‘Good Kid, M.A.A.D City’ tells story of Compton, Calif.
By Dana Venerable, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Tuesday, November 13, 2012
A good friend of mine recommended that I listen to American hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar, who he said reminded him of Frank Ocean, “but better.” Lamar’s major label debut album “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City,” which was released on Oct. 23, displays some similarities to Ocean’s summer release “Channel Orange” with its strong focus on storytelling, but it’s also extremely innovative in its nostalgic style. Lamar brings listeners into his world: Compton, Calif.
Signed to Dr. Dre’s Aftermath label and currently representing the West Coast’s voice in hip-hop, Lamar displays faded snapshots of his life in Compton through his lyrical masterpieces and recorded skits, including some from his family members. “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City” contains heavy imagery, partly explaining why Lamar includes the subtitle, “A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar,” on the album cover. Following in the footsteps of Dr. Dre and Tupac Shakur, Lamar created an album influenced by rap music of the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s. Seeing Shakur and Dr. Dre live in 1996 filming their video for “California Love” had a huge impact on Lamar’s life and foreshadowed his current musical relationship with Dr. Dre, according to an interview with MTV.
There are also several instances on the album that are reminiscent of an early OutKast, incorporating both Big Boi’s and Andre 3000’s distinct rhythmic flows with the rap stylings of N.W.A., who is also from Compton.
Lamar discusses his pride and disappointment with Compton — a complicated living situation that those in a love/hate relationship with their hometown can understand. He emphasizes several themes including adolescence, love, gang culture, peer pressure, crime, alcohol and religion throughout his tracks. Lamar teaches listeners about his past and present while letting them see and hear the inner workings of his mind.
There are many standout tracks on the album, including the opener “Sherane a.k.a. Master Splinter’s Daughter,” which takes listeners back to Lamar’s romantic relationship with Sherane, who is referred to throughout the album, when he was 17. “Backseat Freestyle” calls attention to Lamar’s high self-esteem and confidence as a rapper over a hypnotizing beat. It also follows a theme also embraced by Kanye West, a current hip-hop powerhouse who is a bit more conceited.
“The Art of Peer Pressure” addresses how Lamar acts differently around his friends while helping them plan a robbery, discussing gang culture and the pressure to conform to lifestyles of crime. The Pharrell-produced track “Good Kid” and the track “M.A.A.D City” further illustrate the influence of gang-banging on Compton’s younger generation and the inner moral conflict that they have to face every day.
My favorite tracks on the album include “Money Trees,” a dark cryptic tale about his relationships with money — both in the past when he had no money and may have resorted to robbery and in the present as he now has to watch his back: “Money trees is the perfect place for shade, and that’s just how I feel.”
“Poetic Justice” is a brilliant track featuring Drake, and it samples a Janet Jackson song, “Any Time, Any Place,” off her self-titled 1993 album. The title refers to the amazing 1993 John Singleton film of the same name, starring Jackson and Shakur. “Swimming Pools (Drank)” depicts the battle that Lamar fights with his conscience, deciding between whether he should do what is right or what is necessary in order to survive, including crime. He drinks in order to fight and stifle his bad side, which is still a part of him, drowning himself in alcohol without paying attention to limits. “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” references his dangerous lifestyle and the hope that someone will sing about him when he dies. It sounds like he takes the drum beats right off Bill Wither’s “Use Me” but accelerates them a bit. The track ends with a skit that insists he is really thirsty for holy water.
The album ends with two strong tracks: “Real” and “Compton.” “Real” refers to his realness, namely how much he thinks he knows himself and his lovers. He is the voice of reason on this track, exploring what is “really real,” and the skit that follows is a voicemail from his parents, telling him that realness is responsibility, taking care of his family and God. “Compton” is a great track featuring Dr. Dre that reinforces his love for his roots, showing how much he appreciates those in the hip-hop world that came before him. Now he is officially part of that world.