Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.a.a.d city (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Kendrick Lamar

good kid, m.a.a.d city (2012)

Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope

One of my favorite rap albums (shit, one of my favorite albums hands down) is A Grand Don't Come for Free by the Streets. The album is a concept record that tells one of the lowest-stakes stories ever conceived: a guy loses $1,000, gains a girlfriend, life happens, he loses the girlfriend, he finds $1,000. If I were to describe the details of this album you would probably find them so mundane that you'd never listen to the record. However, it's the banality of the album that makes it so meaningful.

People learn lessons slowly and throughout long lives of simple, everyday interaction. People rarely lose lovers over clandestine reason; more often people just grow apart, or one person's hangups become too much for another. After it's over, you learn a little, you hurt, then you move on. By making its aim low, A Grand Don't Come for Free becomes a fantastic snapshot of how real people deal with their lives and when you get that close to the bone, it becomes less a story about one man and more a story about everyone.

Kendrick Lamar has pulled off a similar feat with his new record, good kid, m.a.d.d. city.

On its surface, Lamar's record is decidedly small-scale when looked at in the scope of popular rap music. The album has a lot of the touchstones of gangster rap: crime, drug use, death, guns, murder, theft, bitches and hoes, etc, etc, etc, but with none of the bombast or glamor that are usually associated with such topics.

Instead, Lamar tells a simple story about trying to be a good kid when forces seem to be asking him to do otherwise. The character on the album puts himself in harm's way at the possibility of having sex with a sexy girl. He doesn't usually like drugs or violence, but he gets talked into both when he is faced with peer pressure from his friends. One of his friends dies and he considers getting a weapon and retaliating.

Now, none of these things are similar to my own experiences growing up and yet, at the same time, they totally are. I've done dumb things and put myself in bad spots to impress a woman. I've done things with friends I wouldn't do in a million years if I was by myself. I've often thought of responding the wrong way, the more satisfying way, to people who've harmed me. By telling his own, simple coming-of-age story, Lamar has made an album that is about everyone, despite just being about him.

Like the best short story writers, Lamar allows the listener to insert himself into the tale and learn something about themselves while still telling a unique story. It comes off as simple. It clearly is not. It all seems so easy. Hardly anyone can do it. Jawbreaker could. The Streets did. Kendrick Lamar has on good kid, m.a.a.d city., an album that breaks through and allows for a real connection.