By Jonathan Wigfall

Kendrick Lamar has made his way up due largely in part to the buzz generated by the release of his fourth mixtape, Overly Dedicated, in 2010. And in 2011 he released his first independent album, Section.80, exclusively through iTunes. It was instantly ranked as one of the top digital hip-hop releases of the year. After a solid batch of releases, Lamar gained a significant internet following. Since bursting through from the underground, his lyrical intensity and content has only increased with his desire for universal respect.

We can think of Kendrick as anything but “common,” but that is not as simple as it sounds. It would be easy to boast about the lyrical ability, charisma, and intellect that he brings to every verse he lays over an instrumental, but Kendrick isn’t like that. He provides something deeper than rap on every song that he touches. It only takes one or two experiences with Kendrick Lamar’s music to have his vocals carefully seated and fastened to your mind.

On his latest release, Good Kid, m.A.A.d City, Kendrick gives us glances at a life laced with inner city struggle, drugs, guns, love, loss and family deeply rooted in their faith. The tracks on Lamar’s album are related to one another in their subject matter, serving as different episodes of an ongoing series about his life. Kendrick intricately placed audio clips throughout the album to compliment episodes in his life. The opening track, “Sherane”, Lamar introduces audiences to a young lady that he’s attracted to and the subsequent development in their relationship. He raps: “I was in heat like a cactus, my tactics of being thirsty. Probably could hurt me, but fuck it, I got some heart. Grab my momma’s keys, hopped in the car, then oh boy “

It’s clear this is where the album begins. Moreover, listeners receive an explanation as to why the album cover is a minivan. Though this introduction ends with a twist, and a voicemail from his parents, the “episode” continues later. If this album was a soap opera, the screen would fade to black and “to be continued” would appear often.

Lamar touches on darker subject matter for the remainder of the record, struggling with sins of both the past and future. Lamar is well aware that he’s far from perfect, but uses this album to share that journey with listeners while still taking time to celebrate well.

Lyrical themes are repeated, giving the album a noticeably intricate sequence. Many of the tracks are tied together with audio excerpts from Lamar’s own life that not only introduce or conclude the material, but  also enrich them with the wisdom of his parents and the way he and “the homies” interact.

Good Kid, m.A.A.d City utilizes the type of storytelling that’s not unfamiliar in hip-hop, but has begun to fade away in the genre’s culture. The music is refreshing and gives listeners a concrete depiction of what life is like for this Compton native. And if nothing else, it’s a tribute to a world that makes doing wrong so much easier.

  • Dee Lockett

    I fucking love that Kendrick has brought back the idea of the concept album in hip-hop. The Roots did their thing with undun last year, but there’s just something so special about Kendrick in that he was able to continue a storyline from Section.80 all the way to GKMC. This album is timeless. Great review!