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Tuesday, October 30

Vinnie the Intern #21: Kendrick Lamar - good boy, m.A.A.d city

To understand the new Kendrick Lamar album, we must go back. Let's go back to 1993. Dr. Dre's The Chronic and Snoop Dogg's Doggystyle had recently been released, Compton was portrayed as a dangerous city ridden by gang violence, notably the Bloods and Crips, Death Row Records was in full force, and on the East Coast, Ready to Die was being prepped for release which would ignite a rivalry still in effect today: Biggie or Tupac? At this time Kendrick Lamar was seven and growing up in Compton, listening to these albums. His mother and father left Chicago because of its gang violence, ultimately ending up in a similar situation. It is easy to see this backdrop in his newest album good boy, m.A.A.d city (m.A.A.d being an acronym for My Angel on Angel Dust). It has a retro feel but melds the traditions of current hip-hop. It states on the cover, a short film by Kendrick Lamar. With an ongoing story-line and vivid details of growing up in Compton, it proves to be one of most cohesive listens of the year.

good kid, m.A.A.d city (A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar) 
After hearing "Backseat Freestyle" and his arrogant, uncharacteristic lines like "Damn I got bitches: wifey, girlfriend, and mistress," I was a little concerned until I heard it in the context of an album, just proving sometimes context can be equivalently important as the music itself. Another concern developed after seeing a list of guest spots as well as producers such as Just Blaze and Pharell. It seemed to be the makings of a pop record. I presumed a couple bangers and big name guest spots to overcompensate for the lack of substance. This again, was thankfully not the case. The guest spots blend seamlessly into Kendrick's verses and are, in no way, intrusive to the overall story-line.

The album starts off with a prayer. "I have come to you a sinner..." Religious undertones abound good kid, m.A.A.d. city as well as skits about his relationship with a woman named Sherane, his father trying to get his dominos back, and his mother calling him to give back her car so she can get food stamps. All in all, Kendrick can be seen as a relatively good, kid. As he states, "usually I am a peace maker, but I'm with the homies right now." Easily impressionable, yet having a set of morals that he routinely abides by, Kendrick is torn between being the "good kid" and growing up with his friends with a "m.A.A.d city" mentality. In "The Art of Peer Pressure" he finds himself smoking, drinking, robbing, and evading arrest due to the crowd he found himself hanging around.

The street lifestyle is articulated on "Money Trees" (featuring fellow Black Hippy affiliate Jay Rock) where those who have been gunned down are immortalized and glorified whereas the shooter is only respected. It is that mentality that brings incentive to the ongoing cycle of living by and dying by the gun. A heavy string arrangement accompanies the most lyrically erratic track "m.A.A.d city" until it ends in a surging g-funk burst (definitely an homage to the early Death Row Records). Kendrick Lamar questions his "good kid" persona and asks if his intelligence can bring the next generation to avoid the lifestyle the city has grown so accustom to living.
Kendrick Lamar - "Swimming Pools (Drank)" - Single
"Swimming Pools (Drank)," the first single released from this album, is one of the catchier cuts on the album and follows suit with the ideology of "The Art of Peer Pressure." "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe," one of my favorites on the album has a smooth, jazzy bass line, some nice snare pops, and a top-notch chorus. It is more in line with his life now rather than his childhood with lines like "I can feel the new people around me just want to be famous." Instead of being a sharp tongued stab at anyone trying to benefit from his successes, it is a smooth brush off to anything to get in his way; starting the song off with "I am a sinner who's probably gonna sin again" making no excuses, but ] asking for forgiveness for when he does stray away from what he believes.

This new batch of songs are comparatively longer than those on Section.80. The arrangements are given more time to evolve or change abruptly as they do in some cases. There are some tracks that sound completely different than others (some sound like they could be from Kanye's Cruel Summer where others have moments that sound reminiscent of the glory days of 90s hip-hop). The last three songs, including the great 12 minute "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst," sum up all stories in a nice bow: promising to sing about his loved ones if they pass away, accepting God, accepting the responsibilities, the proof that something beautiful can come from a less than ideal situation (possibly due to his parents love and support keeping him on the right track), and the culmination of the album in "Compton:" a song that acts as the epilogue to the album.

This is a listen that takes awhile to digest. The skits not only act as a bridge from song to song, but act as an overarching story that adds to the atmosphere of the album. I am loving this album the more and more I listen to it. Any fan of current or older hip-hop should definitely check out this album. Enjoy!

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