Review Summary: Compton's human sacrifice.
"It’s really just a self-portrait. I feel I need to make this this album in order to move on with my life, and I had negative vibes and demons haunting me. It’s that real. I had to come from somewhere, I had to come from a place — it could have been negative, it could have been positive but for the majority of it, it was negative place. I needed to vent and put this message out in order for me to grow as a person. I’m glad I did, because it was a venting process, you know, to tell these stories I never told." - Kendrick Lamar when interviewed about the concept of good kid, m.A.A.d city.
Though the album may come with 2 different covers, either one from the very beginning signifies an important aspect of Kendrick's life and the concept of the album itself. In the standard edition, you are able to see Kendrick as a child sitting with his family, their eyes censored. Now whether this was for personal reasoning or not, it helps emit an essence of innocence from Kendrick while he was a child which is an ongoing theme within his music itself; witnessing the dangers and impurities of the city through innocent eyes. In the deluxe version, we are greeted with the image of a van, questionably belonging to his mother or father. This van holds a dominant hold as the running theme for the album as most of the skits are heard either involving the van or with it in the background. When interviewed himself, Kendrick explained the concept of the van came from his mother and her approval for his attempts at recording in studios. This may be what he explained but within the album the van seems to contain an essence of sorrow gained from it's avid misadventures notable since the beginning of our journey into Kendrick's life.
We start off with Sherane, Kendrick's love interest in his apparent 17-year old, hormone-riddled life. After meeting this promiscuous woman and their relations turning into something more we venture into a specific day where things take a turn for the worse as what supposed to be a simple booty call of sorts manages to be sabotaged by two men in black, probably her brothers who had other things in mind for Kendrick. This helps turn the entire album's journey into a modern semi-autobiographical sequel to Boyz N The Hood as Kendrick returns to his homies bruised and broken. This entire story is elaborated upon throughout the album, reaching it's climax by the time we reach the extended version of Swimming Pools. This also notably reaches a full circle once our young gangsters find their relief in a prayer passed down from their elder, the same prayer heard in the intro of the album, almost as if it was a cycle of finding what's really "real" within their lives.
I'll give my general overview of this album. Kendrick's main objective during this entire album was to expose his own life experiences while still representing the mischievousness of the youth of Compton and explain why they could possibly grow up into the stereotypical lifestyle of drug dealing, gang-banging, and self-survival within the Compton city limits, seeming a bit ironic with a feature from the seasoned veteran MC Eiht and his lifestyle when within the concrete jungle of California. His often referenced lyricism holds itself steady and up to expectations, only restrictive when in terms of hooks that can be seen as somewhat repetitive and lacking. The features are few and far between, helping not to dilute the album into some sort of DJ Khaled collab and helps shine the spotlight on respectable artists such as Dr. Dre, Mary J. Blige, MC Eiht & Jay Rock, who does represent another fourth of the Black Hippy group. The production itself has times where it brings the album's message across as though we were not able to be blessed by a specific Dr. Dre beat, we are brought back to g-funk's now evolved roots with songs such as m.A.A.d. city, which even brought in the traditional high-pitched synthesizer towards it's end, Compton also with the voice box able to send shock waves of nostalgia from the days of Zapp & Roger though I do wish this influence was spread more throughout the album instead of one or two tracks. This doesn't serve to depreciate the album although, as the sudden shift within certain tracks serve to bring completely different scenery, all recognizable with an important part in Kendrick's life. Also with noticing Sherane being another running theme within the album, it seems as if Poetic Justice would've been better off as an independent single and replaced by the hard-hitting Cartoons & Cereal track which would seem more suitable in the album's context.
This album mainly comes as a build-up from the inner troubles of a dangerous society into a lesson about spiritual growth. I think the primary example of this can seen in Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst, which provides a narrative from different character's viewpoints on Kendrick and how he portrays them within his music, even as Keisha's sister before evaluating his own career and aspirations to help his people. This highlight of the album may be 12 minutes, but every last second is worth it as Kendrick manages to shed the skin of a musician and establish himself as a human being, destroying any particular ego he may have and stride for something greater for humanity's sake while helping those that may have lost their way.
"And you're right, your brother was a brother to me
And your sister's situation was the one that put me
In a direction to speak of something that's realer than the TV screen
By any means, wasn't trying to offend or come between
Her personal life, I was like "it need to be told
Cursing the life of 20 generations after her" so
Exactly would have happened if I hadn't continued rappin'
Or steady being distracted by money drugs and four
Fives, I count lives all on these songs
Look at the weak and cry, pray one day you'll be strong
Fighting for your rights, even when you're wrong
And hope that at least one of you sing about me when I'm gone
Now am I worth it"
Did I put enough work in""
After such an attempt, I can speak for myself and say yes. There are very few times in hip-hop where an artist can portray themselves as a spiritually-struggling human being, represent an entire city, create some catchy, but not overbearing singles, and still succeed while turning hip-hop temporarily back into a form of stylized poetry. Whether it's 5 years or 5 centuries, this form of a personal soundtrack will be remembered for generation of people, despite its very minor flaws, to set a standard in today's consciousness and conscious gangsta hip-hop. Amongst a city known for records in gang violence, police abuse, and drug tolerance, a unique hidden gem of some polluted innocence and social wisdom shines through.
Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe
The Art of Peer Pressure
Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst