Kendrick Lamar - Good Kid: Maad City 12 inch
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The first sound we hear on good kid, m.A.A.d. city is a prayer: "Thank you, Lord Jesus, for saving us with your precious blood," voices murmur, evoking a family dinner gathering. The album's cover art, a grubby Polaroid, provides a visual prompt for the scene: Baby Kendrickdangles off an uncle's knee in front of a squat kitchen table displaying a 40-ounce and Lamar's baby bottle. The snapshot is such an unvarnished peek into the rapper's inner life that staring at it for too long feels almost invasive. This autobiographical intensity is the album's calling card. Listening to it feels like walking directly into Lamar's childhood home and, for the next hour, growing up alongside him.
Lamar has subtitled the record "A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar", and the comparison rings true: You could take the album's outline and build a set for a three-act play. It opens on a 17-year-old Kendrick "with nothing but pussy stuck on my mental," driving his mother's van to see a girl named Sherane. As his voice darts and halts in a rhythm that mimics his over-eager commute, Lamar explores the furtiveness of young lust: "It's deep-rooted, the music of being young and dumb," he raps. The song is interrupted by the first of several voice mail recordings that delineate the album's structure: Kendrick's mother, rambling into his phone and pleading for him to return her car. These voicemails appear through the record, reinforcing that good kid, m.A.A.d city is partly a love letter to the grounding power of family. In this album's world, family and faith are not abstract concepts: They are the fraying tethers holding Lamar back from the chasm of gang violence that threatens to consume him.
All this weighty material might make good kid, m.A.A.d city sound like a bit of a drag. But the miracle of this album is how it ties straightforward rap thrills-- dazzling lyrical virtuosity, slick quotables, pulverizing beats, star turns from guest rappers-- directly to its narrative. For example, when "Backseat Freestyle" leaked last week, its uncharacteristic subject matter ("All my life I want money and power/ Respect my mind or die from lead shower") took some fans by surprise. But on the album, it marks the moment in the narrative when young Kendrick's character first begins rapping, egged on by a friend who plugs in a beat CD. Framed this way, his "damn, I got bitches" chant gets turned inside out: This isn't an alpha male's boast. It's a pipsqueak's first pass at a chest-puff. It's also a monster of a radio-ready single, with Kendrick rapping in three voices (in double- and triple-time, no less) over an insane Hit-Boy beat.