Many of you out there have followed Kendrick Lamar and his T.D.E./Black Hippy crew for a long time. I started hearing his name very recently, picked up his sophomore album good kid, m.A.A.d city, and have worked my way backwards through his discography. Last night I listened through his debut album, Section.80 for the first time and it’s fantastic. Released in 2011 via Top Dawg Entertainment, Kendrick’s debut was celebrated across the board, with positive reviews from Pitchfork, XXL and Complex Magazine who crowned it the 7th best album of 2011. On top of that, artists such as Pharrell Williams, Lil Wayne, and even Lady Gaga praised the release. The most enduring comment came from Snoop Dogg, who called Kendrick Lamar “the new king of the West Coast”.
Section.80 is a very complete idea, but after hearing where he went in 2012 with good kid, m.A.A.d city, that idea was one piece of a much more massive vision. His demonstration of vulnerability, thoughtfulness and gritty real-life topics in this new album are wrapped around a vast array of sounds, lyrical styles and vocal techniques. This package of songs greatly expands on his previous productions, and the more I listen to good kid, m.A.A.d city, the more I understand it as a masterful concept album.
Kendrick Lamar grew up in Compton, California, an area that became famous for the gangster rap of N.W.A., Snoop Dogg and 2Pac to name a few. This new form of hip-hop reflected the harsh urban environment these rappers found themselves in; often focusing on crime, violence, racism, sex, substance abuse, homophobia, misogyny and materialism among other topics. The lifestyle and music gave Compton international attention, but over time it came to represent a mostly negative perception of the west coast. Enter Kendrick Lamar, whose words and beats show his appreciation of where he comes from, as well as a progressive intention to represent a broader perspective. In his words, “You know Compton..You don’t hear no artists from Compton showing vulnerability. You always hear about the person pulling the trigger. You never hear about the one in from of it.”. The perspective of the victim, those trapped within a broken system with few opportunities runs through Lamar’s music in a very real way. In good kid, m.A.A.d city, he lays out his upbringing for all to see. It feels almost wrong to break up this album, showing only certain songs, but I want to give a snapshot of Kendrick Lamar’s versatility and encourage a full listen to see his concept fully come to life.
An area that really stands out to me are the vocalist elements; the singing, both pitch-shifted and not, the harmonies and the layering of voices in good kid, m.A.A.d city. In “Backseat Freestyle”, “m.A.A.d city (feat. MC Eiht)”, “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” and “Real (feat. Anna Wise of SonnyMoon)” you hear vocal pieces that are very distinct and forward thinking.
Dr. Dre was a main figure in helping to bring West Coast rap to the world. He helped Snoop Dogg, Eminem, 50 Cent and The Game rise to prominence. Most recently, he’s focused his attention on Kendrick Lamar. After hearing Lamar’s 2010 mixtape Overly Dedicated he got in touch with him, and that encounter developed into a nurturing relationship. It must be surreal to have a childhood hero like Dr. Dre come down to your level, recognize your vision and encourage you to continue. Dr. Dre’s label Aftermath Entertainment co-released good kid, m.A.A.d city along with Top Dawg Entertainment and Interscope Records. He appears on “Compton” and “The Recipe”, and worked as an executive produce and mixing engineer.
I’m so impressed by the work of Kendrick Lamar, his honest analysis of himself and the world around him is refreshing. I can’t wait to hear what he shares with us next.
– Jimi Jaxon