Sex, drugs, money, fame: standard procedure for modern-day hip-hop, but impersonal and tired conventions do not a great record make, and – on his major label debut – Kendrick Lamar is aware of this.
One crucial element to note is that this is Compton hip-hop, and an education in struggle and redemption at that.
Subtitled ‘A Short Film By Kendrick Lamar’, the rapper’s cinematic vision is outright even before the tape machine effects introduce the record – a similar move made by Frank Ocean on Channel Orange. However, where Ocean’s concepts were at times implicit, the West-Coast rapper on the other hand fearlessly presents himself in a candid manner.
Firstly there’s the bravado of Backstreet Freestyle, with the uncannily Kanye-esque line “I pray my dick get big as the Eiffel Tower, so I can fuck the world for 72 hours”. 12-minute long Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst is as stripped back as it is emotional, acting as a truly reflective turning point for Lamar.
Unsurprisingly, with a major label comes some impressive guest features, however Lamar is all too interested in the cogency of his narrative to let it become obscured by irrelevant verses. Even Drake’s appearance on Poetic Justice is a better fit than one would expect, with both vocalists’ verses gliding along a manipulated female backing vocal hook.
As one would expect, this is a demanding but hugely rewarding record; its strong narrative arc and diverse stylistic tropes more than justify its near-70 minute length. Records as dense and rich as this shouldn’t be something to be afraid of. Particularly for a major label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d. City is incredibly brave, but more importantly it happens to be hip-hop’s greatest accomplishment of the year.