Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city
Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope; 2012
Day & A Dream Rating: 4.5 out of 5
BUY: iTunes | Amazon

In combing through personal triumphs and tragedies, you begin to find yourself easily influenced by the music you listen to. It’s emotional, it’s broad and it welcomes memories you once repressed and once held up high to the heavens like Simba. There are waves, crests, things that you don’t figure out upon the first listen and things you openly yearn to discuss in public on your 30th listen. I somewhat miss the days where social networking was merely a thought in some college kids dorm room and where it took months, maybe years even for the words “classic” to escape someone’s breath.

What do those aspirations have to do with Compton, CA native Kendrick Lamar’s major label debut? Everything and nothing at all. Lamar is another in the long list of rappers whom we’ve anointed saints, an heir apparent and next to replace those whom we’ve grown up with. Lamar stole listeners ears and the attention even your most non-lyrical rap head on 2011’s Section.80, a sometimes preachy whirlwind of a record where the tales of empathic youth were his calling card and vibrant moments of dizzying wordplay (see “Rigamortus”) were its hallmark. “HiiPoWeR” kicked it all into high gear while “A.D.H.D.” became an anthem for the middle born into the Reagan era who effortlessly watched Darkwing Duck, seated and anticipatory.

Those wandering eyes play heavily into good kid, m.A.A.d city as Lamar shifts vocal inflections, tones, voices, chords and anything found within his larynx to give a character some form of breathing life. It’s not wrought in the traditional sense of Los Angeles rider music, booming synths and layered talkbox with dashes of funk but rather in its storytelling. Because whether you want to admit it or not, it’s an album within an album and picking it up out of sequence will throw you far from the scent.

Pacing oneself inside m.A.A.d city will find you from corner to corner, jumpoff’s house and straight to the hands of the Lord. You may never discover the little easter eggs of how Kendrick used his van to get all over the city while it being on E but you will relish in the deft storytelling Lamar exhibits on “Sing About Me”, a eulogy about a fallen friend that gets cut down literally mid-verse in a hail of gunfire. Much like Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE, the centrality of the characters, all finding a middle point inside of Compton is what makes Lamar’s opus so rattling and sticky sweet. You casually relate to throwing away any and all consequences for the sake of the fairer sex as evident on the album’s opener “Sherane” or the furious anger that flies through the duality of “Good Kid” (with Pharrell doing his best murky Roy Ayers impersonation) and MC Eiht wanting to rapid fire gut punch enemies on “m.A.A.d City” when getting beat up.

The audible pleasures of good kid flutter with long arcs given by Scoop DeVille, THC, Sounwave & even Pharrell – all instructed to craft not just music to last for four minutes but much, much longer. Even the album’s most likely touch of radio warmth, the Drake assisted “Poetic Justice” figures itself inside of a jigsaw – how to appease women without being preachy or worse, brought inside of Drake’s navel gazing antics. The Toronto emcee does offer a decent change of pace from Lamar’s constant and well organized thought process, offering up a new character who’s more of a NPC than central figure but it still remains Lamar’s moment, one he started stamping out with a series of freestyles and mixtapes since the age of 16.

To a point, this is when good kid takes place. For at sixteen, what exactly do you realize about the world? You realize that sex is available, that women can offer it on a whim. You even laugh about it with your friends and kick freestyles with enough banter and polish to admit that Young Jeezy may not lead to the best decisions. It is indeed a movie, one with a shimmering, glossy wide pan shot of the city in “Compton” featuring the city’s most known export in Dr. Dre whose production presence is mouse like quiet on the album. The credits roll on the idea that Kendrick Lamar still is that kid who, much like Lucky in the film Poetic Justice decided to once and for all take things seriously when a friend passed. The West Coast sun sets and rises once more – for here is Kendrick Lamar, on an album that is free of creative shackles. A tour de force that exists on a major rap label – we can all celebrate in that.