Every year, regardless of how flaky the music industry seems, it has a key album or two for every music fan. Since 2008, every year has brought at least one album I consider nearly perfect. In 2008, it was Vampire Weekend’s debut, in 2009 it was the self-titled “The Pains of Being Pure at Heart,” 2010 brought both Robyn’s “Body Talk” and Avi Buffalo’s self-titled album and 2011’s was Wussy’s “Strawberry.”
Still, 2012 has been the worst year for music in a long time, and it was looking like no albums of that caliber would be released this year. The closest was Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange,” a wonderful record no doubt, but a flawed one as well. The year had to have something more to offer. I knew it had to have something up its sleeve. Then, a Compton rapper named Kendrick Lamar came along and proved me right.
Lamar isn’t new to the music scene. He’s been performing since 2002, has released several mixtapes and his first studio LP, “Section.80,” was released last year. It was a good album, but it didn’t seem like Lamar was someone bound to become the best new thing in music. Now, it’s hard to imagine him being anything less.
Lamar’s new release, “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” isn’t something that could have been predicted. With an incredible 90/100 on Metacritic and a 9.5/10 on Pitchfork, it’s obvious that it’s a big deal critically. Just as surprising is the album’s commercial success.
It made it to No. 2 on the Billboard album charts and three of its tracks made it to the Hot 100 (“Swimming Pools (Drank)” at No. 32, “Poetic Justice” at No. 76 and “m.A.A.d city” at No. 94).
But, is “good kid, m.A.A.d city” worth the hype? Yes. Absolutely. It’s an unusually consistent, well-produced, lyrical, musical, funny and enjoyable album; the kind that only comes out once in a great while and, when it does, you wonder how its creation was even possible. Maybe Lamar is a genius. Or maybe it was luck.
The album opens with a prayer. It then goes into a story of Lamar
borrowing his mom’s van to visit Sherane, a girl he met at a party. This begins the album’s story, which doesn’t take away from the music at all. A concept album where the music isn’t dragged down by story is rare. A concept album where the story adds to the music is even rarer, but “good kid, m.A.A.d city” manages that too.
I don’t pay as much attention to lyrics as I should, but in this case the lyrics warrant as much attention as possible. It’s the album RapGenius.com was made for. Even if you don’t pay much attention to the lyrics, however, it’s still amazing. The production and lyrics both build off of one another, and neither is shoved to the back. And as he tackles themes like lust, peer pressure, gang violence, family and religion, Lamar manages to create several of this year’s most delectable hooks. “Money Trees” has “The one in front of the gun lives forever,” “Real” has “You love so much you love when love hurts” and “Backseat Freestyle” has one of the best dick jokes in rap history.
The guest appearances include a bizarre vocal performance from a new artist named Anna Wise on “Real” and Drake at his most likable on “Poetic Justice.” Unlike a lot of albums this year, the guest appearances on “good kid, m.A.A.d city” don’t seem replaceable and they all add something.
Another thing this record has going for it is the skits. Typically, skits on hip-hop albums are a musical pet peeve of mine. In fact, “Ken Kaniff” might be the only reason I don’t consider Eminem’s “The Marshall Mathers LP” to be the masterpiece it’s often considered. But on “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” the skits advance the story. They often come in the form of voicemail messages from his parents, which are funny at first, and then become more serious. The skit at the end of “Real” is heartbreaking, as Lamar’s father attempts to persuade him not to retaliate against a friend’s killers.
This is a tough album to write about. It’s also a tough album to completely understand. There is true meaning behind the words, but the hooks, flow and music highlight them. This makes it something you really have to hear to understand. If anything, “good kid, m.A.A.d city” is a mature “Straight Outta Compton.” It understands the pointlessness of violence and the importance of family and friends to get you through the wickedness surrounding you. It’s fitting that it ends with a song called “Compton,” which features Dr. Dre.
Key Tracks: “Money Trees,” “Backseat Freestyle,” “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst,” “Poetic Justice” and “m.A.A.d city.”