In case you didn’t know, Compton’s Kendrick Lamar is the biggest thing in rap right now. Kendrick has kept the hip hop world on the edge of its seat this year with the promise of a follow-up to 2011’s critically-acclaimed Section.80. And here it is, complete with touching cover art and a stupid typeface.
In an era where moaning about the ignorant and uninspired state of hip hop is as popular as ever, there’s a sense that people really want Kendrick to succeed. Thus far he’s very much seemed the holy grail of rap; a guy with conscious, intelligent lyrics who still has the charisma and verbal skill to keep listeners awake and interested. On good kid, m.A.A.d city he has set out to meet these expectations, and luckily, he’s succeeded. The album is engaging throughout, deftly tackling rap’s favourite subjects (drugs, girls, being a badass) while always keeping one eye on the wider importance of these issues. What Kendrick does is both witty and bold; there’s enough sensationalism and lyrical dexterity here to make the album accessible and enjoyable, but in nearly every track an intelligent self-awareness lies beneath the surface. An obvious influence is Outkast, and Andre 3000 is channelled throughout the album. “Rush a nigga quick and then we laugh about it/ That’s ironic ‘cause I’ve never been violent, until I’m with the homies” Kendrck raps on ‘The Art of Peer Pressure’ , and this sort of mature introspection characterises good kid.
That’s not to suggest that Kendrick does nothing but contemplate. Indeed, lead single ‘The Recipe’ (with a largely pointless guest spot from Dr Dre) is a celebration of “women, weed and weather”, and ‘Backstreet Freestyle’ is gloriously ignorant, with a beat as menacing as its distinctly Kanye-esque lyrics. There are enough of these moments on good kid to prevent the soul-searching from getting tiresome, and as a result it falls on the right side of preachy.
The production, too, is on point. This is to be expected with up-and-comers such as Hit Boy and Scoop DeVille sharing production duties with veterans like Pharell and Just Blaze, who is still finding it difficult to make a bad beat. Though the producers are varied, they all tailor the music to Kendrick’s style, and like the lyrics it is in turns confident and haunting.