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The Peak of Storytelling: Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d city

Updated: Sep 12, 2020


Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid Maad City recently made history as it officially became the longest charting hip hop album on the Billboard top 200. That’s rightfully so, as you could make the case that this is the greatest storytelling rap album of all time.


Many rappers have written concept albums telling stories about their lives, but GKMC goes into every aspect in painstaking personal detail, and it’s told in a coherent nearly chronological format. That’s what makes it truly great. Many listeners can’t directly relate to the lyrics, but Kendrick immerses you in his environment, and it makes for an unforgettable experience.


The album starts with “Sherane a.k.a Master Splinter’s Daughter.” Kendrick shows us his sexual desires through an anecdote about Sherane, a seductive girl he sees at a party. The drowned vocals and warped synths eerily lurk in the background and set the scene of an adolescent Kendrick with nothing but lust on his mind. He lives life for the thrill of it with no thoughts of the consequences. We see this concept continued in a different style with the next track “Don’t Kill My Vibe.” Relaxed production and a catchy hook make for the perfect song to play with the windows down in your car. Then, we get the textbook banger, “Backseat Freestyle,” a continuation of K dot’s fast lifestyle. Lyrics like “my mind is living on cloud nine and this nine is never on vacation” perfectly embody the emotional peak of his adolescent lifestyle; he’s just having fun with his homies. Heavy cowbell and bass production mesh perfectly with Kendrick’s aggressive flow and lyrics. Even though these are some of my favorite songs, what comes next is what makes the album into something truly special. Banger after banger with good content is amazing, but 4 songs in, we start to dive much deeper into the true concept of the album, being the good kid in a mad city.


After being on top of the world on “Backseat Freestyle,” we get into tracks like “The Art of Peer Pressure” and “good kid,” both of which explore the larger thematic story. “The Art of Peer Pressure” is inarguably one of the best storytelling tracks of all time. Kendrick explores the darker side of being “with the homies.” Peer pressure permeates his mindset and causes him to do things he would never do otherwise. Throughout the track, he takes us on a detailed account of a robbery he’s committing. At the end of each verse he explains the effect that his peers have on him: “I've never been violent, until I'm with the homies.”


On “Good Kid” he focuses more on the lack of opportunity to be a good kid growing up in West Side Compton. Pharrell vocals combine with loaded lyrics to create a perfect song packed with content to unravel. Once paired with the following track “m.A.A.d city,” the disparity between the good kid and the mad city becomes perfectly clear. “m.A.A.d city” is a grisly depiction of Compton and another track that’s decked out with content from front to back. It goes into detail about the politics and occurrences that happen in Compton. With its iconic hook, drums, and melody, there‘s no question about how this became such a hit. We then go to “Swimming Pools,” a song that deals with alcoholism and peer pressure. Disguised as a drinking song, its actually a set of anecdotes that holistically analyze the effects of social drinking. Over the woozy beat minced with drums, Kendrick’s voice comes off smooth as ever while he delivers 4 perfect verses and one of the catchiest hooks I’ve ever heard.


After that, we get the two-part cry for help in “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.” Kendrick tells a stunning set of stories over somber vocals that could put you to sleep. Each story is from the perspective of someone around him; they’re jarring, saddening, and some of the most meaningful moments of hip hop storytelling I’ve ever heard. Through these perspectives, he explores the themes of this album and maintains a perfect flow while doing so. The song could have wrapped the album up in a flawless bow, bringing together everything that’s talked about with a master stroke of artistic ability. He doesn’t though, and it makes for my only critique of this album. Instead, he adds “Real” and “Compton” to the normal version of the album. This was the big mistake he made, as they just don’t fit after the 12 minute magnum opus that is SAMIDOT. They’re all great songs but the placement feels like they were just thrown in at the last moment. Overall, Kendrick Lamar makes a classic record that almost hits a perfect 10.


Creativity: 3/3 Content: 4/3 Production: 3/3 Total Delivery: 3/3 Album Flow: 2/3 Rating: 9.5/ 10 || Best Songs: Literally Everything Except Real


If you enjoyed this review you can find more like this on my Instagram account @nafreviews

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