Album: good kid, m.A.A.d city
Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Release Date: 10/22/2012
Rating: 4 / 5
Good Kid, Mad City(stylized good kid, m.A.A.d city) is subtitled “A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar,” and that is not overselling it. Good Kid, Mad Cityis a cinematic story of Kendrick Lamar growing up impoverished in Compton, Calif., and his attempt to get out. It has interweaving story lines, compelling character arcs, a tragic denouement, and, finally, redemption.
The story opens with the narrator, K. Dot, as a 17-year-old just trying to get with girls. All he hears is “the music of being young and dumb, it’s never muted / in fact it’s much louder where I’m from.” He takes his mom’s keys and drives to his girlfriend’s house, where he immediately sees two menacing figures in black hoodies and he says, “I froze as my phone rang.” The beat falls away and a voicemail from his mom is heard, who tells him to bring her car home.
The next song is a bit of an interlude, with K. Dot returning the car home and spending some time by himself. He meditates that, as a rapper, “I want to keep it alive and not compromise the feeling we love / you’re trying to keep it deprived and only co-sign what radio does.”
The third track, “Backseat Freestyle,” opens with a skit where K. Dot’s friends pick him up from home with a “pack of blacks and a beat CD” and ask him to rap. The next three and half minutes feature Lamar showcasing his technically incredible rapping. He switches in and out of multiple voices and multiple cadences at the drop of hat, works in great wordplay without it being forced, and has interior rhymes all over the place. If one of the main selling points of this album is its cinematic quality, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Lamar is a truly gifted rapper.
“Backseat Freestyle” shows K. Dot’s state of mind as an impressionable 17 year old. He playfully does classic rap braggadocio, but when the next song, tellingly called “The Art of Peer Pressure,” starts, he wants us to know that even if he’s “smoking on the finest dope / drank until I can’t no more / really I’m a sober soul / but I’m with the homies right now.”
“The Art of Peer Pressure” describes K. Dot and friends driving around Compton with “a quarter tank of gas, one pistol, and orange soda.” It ends with a story of robbing a house and being chased by police, and segues into the next song “Money Trees.”
“Money Trees” is a reflection on what’s happened so far. He talks about “dreams of living life like rappers do,” about the home invasion that just happened, his relationship with his girlfriend, freestyling in the back of car, and asks us “pots with cocaine residue, everyday I’m hustling / what else is a thug to do when you eating cheese from the government?”
“Poetic Justice” brings us back to his relationship with his girlfriend and the story line from the beginning. During the song, he raps about problems they are currently having and how they need better communication. Then, we cut back to the skit from the first song, where K. Dot arrives at her house and is accosted by two people who want to know where he is from. They try to make him get out of the car and start a fight.
The next two songs, “good kid” and “m.A.A.d city,” are the centerpieces of the album. “good kid” reflects on the “mass hallucination baby / ill education baby” of growing up in Compton. The first verse talks about how K. Dot can never escape the gangs, and the second verse about how he can never escape the police.
“m.A.A.d city” reflects on the things he has seen and done while living in Compton. The narrator gets a little depressed, and the song ends with a skit where his friends offer him alcohol.
The next song, “Swimming Pools (Drank)” is a meditation about alcohol culture: “some people like the way it feels / some people wanna kill their sorrows / some people wanna fit in with the popular / that was my problem.” A verse is rapped from the point of view of K. Dot’s conscience, who implores him to stop. The song ends with a skit where K. Dot and friends track down the people that jumped K. Dot at his girlfriend’s house and where a fatal shootout occurs.
This is the climax of the plot line. The next song, “Sing about Me, I’m Dying of Thirst,” is a twelve-minute reflection on decisions made and things that have happened. At the end is a skit during which an old woman finds K. Dot and his friends in the street and tells them that they are “dying of thirst, you need holy water” and proceeds to baptize them all.
This is K. Dot’s enlightenment. The following song, “Real,” is about self-love and the realization that, no matter how much you might love material things, love where you’re from, or anything else, “what love got to do with it when you don’t love yourself.”
The last song, “Compton,” features Dr. Dre and is something of a victory lap. Lamar and Dre trade verses about the past, present, and future of Compton, the city where they are both from, for better or for worse.
In the end,Good Kid, Mad Cityis a story about growing up. It is a story about accepting that we are products of our environment, but that we do not have to be victims to it. The album works incredibly well as a unified whole and deserves to be listened to start to finish, just like you would any great film.