10/25/2012 10:03 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Album Review: Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d city

By Aarica West

Kendrick Lamar has been the exception to the rule in many regards throughout his life. While the divorce rate is steadily on the rise, Lamar was privileged to have grown up with both a mother and a father in his household. Living in the rough, gang-ridden city of Compton, he chose not to be involved in gangs -- a choice that usually leaves one dead. And in a rap game where real emcees find it hard to sell, the powerful lyricist steadfastly wins over the hearts of rap fans.

good kid, m.A.A.d city marks Lamar's first release on a major label, Interscope Records and Aftermath Entertainment. Whereas other rappers falter when converting to major label companies, Dr. Dre gave Lamar the green light to keep doing what he knows how to do best; last year with the help of two other West Coast legends, Snoop Dogg and The Game, Dr. Dre passed the torch to Lamar naming him the heir to the throne of West Coast rap. On GKMC, Lamar's vernacular remains rich with swagger and his unordinary yet on point internal rhymes maintain to freely roll off his tongue. With some of the games best producers providing beats that fit in a cohesive manner, Lamar is able to paint a vivid story of a good kid in a dangerous city.

"Sherane a.k.a. Master Splinter's Daughter"

The album starts in the middle of the story KL wishes to tell through GKMC. It begins with KL and his friends saying a simple prayer; they are repenting of sins, asking for Jesus to save them and for Him to take control of their lives. Then drops the unnerving, warped beat produced by Tha Bizness over which KL retraces the interactions between him and his seventeen-year-old love interest, Sherane. The title of this track alludes to Sherane being a "hoodrat"; her actions at the end of the song solidify her being one. KL and Sherane had been talking the whole summer before the 11th grade. On the night the story takes place, KL takes his mother's Caravan to go see her, in hopes of having sex; but when he gets about 250 feet away from her spot, he realizes that Sherane had set him up.

"Bitch, Don't Kill My Vbe" *

The message of this song is clear: don't kill Kendrick's vibe, betch. This is a bigger picture song that also plays into the storytelling concept of GKMC. On a local scale, Sherane most definitely killed KL's vibe by setting him up. He thought they had something special, but she resented the making of a relationship with him; she lived on a petty scale and succumbed to the Compton lifestyle that KL could instead see past. On a global scale, this song juxtaposes KL and other artists in the game. KL is proclaiming that he is revitalizing the life of hip-hop, without following mainstream artists -- he's not just trying to appeal to the masses, but rather keep hip-hop alive minus compromising the substance of his music. TDE's in-house producer extraordinaire, Sounwave, produced this classic beat.

"Backseat Freestyle"

This playful song over an easy-going, hard-hitting beat from Hit-Boy sets the stage and marks the beginning of the story told throughout the album. In the skit at the end of the previous song, KL's friends arrive to pick him up in order to hang out and cruise around. This track is unlike most of KL's other songs because of his hackneyed braggadocio -- he tritely boasts about money, guns, and bitches. This is as close to mainstream as you're going to get out of KL. Yet, it's no surprise that he kills the track even when being out of character. He does mainstream better than the conforming masses we call rap artists.

"The Art of Peer Pressure"

The track starts with a smooth introduction in which KL is smoking on good weed and drinking liquor with his homies. He is usually drug-free, but with his friends around him, it's a different story. As the menacing beat engulfs the speakers, KL and friends are being up to no good while riding throughout the LA area. KL is conflicted during the song because he is a good kid, but through peer pressure he finds himself in bad situations (hotboxing on laced weed, gangbanging to unsuspecting spoon feds, and robbing a house).

"Money Trees" (f. Jay Rock)*

KL uses this "boom boom clap" DJ Dahi production to summarize the happenings of the previous song. He talks about the home invasion, having sex with Sherane, rapping with his homies, being trouble as they ride around, and having dreams of living lavish. Though he quickly comes back to reality to realize he's poor in verse two, he is still on the pursuit of reaching his dreams. Fellow Black Hippy member, Jay Rock offers a strong finish to the track. With his 16 bars, Rock describes his hustle and struggle in the projects. Both of their rhymes come together to agree that money trees are the best place for shade.

"Poetic Justice" (f. Drake)*

After being with the homies for an afternoon of fun, KL is dropped back off at home and takes his mother's Caravan to go see Sherane. The silky, smooth beat, produced by Scoop DeVille, is a sample of Janet Jackson's hit "Anytime, Any Place". KL uses this chill beat and a sexy 16 bars from Drake to vibe with the ladies in order to talk about his poetic justice, the twist of fate by which his vice is punished in a peculiar manner. In his mind, KL is about to have sex with Sherane, but as we find out in Track 1, he is actually met by two guys in black hoodies who rough him up.

"Good Kid" *

Produced by heavy-hitter Pharrell Williams, this haunting track analyzes the everyday tribulations of KL in the city of Compton. On the first verse, KL talks about having to deal with the two notorious gangs of Compton, the Bloods and Crips; he is always harassed even though he is not apart of a gang. In the second verse, the red and blue colors are from the sirens of a police car; the cops constantly pester and racial profile KL -- he is consistently stopped for appearing as though he is gang affiliated. By verse 3, the good kid is tired of dealing with the streets, the mad city in which he lives; he is in a room full of "grown-up candy" (Xanax and shrooms) and wants to take the drugs in order to forget the pain of society.

"m.A.A.d city" (f. MC Eiht)

On this track, KL describes the mad city of Compton in great detail. Gangbanging, death, and pain are all too familiar for the residents; KL paints a vivid picture of that hard knock life. Furthermore, KL finally tells why he rarely smokes weed; his first blunt was laced with cocaine, which ultimately had him foaming at the mouth. With MC Eiht as the feature, KL shows how far West Coast rap has come. MC Eiht is the leader of Compton's Most Wanted, a gangster rap crew who gained fame in the early 90s. When MC Eiht comes in, the beat dips into an early 90s rap feel that greatly works within the theme of the song. MC Eiht offers a different perspective of life in Compton, the life of a gangster who felt he had no choice but to succumb to gang life. KL, on the other hand, thinks the perpetuation of the gangster lifestyle found in Compton and other urban areas is a backwards way of thinking. KL hopes to represent those in the hood who yearn to end the cycle of violence.

* m.A.A.d has two meanings: my angry adolescence divided and the standout meaning of my angels on angel dust.

"Swimming Pools (Drank)" (Extended Version)

Out in late July, this song was the second single released off GKMC. Produced by T-Minus, KL uses this eerie beat to consider his relationship with alcohol. He reminisces about the adults in his family "living their life in bottles." Some may think he is glorifying alcohol. However, he is merely bringing attention to the choices one has when dealing with liquor: to either become a heavy drinker or a casual drinker. The choice is up to you; KL wants to make it known that the solution to your problems will not be found at the bottom of a bottle or through smoking weed. The skit at the end of the song is the climax of the story that surrounds GKMC. In an attempt to avenge KL's beat down, he and his friends are met with trouble -- though they shoot at the guys who beat up KL, one of KL's friends gets shot amidst the gun battle.

"Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst" **

This 12 minute, two-part track is the realest song on the album. It represents the change in how KL approached rap and life in general. The "Sing About Me" portion of the song deals with people wanting their stories to live on regardless of their lifestyles; it is told from three perspectives. The first verse is told from a perspective of a gangbanger who only finds trouble in life. The gang member offers a positive message to KL by praising him for believing in something bigger than the Compton lifestyle, having a passion that allows him to make it through. The gangster is unable to finish the verse; he is killed before finishing his message. On verse two, KL channels Keisha's sister. ("Keisha's Song [Her Pain]" off KL's indie titan, Section.80, KL tells the story of Keisha, a prostitute he grew up with in Compton; sadly, she was raped and killed.) Keisha's sister is now confronting KL for putting Keisha's business on blast. Like Keisha, her sister is a prostitute. She seems stubborn and unwilling to accept that there is another way of life for her outside of prostituting herself. She's overconfident and feels she will never fade away, yet by way of dramatic irony, her verse fades out. KL finishes up verse three as himself, apologizing for offending anyone and hoping that people will sing about him after he is gone; he rhymes with gusto not to please anyone, but to tell the stories of those whose voices cannot be heard.

The "Dying of Thirst" portion of the track starts off with a skit of KL and his homies wanting to seek revenge, but being tired of running and hunting. It's a tiresome cycle in which no one is ever the victor. KL is declaring that he is sick of seeing people kill each other. He is insisting that gang violence is not the answer and he can show you how to turn your negatives into a positive. In the skit at the end of the track, KL and his friends run into a churchgoer, voiced by Maya Angelou, who encourages them to get baptized and live on a path toward righteousness. They repeat after the churchgoer, saying a prayer that should ring a bell to listeners, as it's the prayer Track 1 begins with; this suggests that the story is now at the same place, before he describes how he met Sherane.

"Real" (f. Anna Wise)

This song rejoices KL's realization that loving yourself and being real is one of the most important things you can do in life. After saying the prayer, KL feels free from the troubles that haunt him; the prayer helps KL focus on what is important in his life. KL uses the Terrace Martin production to make clever play on words by repeating Plan A, B, and C throughout the song; but each verse he describes the three options as something else. In the first verse KL is referring to a vanity slave to whom he is attracted and the second verse he talks about the love he has for a friend of his. On the last verse, he explains that he loves all people because everyone has something to offer. KL leaves listeners with a message, "Sing my song, it's all for you". He makes his music in order to give back to his community. He hopes through his music the degenerate, often overlooked youth will learn from his mistakes and make enlightened decisions. The skit at the end of the track is KL's mother and father apologizing for his friend being killed. They both suggest that KL turns this negative event into something that fuels his music.

"Compton" (f. Dr. Dre)

Like his mother suggested at the end of "Real", KL dedicates this song to the city that raised him, Compton. With the help of his mentor, Compton-bred Dr. Dre, KL slays this Just Blaze production. The Doc spits fly lines as well; it's safe to assume that KL wrote those lyrics. Throughout the song, KL and Dre show love to their city; despite it being a hard place to grow up in, there isn't another city quite like Compton.

Deluxe Edition

"The Recipe" (f. Dr. Dre)

This track was the debut single off GKMC. Sampling "Meet the Frownies" by Twin Sister, Scoop DeVille was able to produce a drum-heavy beat over which KL and Dr. Dre flow with lucidity (yeah, KL is definitely ghostwriting for the Doc). This song is easily a new aged California anthem that discusses CA's three glorious W's: the beautiful women, the magnificent weed, and the superb weather. How do you like them apples?

"Black Boy Fly" *

This song is cool eloquent. In the beginning of the track, KL discusses his jealousy of people who were able to make it out the hood; he uses two well-known examples of guys who made it out of Compton. The first example is Arron Afflalo, a shooting guard for the Orlando Magic. Afflalo and KL went to Centennial High School together. Afflalo had success on the basketball court and in the classroom, making his dreams become a reality while KL and friends were wallowing in their sorrows. Jayceon Taylor, better known as The Game, is the second person KL was envious of growing up. In 2004, The Game was at the top of the rap game; KL and his friends were only selling their mixtapes in swap meets at the time. At the end of the song he explains that he wasn't particularly jealous of their talents, but rather their escape from the struggle -- he did not believe that he would survive to make it out of Compton. Nevertheless, now he's flying with the best of them; he thanks God for that at the end of the song.

"Now or Never" (f. Mary J. Blige)

This celebratory track features vocals from the great Mary J. Blige. It is a solid way to end GKMC. The majority of the album deals with the struggles of KL, a good kid, trying to remain sane in a crazy city. Defying the odds, he was able to reach his dreams of success. Now that he's in the rap industry, he's not going anywhere. Record after record, he has proved himself worthy of praise from fans, critics, and artists alike. It can only go up from here for KL; the sky is not even the limit -- he's already surpassed that.