EAR TO THE GROUND: Kendrick Lamar takes us on a journey through ComptonAfter dropping his critically acclaimed mixtape “Section.80” in 2011 and getting a shout-out from rap legend Dr. Dre, who called him the new “King of the West Coast,” it wasn’t clear if Kendrick Lamar was going to live up to the hype. Dr. Dre signed Lamar to his label, Aftermath Entertainment, and set out to record a new project to add to Lamar’s already strong catalogue of independent releases.
By: Tom Carbone, Grand Forks Herald
After dropping his critically acclaimed mixtape “Section.80” in 2011 and getting a shout-out from rap legend Dr. Dre, who called him the new “King of the West Coast,” it wasn’t clear if Kendrick Lamar was going to live up to the hype. Dr. Dre signed Lamar to his label, Aftermath Entertainment, and set out to record a new project to add to Lamar’s already strong catalogue of independent releases.
Lamar’s major label debut, “good kid, m.A.A.d. city,” which was released Tuesday, puts any doubts to rest about the 25-year-old’s ability to be the next great emcee, and cements his place in rap forever.
To put it bluntly, “good kid, m.A.A.d. city” is a modern-day classic.
Everyone from Rolling Stone magazine to Pitchfork.com has given the album glowing reviews. It’s even garnered a perfect score in hip-hop magazine XXL, one of only nine albums to do so in the past 15 years. “good kid, m.A.A.d. city,” is the pinnacle of 2012, an already strong year for rap.
The album is subtitled “A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar,” and it acts as just that — 12 cohesive tracks that take us on a day in the life of this Compton-born rapper. Lamar is a good kid at heart, but his early surroundings push him to do things he typically wouldn’t, a theme detailed throughout the album.
As you dive in, you can’t help but first notice the cover: A beat-up Polaroid picture of a purple minivan roaming the Compton streets. As we learn in the first song, “Sherane a.k.a Master Splinter’s Daughter,” this is a van borrowed from Lamar’s mother — a van he drives throughout the 12 songs.
The song takes us on the first part of his journey, where he meets a new girl (Sherane) who sets him up to get robbed. The track ends with a phone message from his mother, warning him to bring back the van and to stay away from Sherane.
Phone messages act as skits and are scattered throughout the album, tying the 12 tracks together thematically. In “Swimming Pools (Drank),” the set-up by Sherane is alluded to right before a series of gunshots.
Veteran Lamar listeners are used to his incredible ability to tell an intricate story that flows effortlessly through beats, with rhyme schemes and patterns seen nowhere else in rap today. Hints of Andre 3000 and Lupe Fiasco are seen, but Lamar has a distinct style that’s hard to compare to anyone else.
“The Art of Peer Pressure” exemplifies this perfectly. The track describes a time when he and his friends broke into a house and stole whatever they could find. He realizes that what he’s done is bad, and he’s being influenced by the people around him. He sums up his feelings: “I’m usually a true firm believer of bad karma / Consequences from evil will make your past haunt ya.”
In rap, delivery is everything, and Lamar has this down pat.
Lamar touches on many themes as he continues his adventure around Compton: drug and alcohol addiction, peer pressure, the power of money and the power of a grounded family.
It all builds up to the final track, “Real,” a song that finds Lamar reflecting on ideas from the entire album and coming to the realization that committing acts of violence, or simply following what your friends do, doesn’t mean that you’re “real.”
His journey through the mad city takes him on emotional highs and lows, from despair and lust, to frantic joy. But at the end of the day, his family helped him through it all, and he’s able to reflect on it all and tell his story — a story that was a long time coming.
Reach Carbone at firstname.lastname@example.org or (701) 780-1249.