Kendrick Lamar "Good Kid, M.A.A.D City" Album Review
This week, Compton, CA artist Kendrick Lamar made his official major label debut with the highly anticipated album Good Kid, M.A.A.D City executive produced by veteran Compton producer and hip hop icon, Dr. Dre. Around 2005, the young emcee then known as K-Dot was given his first taste of shine by making appearances on mixtapes such as fellow Comptonite The Game's The Black Wall Street Journal then going full force with releases via Los Angeles independent label, Top Dawg Entertainment.
Changing his moniker to his real name and grabbing the attention of Dr. Dre with the track "Ignorance Is Bliss" off his critically acclaimed Overly Dedicated mixtape, Lamar tested the hell out of the waters of his new-found industry hype by releasing his debut studio album Section.80 in 2011 to rave reviews and great chart performance as an indie artist.
Now given the platform as the new flagship artist of Dr. Dre's Aftermath Entertainment label along the likes of Eminem and 50 Cent, Kendrick Lamar uses this opportunity to make his most personal and innovative album to date. To make things interesting for this review, I have recruited my music blogging colleagues Yoh, Dave aka Trap Basquiat and Sid aka Drop God, who are from different corners of the country (South, East and Midwest, respectively with myself being from the West) to analyze this massively hyped up album. How does GKMC measure up?
By lyrically dismantling songs and cameo verses left and right; grabbing cosigns from everyone from Lady Gaga to Busta Rhymes; selling out shows across the country; obtaining high reviews from major publications and becoming the apprentice of some dude named Dr. Dre, Kendrick really set all eyes on him as the days counted down to the release of this project. The final product ? An LP with the rare yet rational size of just 12 tracks (with 8 bonus tracks scattered through various distributors) represented by the striking Polaroid photo of a young Kendrick Lamar with relatives who have their eyes censored except for his. Though quite simple, the raw symbolism of Kendrick's upbringing through his eyes is a memorable and appropriate visual. While somewhat off-putting, GKMC's deluxe edition artwork; a photo of Kendrick's minivan, becomes an important symbol AFTER listening to the story in the album.
Technically speaking, GKMC has Lamar showcasing an impressive level of self-control and novel-like penmanship. He clearly had a vision as to how each song needed to be structured to execute the story. For example, the intro track "Sherane aka Master Splinter's Daughter" is nothing more than a simple prologue that builds the core of the story, while the track "I'm Dying Of Thirst" (which appears as an outro of sorts to "Sing About Me") is a repetitive yet crucial device for the story's climax. Chilling voicemail messages by Kendrick's parents and dialogue by various characters, random onomatopoeia by Kendrick's co-horts ScHoolboy Q and Ab-Soul and soulful melodics by artists such as Anna Wise, JMSN, The Neptunes and Kent Jamz of Overdoz enhance their respective tracks. This is the same case with officially featured artists Jay Rock, MC Eiht and Dr. Dre. Drake's inclusion on "Poetic Justice" was rather unnecessary, but enhanced the feel of the track due to its romantic nature.
While he didn't contribute a single instrumental to the entire project, executive producer Dr. Dre brought out the best elements and enhanced contributions from GKMC's diverse production team through his brilliant mixing procedure with Top Dawg Ent.'s own Derek "MixedbyAli" Ali.All of the beats fit perfectly with Kendrick's lyrics, most falling into very dark and/or mellow tones with a big sound, though not as obnoxious as most modern Dr. Dre-backed productions. There are certain moments where the songs do feel like dragging due to the mellow nature, but even then these instances serve as necessary to the atmosphere of the scenes in question.
GKMC is an album that truly shines when viewed by the sum of its parts. When put on shuffle, the tracks appear as disjointed ideas, but when in order, everything becomes absolutely necessary to the structure of the story. Due to the condensed total size of 12 tracks,there is not a single filler in the duration of the album.
This album communicates the pitfalls of peer pressure and inner city life without the crutch of being preachy. This is really just Kendrick reflecting on his upbringing and the choices he made by vividly illustrating his surroundings and circumstances. Every track has a specific purpose other than just being a good song.
Kendrick Lamar heavily experiments with different flows and perspectives to enhance the story. Anna Wise of experimental indie band Sonnymoon harmonizes with Kendrick on many of the hooks of this album. Their two bright yet quirky vocals mesh together to sound like a mini-choir of kids, once again, emphasizing the theme of Kendrick's childhood coming to life. On the chaotic track "M.A.A.D City",Kendrick accomplishes the feat of combining both thematic enhancement and technical prowess by intensely plowing through a violent narrative in a voice-cracking pre-pubescent voice. The efforts to fit the story are very intricate as Kendrick knew exactly when to get on the crazy side and when to subdue his flow.
- We didn't find any track to be unnecessary at all to the intent of the album. The only reason "Poetic Justice" was somewhat poorly received is because of its more accessory than vital presence to the plot.
- It's safe to say that the bonus tracks are strictly for the fans because they served no purpose to the main album and are not as focused.
- When we wouldn't consider certain tracks to be "Keepers" they were rendered as "Cool Listens" regardless due to how they maintained this album's near perfect cohesion.