An immensely strong discography littered with astonishing technical ability and profound underlying messages has helped see K-Dot rise to the top of the pile- but even the biggest artists in the world can come from humble beginnings.
Over the past few years, Kendrick Lamar has reached heights very few of us could have possibly envisioned. Not many of his contemporaries would have the gall to declare themselves “the greatest rapper alive”, and Lamar is the only one that you’d find difficult to argue with. An immensely strong discography littered with astonishing technical ability and profound underlying messages has helped see K-Dot rise to the top of the pile- but even the biggest artists in the world can come from humble beginnings. This is exactly the story that Kendrick would share with us on his major label debut, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. Having caught the attention of Dr. Dre with the release of his first studio album Section.80, and in turn signing a record deal with Interscope and Dre’s own label, Aftermath Entertainment, Kendrick Lamar set out on crafting what was, at the time, his most ambitious project to date: a record that presented a character profile of a young Lamar, along with a collection of tales and experiences that came along with growing up in the city of Compton, California.
Dubbed “a short film by Kendrick Lamar”, it won’t take you long when listening to GKMC to realise that Kendrick’s ambition well and truly paid off. From the outset, “Sherane a.k.a Master Splinter’s Daughter” flashes back to an encounter the narrator had with the eponymous young woman- though things turn south quickly as Lamar exposes the wicked underbelly of his hometown. The darker side of Kendrick’s formative years continue to be explored throughout the album: cuts like “Money Trees” and “m.A.A.d City” depict acts of crime and gang violence and the likes of “The Art of Peer Pressure” and “Swimming Pools (Drank)” show how the- then fairly innocent- Compton native was often manipulated by people he affiliated with.
However, what makes this album so compelling is not just the topics discussed, it is how they are delivered by the man himself. On GKMC, Kendrick Lamar takes on the role of multiple characters, including a hubris-filled adolescent version of himself on “Backseat Freestyle” as well as a close friend moments before being murdered on the standout track “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst”. Each persona comes with a different cadence and vocal inflection tailored to fit the role of whoever is speaking, affirming the fact that this record is much more than a collection of rap bangers, it is a cinematic experience through and through.
With the aid of the likes of Dr. Dre, Pharrell Williams and various other seasoned producers, Lamar makes it clear that if GKMC is to be the soundtrack of his youth, the instrumentals featured must sound accordingly. Elements of G-funk which characterised the kind of music being created and released in Compton in the early 90’s are heavily implemented through most songs, yet still conserving a fresh, contemporary air to them. This record strikes such a perfect sonic balance between Lamar’s influences and the trendier aesthetic of his earlier work, that even pop-rap extraordinaire Drake sounds perfectly at home during his feature verse on “Poetic Justice”.
Whilst Kendrick illustrates his early life on this album with very personal accounts of deep intricacy, I wouldn’t be surprised if many a young black male living in Compton felt directly addressed by his own experiences. Much like Nas did with his 1994 release Illmatic, Kendrick Lamar had captivated the minds of many by showing them the often gritty world through his own eyes- and as such- GKMC found itself atop plenty of year-end top albums lists come the end of 2012. Fast-forward 6 years later and it would be fair to suggest that this record will be remembered as one of the best of this decade but, mind you, I’m certain it won’t be the only one of his.