What makes an album great? Is it simply whether the number of good songs outweighs the number of bad songs? Is it whether the album fits coherently together? Is it how the album tells a story and communicates with the listener exactly what the artist intended? Kendrick Lamar’s “good kid, m.A.A.d city” not only meets the above criteria — it surpasses them.
“good kid, m.A.A.d city” is, quite simply, a work of art. Lamar masterfully paints the picture of what it means to be a young man living in a lower-income neighborhood; in this case, the notorious neighborhood of Compton.
On their own, some of the songs appear to be nothing more than the cookie-cutter rap formula: lyrics featuring anger, swagger, bravado, violence, drugs, alcohol, sex and sometimes misogyny over a beat that makes people go nuts in a club. However, in the context of the entire album, the songs paint a larger picture — a story of personal growth from an immature teenager to a seasoned adult.
The second album from Lamar is linear, meant to be experienced from beginning to end. Through its songs, it tells the story of the artist’s life. For the duration of his story, we are not only given a front-row seat to an autobiography, but we are also reminded of what it was like to be in high school. We are reminded of young love — or lust — in “Sherane,” the cockiness of teenage youth in “Backstreet Freestyle” and how friendship can push you outside of your comfort zone in “The Art of Peer Pressure.”
The album also details common life events — such as the realization of substance dependency and the loss of loved ones in “Swimming Pools,” a religious or philosophical epiphany that causes us to change our course in life in “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” and our ultimate maturation into adulthood in “Real.”
Through his brilliant use of lyricism, Lamar allows the listener to not only understand his life story and the story of many other impoverished youths living in Compton, but also draw miniature parallels — whether you come from a low-income neighborhood in St. Louis or a wealthy suburb in Columbia.
While it is important to help the listener relate, the album is ultimately about Lamar’s life: the trials, tribulations, success and suffering he endured and how they converged to make him the man he is. This album is exceptional not only because each song is incredible on its own but also because of how they fit into the larger picture of the album as a whole.
After each song is a spoken word “skit” of sorts that both introduces the next song and helps tell the narrative of the album itself. The listener witnesses the main character’s father transform from a misogynist more concerned about the whereabouts of his dominoes than his son to a dad passing on life lessons of what it means to be a man. The listener witnesses the main character’s group of friends go from cocky, troubled teenagers to heartbroken friends as one of their own is cut down in a shooting to Christian converts.
There is not enough praise that can be heaped onto this record. It is a masterpiece, one that will inspire you and make you laugh, cry, sing along and reflect. Through his brilliant lyricism and rapping prowess, Lamar gives the listener insight into what it means to be a good kid in a m.A.A.d city.