Dre releasing his highly anticipated swan song “Detox,” this was him acknowledging another shift in hip-hop, just as he and his compatriots spearheaded the momentous shift in hip-hop over 20 years ago from a neighborhood in L.A. called Compton.
“good kid, m.A.A.d city” is an album that showcases evocative lyricism, diverse beats, and an eye for meticulous and holistic production value. It will surely go down as one of the best hip-hop albums of the decade. If what Lamar has shown us is true, then we are entering a new stage in the zeitgeist of hip-hop.