NOTE: The following is in no way, shape, or form an endorsement of Kendrick Lamar’s work outside this album. This review only takes Good Kid, M.a.a.d. City into consideration.
Up until the release of Good Kid, M.a.a.d. City (GKMC) I had never heard any content from Kendrick Lamar.
Even after the release, I remained very skeptical of his work. Largely due to the publicity he was receiving from the media and time on radio stations I found to be largely pop-trash. However, after a friend recommended the album to me, I thought I might as well give it a chance.
I was pleasantly surprised. In fact that is an understatement. GKMC is one of my favorite hip-hop albums of all time. As an avid hip-hop listener and amateur Marxist I thought I would give a full commentary as to why Lamar’s album is so incredible and what it has to tell us.
First, let’s get some background on the album. The album is not simply a collection of loosely related tracks (an all too common phenomena with present day hip-hop) but a vivid and coherent story told masterfully through the lens of a young “k-dot” (Kendrick Lamar) who tells of life growing up in Compton, California; a life patterned by sex, drugs, gangs, and violence. In doing so he helps illustrate the struggle of Blacks trying to carve out an existence in this thoroughly racist and alienating society.
While GKMC definitely stands out from the decadent rap regarding “pussy, money, weed” I would not go as far to say it represents a proletarian form of rap. Rather, it fits more comfortably as an insider critic, analyzing and questioning the foundations of what is considered hip-hop today; a critical concept album if there ever was one.
Now what really makes Lamar’s album so impressive is not just the ‘message’ but the way in which it’s sent. Not only do Lamar’s lyrics reflect a social conscious but they do so with brilliant flow over solid production and great rhythm. The true success resides not in the deep social commentary but how it is all neatly polished and retains significant commercial attractiveness.
When I cite the ‘conscious’ nature of the album I hope not to confuse the reader with more explicitly so albums such as Dead Prez’ Let’s Get Free or Immortal Technique’s Revolutionary Vol. I. Kendrick does not so openly express a social conscious in his music. Instead, we find Lamar’s storytelling paint the contradictions of gang life through subtle yet soulful lyrics.
While Lamar’s album stays focused on its tale of a young Kendrick in Compton, a wide range of topics are brushed by his musical commentary.
For example Swimming Pools discusses the danger of alcoholism, including some of Kendrick’s own personal experience. While songs like Money Trees and M.a.a.d. City illustrate the struggle of providing in an economy of drive-bys and crack-cocaine.
Kendrick so accurately tells the story so many in the Black community have lived. An upward struggle against gang violence, institutional racism, and poverty to survive. For those who remain ignorant of the Black struggle and marginalized peoples in general, GKMC gives a peek at what it means to be alienated in Amerika.
Without giving too much away, the album is a masterpiece of social commentary in a genre of music that is generally confused with its own purpose. Where it falls short it certainly recuperates with sheer cohesion and originality. I encourage everyone to at least give the album a chance.