A nostalgic narrative, cinematic interludes and gangster rap-isms
After one full play you get the feeling like this is Kendrick’s nostalgic narrative reminiscent of an old hood movie; a move that is oftentimes referenced in rap circles. If you want to make a slight comparison, we’ll call on a film like ‘Boyz N Tha Hood’. Kendrick plays a protagonist in close resemblance to Tre, fully cognizant of the effects of his environment. Now although the hood movie reference may be a redundant topic in rap, Kendrick takes it to a place where no other rapper in the game wants to dare take it – in the role as an inner city child with a decent domestic upbringing who’s kept a grasp on moral balance. Unlike most other takes at clichéd hood motifs, Kendrick bases the disc on completely true incidents. No pop rap culture references. Something we listeners recognize as authentically him, even if the underpinning themes are familiar to us from rap precedent.
“Lamar sacrifices his own morals, values, and conscience to bond with the clique – the art lies in carefully toeing the line between inevitable mischief and criminal desires.
“Sherane” is the set up. Kendrick’s run-in with a hood rat (Master Splinter’s daughter) in Compton, and ultimately the tying knot to the entire narrative of the album. . It also features the voice of his mother and father, who, by track 12, are revealed to be his steadfast conscience, presumably a parental anomaly in South Central Los Angeles. “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” features K. Dot speaking in present tense, lamenting the parasites that come inevitably with the newfound lifestyle change above LA’s underground hip hop circuits. He speaks on evading the potential pigeonholing of record execs and even fans alike, as he tells them “you can remain stuck in a box, I’m a break out and then hide every lock”. The incredible quality about the interludes is that it keeps the album’s fluidity in places where you may have thought otherwise if interludes were absent. Seemingly, “Back Seat Freestyle” might feel like it goes off on a tangent from the plot, but K. Dot’s barking homie at the end of “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” reveals that the next 3-minutes are meant to be a filler scene in the back of his friend’s ride with none other than a Hit-Boy “beat CD”. A very conceptual way of reasserting his acclaimed moniker as the undisputed lyricist of 2012, where Kendrick can go absolutely HAM without straying entirely from the album’s flow. Same goes for the clips in media res and near the end of “Art of Peer Pressure” which emphasizes the joys and pains of youthful peer pressure/pleasure – hitting blunts and “on a mission for bad bitches and trouble”. This however is also the first sign of the “good kid, mad city” motifs. In psychological theory, it concerns Maslow’s third level of hierarchal needs – the curious extents you endure to achieve a sense of belonging. In the case of “Art of Peer Pressure”, Lamar sacrifices his own morals, values, and conscience to bond with the clique – the art lies in carefully toeing the line between inevitable mischief and criminal desires. Oftentimes this is a necessary rite of passage for even the most virtuous young male. GKMC’s first single, “Swimming Pools” tackles the same problematic, internalized issues about regretful alcoholism and peer enjoyment. The greatest thing about the song is that it’s Kendrick’s most blatantly cognizant verses but it is also his #1 club banger.
Good Kid Kendrick reaches the climax in “M.A.A.D. City”
If Kendrick made this album to sound like a short movie than this would be that climactic action scene you were waiting for. From the first bar Kendrick spits, you can hear the urgency in his voice. It almost sounds like he’s ducking bullets as he runs through different scenarios that occur inside Compton cul de sacs. Then just when you think the record is over, it cuts to the second half of the song, where MC Eiht does his best A-Wax introduction. Kendrick’s voice pitch goes even higher and the subject matter gets even more intense. From hitting a blunt laced with cocaine and ending up foaming from the mouth, on some Marlon Wayans, Don’t Be A Menace type of stuff, you find out the real reason why Kendrick doesn’t smoke. And I didn’t want to say it but did Kendrick just admit to a murder or was he talking figuratively? I guess it’s for the listener to decide. Production on this side of the song samples one of my personal favourite and underrated Ice Cube songs, in Bird in the Hand. A truly epic beat that both Kendrick and MC Eiht slaughter to pieces. And just as Kendrick slips out the meaning behind the album’s title (Made me an Angel on Angel Dust) it cuts a third time, now sounding like a “Straight Outta Compton”, NWA record from 1988. From first listen, I was completely blown away by this song. The lyrics, the production and originality are all next level.
Doc takes the backseat to a new, young roster of beatmakers
Young K. Dot assembles a synchronized cast of beatmakers, engineers and producers for GKMC. Beats, interruptions and interludes are chosen and inserted with a holistic purpose in mind, which is something still very difficult to find unless you’ve got a Rza or Kanye behind the boards. Considering the whole album could have very well been overseen by the doctor with the Midas touch, Dr. Dre – it definitely takes plenty of cojones (let alone foresight) to run with younger contemporaries like Scoop Deville, Tha Bizness, Tabu (from Denmark!), T-Minus, Sounwave, Terrace Martin and Like of Pac Div. It’s clear that the attitude was “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” even if the good Doc is within earshot of it all.
Scoop Deville, son of West Coast legend Kid Frost, has made quite the name for himself amongst the Interscope camp. “Poetic Justice” is the rare radio-friendly cut on the album but damn it knocks like a Mormon going door to door. By now, I can only imagine that this Janet Jackson sample has been engrained into your vocabulary. Scoop gives the album a perfect little midway break to wax poetic and cater to a lighthearted audience. It’s only right that Sounwave, TDE’s in-house beatsmith, stakes claim to three of our favourite joints on the album, “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe”, “m.A.A.d. City” (see above) and “Sing About Me”. The latter track delivers a beat reserved for necessary contemplation. Strings, keys, strums and matching drums never fail to hit that nostalgic chord. This part of GKMC is evidently the chance for resolution after the murder of one of K. Dot’s dearest friends. Sounwave, along with Like of Pac Div, provides a long and winding emotion-pulling soundtrack while Kendrick channels “the prognosis of a problem child” and a prostitute rationalizing her detrimental routines.
For everyone that bought the album, you’ll probably notice that Dr. Dre did not produce any beats on the entire cd. But if you look closely, you’ll see that Dre mixed more than half of the album and you can hear it too if you listen close. Kendrick’s first two singles are perfect example’s of Dre’s midas touch. You can tell he had something to do with it just by how clean and crisp the records sound. It’s like on Busta Rhyme’s 2005 record “In The Ghetto” that is produced by Sha Money XL and mixed by Dre. You can’t tell me Sha Money XL came up with that beat himself. It’s the same scenario with Eminem’s “The Way I Am” single which is produced by Eminem. As well as Snoop Dogg’s “I Wanna Rock” anthem that’s also produced by Scoop Deville. So it’s not surprising that Dr. Dre was a studio engineer before ever becoming a producer.
Dr. Dre’s work on Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City is similar to his work on the Marshall Mather’s LP, his mixing only on the Dogg Food album, his overall production on both the Get Rich Or Die Trying project and Game’s The Documentary debut. History has shown that you usually come out with a front to back classic when Dr. Dre is executive producing your first album. It’s too early to say now but I think he’s just proven it once again.
The Art of Storytelling
Amerikkka’s Most Wanted. The Low End Theory. Doggystyle. Illmatic. OB4CL. In every classic 5 mic’er album you have ever had the privilege of listening to, what is that intangible characteristic contained in each one of those lyricists on that given project? The ability to chronicle a candid existence riddled in dilapidated environments, police states and inner turmoils – and somehow these ghetto safaris have always been appealing to listeners like us. As much as this project will be categorized gangster rap or hardcore rap, it’s more so a vulnerable, conscious account of one relatable young male in Compton. Lamar strikes a balance, even disguises grander themes of good vs. evil amongst what sounds like thuggish tendencies to untrained ears. What’s refreshing on GKMC, at least for us, are the morally conscious qualities of our protagonist. It sounds like this is Kendrick cleaning the slate from his adolescent upbringing, like its told mostly from a past tense perspective or a future self, looking back in hindsight for cathartic purposes. As we may have witnessed before this could be an all-encompassing segue into a sophomore jinx album riddled with present tense industry politics, good life anecdotes and lamenting an existence of fame. I have heard whispers that this opus by Lamar is similar to Nas’ route on Illmatic. As far as I can see, there are no resemblances in content matter, rhyme pattern or anything particular to both rappers. What’s great about Lamar is that he has complete control of his moment. By speaking with a voice that is halfway in the past and half in the present, he’s able to tell his calculated story in retrospect and more importantly, with resolution.
If you think about it, at least thematically or contextually, he has left a big gap in what he is experiencing in the present tense. Life as he knows it currently will not be reflected on wax until Lamar knows how to formulate something of worth before spilling guts about it over the microphone. Therein lies the secret to why many other prodigious mc’s can never surmount their early acclaimed studio efforts. At any rate, I am a believer of Top Dawg Entertainment’s primary breadwinner. Unlike many of his contemporaries in rap and real life Kendrick Lamar seems to have found a method within all the m.A.A.d.ness.
Words by Justin Lintag & Jeff Panganiban