By Ernest Wilkins
RedEye Sound Board
October 23, 2012
**** (out of 4)
If you spend even a minute of time around rap, you’re bound to hear a conversation about “real hip-hop.” The basic argument goes like this: Rappers who showcase lyrical dexterity and a willingness to not discuss the holy trinity of money, cash, hoes are better than rappers who just have an ear for production and/or glorify their surroundings (or make them up as they go). The entire discussion is tired and lazy and usually biased with respect to age. It’s basically: “My guys are better than your guys because I don’t understand your guys.”
Enter Kendrick Lamar. For those of you who haven’t heard of this kid, he’s a Dr. Dre co-signed anomaly to the modern rap game, as he blends dizzying wordplay (not to mention fluctuations in his voice) with a clearly defined narrative. Following 2011’s “Section.80,” his second major release “good kid, m.A.A.d city”--according to Lamar, the acronym stands for “my Angry Adolescent divide”--showcases his ability to tell a story and tell it well. Kendrick borrows his parents’ van and goes for a drive through Compton, his home town. Along the way, he encounters women (“Sherane aka Master Splinter’s Daughter”), meets up with his friends (“The Art of Peer Pressure”) and even gets into an issue with a rival gang (addressed with absolute fury on “m.a.a.d city” featuring legendary California gangsta rapper MC Eiht).
This is a personal album. The stories Lamar raps are easily the most introspective lyrics heard on a rap album this year or the last two. A great example of this would be the 12-minute “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst,” on which Kendrick waxes about the stories of a gangbanger who lost his brother and the sister of a woman he referenced on his last album. Just deep stuff.
The album ends with a ceremonial torch-passing on “Compton.” The track features Dr. Dre, who has to have at least tied Diddy for the “number of artists I’ve championed that never released a full album” record. You don’t get much production from Dre on this record, but his influence is all over it. The entire album is cleanly mixed and just sounds … better.
I’ll admit that the hype cycle behind this album is kind of tiring and definitely approaching 50 Cent in late ’02 levels, but just like that time, it might be warranted. Highest possible recommendation.
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