-Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city is out today. Amazon’s got the regular version of good kid, m.A.A.d city for five bucks. You can also get the deluxe edition for ten bucks, which includes three extra tracks (“Black Boy Fly” is heat and shoulda been on the album) and a digital booklet. You should buy this album. I preordered the vinyl, which I feel like was a great idea, now that I’ve heard the album. I dunno if it’s a promo or what, but Lamar’s debut album Section.80 is $5.49 right now, and that’s great, too.
-good kid, m.A.A.d city opens with a prayer played off a cassette tape and spoken by young men. “Lord God, I come to you a sinner and I humbly repent for my sins. I believe that Jesus is Lord. I believe you raised him from the dead. I will ask that Jesus come to my life and be my Lord and Savior. I receive Jesus to take control of my life and that I may live for him from this day forth. Thank you Lord Jesus for saving me with Your precious blood. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.”
It’s a common prayer. It immediately put me in mind of Yasiin Bey, bka Mos Def. He opened Black On Both Sides (and his other albums) with the phrase “Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim.” It means “In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the most Merciful,” and it is an expression of faith on the part of Mos. It’s always delivered in his own voice, almost a whisper. (You’ve heard Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” probably — “Bismillah” is used there, as well.) It’s Bey giving thanks and publicly expressing his beliefs.
Kendrick’s is different. It’s recorded, which is already one step of separation from Kendrick-the-character and Kendrick-the-artist. The men are unidentified and speak with no real intonation, two more steps of separation. It’s rote. It’s men at church going through the motions. It won’t make sense until you finish the album.
-good kid, m.A.A.d city has a lot of skits, which puts me in mind of Prince Paul’s near-flawless A Prince Among Thieves. Sometimes it’s Kendrick’s parents calling to ask about their van, sometimes it’s him talking to his friends. Sometimes it’s something more violent.
But the skits work. Instead of being speed bumps, they aid the album into sounding like a cohesive work, rather than a collection of songs. They provide a narrative, or at least a through line, from song to song. It enhances the songs, rather than getting in their way. It’s probably half as good on shuffle, but as far as skits go, Lamar has the right idea.
The skits bleed back into the songs and vice versa. Sometimes a line of dialogue kicks off a song, and sometimes a bit of dialogue recalls Lamar’s past work. They don’t feel like they’re just skits. They’re connective tissue.
Tracks 1-10 form a story that ends where it begins. The last two tracks, “Real” featuring Anna Wise of Sonnymoon, and “Compton” featuring Dr Dre, are a… coda? An epilogue? Something.
-In thinking about it, it’s structured similar to A Prince Among Thieves, too. We start on Y, then we see A through Y, and then we catch up with Z. “Pain” segues into “How It All Started” which leads up to “You Got Shot,” and then we get the cruel finale of “The New Joint (DJ’s Delite)” b/w “A Prince Among Thieves.”
good kid, m.A.A.d city goes from “Sherane a.k.a. Master Splinter’s Daughter” to “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe,” and then leads you through “Poetic Justice” before the cycle completes four songs later on “Sing About Me/I’m Dying of Thirst.” “Real” and “Compton” are the outro.
Less cruel and more uplifting than “A Prince Among Thieves,” but still similar in structure. Hook, then pull back, then stack tension until it’s too late to turn back.
-Son, there’s even a freestyle skit that’s explicitly presented as Kendrick Lamar rhyming in his homey’s car! Remember “What U Got (The Demo)” with Breezly Brewin and Big Sha?
My heart done hardened, ready to put the world on a milk carton
Fuck it, no one else deserve to live
I done gave all I got to give and still ain’t got shit (What?)
So who mad? You grab and ransom
And I’ma pierce his soul and touch the heart of his grandson (oh shit!)
I’ve been wanting to jack “ready to put the world on a milk carton” for a story or SOMEthing since 1999, man.
-Rap is influenced by real people living real lives, and then those same people allow themselves to be influenced by rap, creating a cycle that feeds on itself. Put differently, Cam’Ron didn’t invent “pause” or “no homo”, and Kanye didn’t invent “ham” or “cray.” But, after Kanye, a lot of people who aren’t from the south like to talk about going ham. After Cam, “no homo” became a phenomenon. It doesn’t take much for an idea to go global.
At one point on good kid, m.A.A.d city, Lamar and his friends take inspiration from a Jeezy song. “Last time I checked, I was the man on these streets,” Jeezy says. Lamar’s boy, in response, says, “Yeah, yeah, that shit right there. I’m trynna be the nigga in the streets.”
Rap album feeding on a rap album feeding off real life feeding off a rap album.
-On “Sing About Me,” Lamar takes on the role of the sister of Keisha, a woman he talked about on “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain)” on Section.80. It’s the kind of song rappers make about how it sucks to be a lady. He name checks “Brenda’s Got A Baby,” you know? It’s a good example of those types of songs, probably on par with Lupe Fiasco’s “He Say She Say” or that verse out of “Kick Push II.” Patronizing, right? But in a way that makes me just feel like I get it, even if I don’t particularly dig the execution, rather than frustrated. His heart’s in the right place.
But on “Sing About Me,” Lamar directly addresses himself by way of the role of Keisha’s sister. “What’s crazy was, I was hearing about it, but doubted your ignorance. How could you ever just put her on blast and shit, judging her past and shit?” and later, “You lying to these motherfuckers, talking about you can help with my story. You can help me if you sell this pussy for me, nigga.”
“Keisha’s Song (Her Pain)” was bleak and direct and sad and maybe leans a little too far toward victim blaming and not enough toward… anything else. It’s cool to see Lamar self-correct, explicitly self-correct, himself on wax. And then the next verse is a rebuttal to the sister, of sorts, as Lamar explains where he was coming from. No easy answers. That shows a thoughtfulness and fluidity that I really dig.
-Fluidity: good kid, m.A.A.d city doesn’t sound like Section.80 much at all. Lamar adopts multiple flows and crosses a broad range of subject matter over the course of good kid. It’s not as stridently focused on life as an ’80s baby like Section.80 was, but it’s just as sharp.
Lamar trades the post-Reagan Era trauma of Section.80 for life growing up in Compton on good kid, and it totally works. They’re two of a kind, as far as subject matter goes, but it gives each album a different texture. Section.80 is borderline funereal at times, a checklist of horrors and injustice. This one is more even, less focused on the foibles of a generation of young men that learned how to do everything spiteful and more focused on just how they live their life.
I mean, son made a song about peer pressure in 2012 and it’s subtle in all the right ways. That’s dope.
-good kid, m.A.A.d city is an ill album. I ended up preordering the vinyl, just going by how much I liked Section.80 (it hasn’t left my iPod, Schoolboy Q’s Habits and Contradictions neither). I never do that, but I felt strongly that Kendrick Lamar would come through. And come through he did. It’s an album, a proper, listen to it front-to-back and let it simmer, album. Upbeat enough that you could spin it at a relaxed party, but down enough to spark deep thoughts. (Those voice mails, boy.)
-I’ve been thinking a lot about how little black boys grow up lately, in part because of real life and the Little Brother documentary project. What goes wrong, what goes off, and what goes down to make a good kid into something else. All kids are good, but it’s the poison we put in them that screws them up.
“Compton, USA made me an angel on angel dust” kind of sums it all up, in a way.
-I like this outro from Section.80 even more now, because good kid, m.A.A.d city builds on its blueprint:
“See a lot of y’all don’t understand Kendrick Lamar, because you wonder how I could talk about money, hoes, clothes, God, and history all in the same sentence. You know what all them things have in common? Only half of the truth if you tell it. See, I spent twenty-three years on this Earth searching for answers ’til one day I realized I had to come up with my own.
I’m not on the outside looking in. I’m not on inside looking out. I’m in the dead fucking centre looking around.
You ever seen a newborn baby kill a grown man? That’s an analogy for the way the world make me react. My innocence been dead. So the next time I talk about money, hoes, clothes, God, and history all in the same sentence, just know I meant it, and you felt it, ’cause you too are searching for answers.
I’m not the next pop star. I’m not the next socially aware rapper. I am a human motherfucking being over dope ass instrumentation.