HOW SOON can one decide that an album has attained the status of ‘classic’? With Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 LP Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, some might argue that that status is well deserved so soon after release. Lamar himself was flatted by the title, but suggested the album might be ‘classic-worthy’ if enough time passed. Even if enough time hasn’t passed, Good Kid... has already made ripples. From being voted the second best album of the decade so far by Pitchfork (second only to Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy) to Macklemore apologising profusely over winning the Grammy for Best Rap Album over Lamar.
So what really makes Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City so worthy of this attention, even after 2 years? Well, it largely comes from the subject matter of the record. A concept album, Good Kid… is based around Lamar’s life growing up in Compton on the West Side of the United States. While following a narrative of gang violence and death, Lamar creates a lo-fi, big beat story with shadows clawing from every side. The harsh violence that contrasts with Lamar’s ‘Good Kid’ creates an imposing atmosphere that comes through in tracks like ‘The Art of Peer Pressure’ and ‘M.A.A.D. City’. Then there’s the epic ‘Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst’, a song that is interrupted part way through by the narrator being gunned down.
But out of this Lamar still managed to produce radio hits. The loops and hooks featured on ‘Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe’ and ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ make two of the best songs of the year. Then there is the superb sampling on ‘Money Trees’, a surprisingly upbeat number which takes Beach House’s ‘Silver Soul’ and gives it a hustler’s twist. Wedged between (and often during) these melancholy numbers are skits which link the nonlinear narrative. The gritty scenes of death and robbery bring the listener back to reality with a band after flying high in Lamar’s layered and complex excellence.
To class Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City as just an album feels unjustified. On the album cover, Lamar calls it ‘a short film’, but it feels like an autobiography. The old cliché of taking the listener on a journey is thrown around too often, but with Good Kid… Lamar did his upmost to drop his audience into the mind of a Compton resident. As ‘Real’ draws to a close, Lamar’s parents relate to him the real meaning of being a man, and what really matters outside of gang life, before launching into the celebratory ‘Compton’, featuring killer vocals from Dr. Dre. After the harsh realities and violence of Compton, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Once you’ve finished listening to Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, it’s hard to escape the world of Kendrick Lamar. It’s less of an album, more an engrossing story.
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