Good Music In A ‘m.A.A.d city’

4 stars

The drought has finally ended, and Kendrick Lamar’s major label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city, has revitalized left coast hip hop.

The West Coast has been the birthplace of many rap greats including Snoop Dogg (or whatever the hell his name is now), Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. Lamar can easily and triumphantly consider himself among those greats after only one major album. That is a bold proclamation, but all the praise is warranted.

Good kid, m.A.A.d city is more than an album. It is a gripping epic of street stories, peer pressure and aspirations of a brighter future. Every song ends with a dialogue of some sort, which effectively transports the listener to the streets of Compton, which is reminiscent of the movie “Boyz N the Hood.” Topics of gang violence and “hood rat” females are discussed, among others. This type of album structure is unique, and Lamar uses it effectively to string together a story.

Growing up on the streets of Compton, Lamar, like others, dreamed of getting out of the “hood,” but had no idea how. On “Black Boy Fly,” Lamar recalls the day that he and other kids in the Compton area wished to be Arron Afflalo, born in Los Angeles and currently a point guard on the Orlando Magic — “I used to be jealous of Arron Afflalo/ he was the one to follow/ he was the only leader foreseeing brighter tomorrows/ he would live in the gym/ we was living in sorrow.”

On other tracks such as “Backseat Freestyle,” Lamar gets into a bragging mode and raps about the “money and power” dynamic, which is very common in rap, but always relevant. He raps “god damn I feel amazing/ damn I’m in the matrix/ my mind is living on cloud nine and this nine is never on vacation/ Start up that Maserati and VROOM VROOM! I’m racing.”

It is widely known that Lamar is one of the top lyricists in the game, but for this effort, his wordplay takes a backseat to the content, which I feel is a smart move. Some rappers hide behind their witty word construction as a way to disguise the lack of meaning in their content.

That’s not to say that K.Dot (Lamar) doesn’t get lyrical. For example in “Compton,” Lamar confidently raps “Kendrick Conan/ Where you sword at/ hand on the cross and swore that/ I do it big as Rasputia for them shooters.” For those who do not know, Conan the Barbarian carries a sword and Rasputia is the large woman played by Eddie Murphy in the movie “Norbit.” That is a thinking person’s type of wordplay.

The album features many high profile guests including Drake, Mary J. Blige, Dr. Dre and Top Dawg Entertainment labelmate Jay Rock. Production was done by Pharrell, Hit-Boy, Scoop Deville, Dr. Dre and others.

To call Lamar’s major label debut strong would be an understatement. For hip hop fans like myself, an album like this is an instant classic. The traditional themes of street life and violence mixed with the conflicts of being trapped in the ghetto and his confidence make for a strong album. I can confidently say this album will be the hip hop release of the year.