Review Summary: This isn't Martin's dream, its Kendrick's; the dream the Hip-Hop industry needs.
"Who will survive in America?"
That was the question the final song on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy proposed. As far as the rap industry is concerned, the past few years haven't looked too bright. In fact, the bright spots are hidden in the underground of the industry. Besides Kanye's masterpiece, mainstream rap hasn't seen a bright spot in ages, and with Kanye's recent string of releases post-MBDTF, hope is diminishing that his next solo album will prove to be different. Who are we to look to for hope? Compton's human sacrifice: Kendrick Lamar.
m.A.A.d city echoes what made 90's hip-hop classics great. With the production that screams West Coast, and 2 Pac especially, to the subject matter that parallels the dark, grittiness that Nas created on Illmatic, as well as the meager amount of guests and, besides Dre, no well known outside influence. This helps create a more personal story ala Marshall Mathers. But don't get me wrong, this isn't a well done carbon copy; this is different. This is the story of a kid in Compton, one who tried not to let the city corrupt him. But no one escapes a mad city fully unscathed. This is what makes Good Kid, m.A.A.d City a modern classic. The story here isn't of the hard gangster life, it isn't about money and hoes, it portrays a kid who attempted to turn his cheek the other way. Originality is what makes this classic.
To dissect further into what this album it trying to convey, this is the tale of "Once upon a time in Compton..." Beginning to end the album unfolds into the story of Kendrick being forced into a society where the mindset is "in order to live, you have to kill". Gang violence is accepted as a way of life, and drug use is the only means of escape from reality. From the start, its apparent his parents don't rightfully care for him per se, rather his mom needs him to be home so she can use the family vehicle, and his dad's only want is to know where the dominoes are at. This narrative structures an album that is focused, and the brutal honesty is a tough pill to swallow. Lamar was quoted saying, "This is an album I needed to make. Demons that needed to be exorcised and this was the only way I knew how to do that." Indeed Kendrick, this is an album that fans of Hip-Hop need to hear, and possibly an album that could change the modern perception of Hip-Hop.
While the lyrics are nothing to write home about, they do piece together the story beautifully. The production is top-tier, creating an atmosphere that coincides perfectly with the lyrics. There is much praise due to the various producers such as Hit-Boy, Pharrel, and T-Minus, for instead of using their prototypical styles they step outside of the box and adapt to what is Kendrick's vision. From Hit-Boys stark, bass-pounding beat of "Backstreet Freestyle," to T-Minus's moody and sorrowful background for "Swimming Pool(Drank)" every production style here is an astounding representation of the overall concept. Going along with these beats is Kendrick Lamar's voice showcasing the variety of different deliveries that he has up his sleeve. Whether it be the growling, alpha-dog snarls of his voice on the third verse of "Backstreet Freestyle," the paranoia derived delivery of "m.A.A.d city" or the Drake-esque talking of "Singing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst" it is clear that he is on the same level as early Eminem from a technical viewpoint.
Just like how Kanye brought out the best of everyone involved with MBDTF, all the featured artists bring their A-game on m.A.A.d city. On "Poetic Justice" Kendrick smartly puts Drake in his area of expertise: talking about women with a verse that would fit in fluently with anything on Take Care. He also brings fellow Black Hippy member Jay Rock on "Money Trees" whose ferocious verse is the most dominant of any of the other featured artists. Overall, it seems Kendrick managed to get everyone to believe in his dream, allowing them to all completely focus on a common goal.
"That was me. I got laced. The reason why I don't smoke, and it's in the album. It's in the story. It was just me getting my hands on the wrong thing at the wrong time, being oblivious to it." Kendrick Lamar didn't leave Compton without scars, and thankfully so. These scars and horrid images are brought here in an album that is needed in today's industry. The general population sees Hip-Hop as a mind-corrupting, teen influence that is an abomination to every individual it reaches out to. And who is to say it isn't? Good Kid m.A.A.d city is here to say that current theme of mainstream rap can be changed, and Kendrick Lamar's life story is proof. You aren't just Compton's human sacrifice Kendrick, you are something more than that. You are the spearhead of Hip-Hop revival. Can anyone else follow suit?