Okay, I’m about to write a long, meandering, unorganized stream of consciousness reaction/review/impact to/of Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city. I can’t promise you it will make sense, actually I’m fairly certain it won’t, but stay with me on this.
Kendrick is the most hyped “new” MC since Drake. good kid, m.A.A.d city is the best rap album since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. And the best rap debut since College Dropout. Since GKMC leaked on Friday, I’ve listened to it about 3000 times.
Note that “new” is in quotes, because GKMC is technically not Kendrick’s debut. More accurately it’s Kendrick’s major label debut. He’s actually released two independent albums, Overly Dedicated (2010) and Section.80 (2012), both critically successful.
Now it’s confession time. Before GKMC, I am on record saying J.Cole was a better and a more interesting rapper than Kendrick Lamer. After hearing Overly Dedicated and Section.80, I never doubted Kendrick’s ability as a lyricist, but there are a lot of really talented lyrical MCs that never made the jump from backpack rapper to main stream success. As Jay-Z says “If skills sold, truth be told, I’d probably be, lyrically Talib Kweli.” And I felt Kendrick’s career would resemble that of Talib Kweli’s or Mos Def’s, a noted and respected rapper who never really rises above college campuses or black neighborhoods. I had real doubts on whether Kendrick had enough dexterity in his flows to make it out of the underground. I was wrong. Kendrick is better than J. Cole and it’s not even close.
good kid, m.A.A.d city is a debut album in the tradition of Illmatic, Reasonable Doubt, and Aquemi. An album that tells the story of where Kendrick comes from while putting his city on his back. good kid, m.A.A.d city is also a debut album in the tradition of 2Pacalpse Now, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and College Dropout as it drops considerable knowledge exploring deep themes usually omitted from popular rap music.
Whether it’s fair or not, rappers are partly judged on the beats they rap over. The beats on this album are ungodly. Kendrick lines up a murders row of producers with tracks produced by industry heavyweights like Pharrell, Scoop Deville, T-Minus and Hit-Boy (to name a few). The odd thing is even though there are so many different producers throughout the project, the album feels entirely cohesive. And like I said already the beats are just insane (that Janet Jackson sample on Poetic Justice is just unfair).
Kendrick’s flow as I’ve already eluded to is tight as hell. Switching up flows from song to song, even from verse to verse (I’m talking about you, m.A.A.d city).
And of course Kendrick’s lyrics were never in question.
The guest spots are on point. Jay Rock spits a great verse. MC Eiht lends some tough guy bars. Drake delivers his government mandated feature on a new artists’ debut album (I’m looking at you Nicki, French, Meek, Cole, A$AP, Tity Boi). Then the Godfather of West Coast rap, Dr. Dre himself, ends the album on the fittingly titled, Compton.
Okay, now that we know that this is the Best Hip-Hop Album of 2012, let’s get into why it’s so important.
For three years now Drake has been unquestionably the most interesting young rapper in the game. Jay-Z, Kanye, Lil Wayne, Eminem, Nas, Andre 3000, 50 Cent, Lupe, Snoop, The Game etc. are all known quantities. Odds are their best works are behind them and that’s fine, because their best works are pretty darn good. The new crop of rapper’s include Nicki Minaj, J. Cole, Kid Cudi, Waka Flocka Flame, Big Sean, Tyler, Meek and A$AP Rocky. I think it’s safe to say Drake is comfortably ahead of all these rappers. Actually the majority of these new rappers are Drake’s openers, for whatever that’s worth. Kendrick is the first rapper, post-Best I Ever Had, to challenge Drake as the best young rapper in the game and that’s important.
Rap is the only industry where someone can call them self the best, without being called an ego-maniacal jerk. On top of that, rivalries and beefs are such an important part hip-hop. There is such an competitiveness in rap music that does not exist in any other art form. You would never hear the Beach Boys reference The Beatles in a record, but rappers routinely call out their contemporaries. This desire to be the best fuels rappers, like no other. Like how Bird needed Magic, Pac needed Biggie, Jay needed Nas, 50 needed Ja and The Game needed 50. Without a worthy rival, you get Jordan in ’93 or Jay in ’03. Strong hip hop rivalries push artists to a new level, while complacency kills their careers.
The best example I can think of is Lil Wayne. Wayne was at the top of his powers from about 2004 to 2008, unfortunately for him he entered a vacuum, Jay-Z was retired, Eminem was going through drug addiction, 50 Cent had lost his flame and Outkast was on the outs. Sure, there was Kanye but who’s ever beefed with Kanye? In those four years Wayne really had no one pushing him, he released some strong mixtapes and some nice albums but no top-to-bottom classics. He tried to start a beef with Jay, but that’s like battling against ghosts. By the time The Carter IV came out complacency had kicked in, his era was past and his shot at the top was over.
Back to Kendrick. A Kendrick – Drake rivalry, for who’s the most promising/best rapper right now is a real thing. There’s already a real argument that can be made for either side. Since neither of these guys are gang-bangers and both are comically polite and Drake has made it a habit of taking young rappers under his wing, I doubt we’ll ever get a heated beef in the vein of Biggie and Pac or Nas and Jay, but just the fact that we have two guys really pushing each other is important. There’s no way Drake can still say, “I’m just feeling like the throne is for the taking, watch me take it” after he just heard good kid, m.A.A.d city. I mean, maybe the throne is still for the taking, but it just became considerably harder to take it.
There’s another reason Kendrick/GKMC is so important. Dr. Dre has taken three rappers under his wing as proteges during his career. Snoop in ’92, Em in ’98, and Kendrick in 2011. The Chronic came out in ’92. 2001 came out in ’99. Detox.. well Detox has been the most anticipated since – umm – ever. It’s been pushed back, pushed back and pushed back. Snoop did a lot of heavy lifting on The Chronic. Em did a lot to restore Dre leading up to 2001. Now, maybe, just maybe, Kendrick will be the push that Dre needs to finally release Detox.
I don’t know if I have anything else to say about good kid, m.A.A.d city I probably do, but my brain is fried. I’m going to do a quick read over of this, fix some spelling mistakes and send it out. I hope it sort of makes sense, but I fear it’s just rambles…