good kid, m.A.A.d. city (Deluxe) – Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar brilliantly covers a Compton upbringing in the incredible concept album good kid, m.A.A.d city; I don’t really know how to talk about the themes of this album, because I honestly don’t know what he’s been through, but it’s absolutely right that Kendrick be awarded a Pulitzer prize for talking about this environment. As Rabelais wrote, “one half of the world does not know how the other half lives”, but this album has done a good number against that paradigm. Undoubtedly, the lyrics of this album are hard-hitting and the music is great. Kendrick’s many voices are one of the main strengths of this album, completely changing the songs’ tone; he’s got a low voice that gives “Sherane a.k.a. Master Splinter’s Daughter” and “The Art of Peer Pressure” a level of gravity and thoughtfulness despite the awesome guitar beat of the latter, a natural singsongy voice that allows Kendrick to deliver a powerful chorus on “Money Trees” and sound truly out of it on “Backseat Freestyle”, a more traditional forward-thrusting set of vocals that accentuate the rhythms of “Poetic Justice”, and more. (“In the thundering rain…” is a really great beat.) The instrumentation on this album is also great and complex; for example, “Swimming Pools (Drank)” is a standout not only for Kendrick’s vocals as his conscience but for the bubbly synths behind the chorus and the bridge and the low electronic chords. In a lot of ways, Kendrick’s raps are melodic, most apparent on “good kid”, where Kendrick is speaking in the same way he usually does but harmonizing with sung vocals, and on the incredible “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”, where Kendrick straight up sings a beautiful chorus over those great keys and strings. “m.A.A.d. City” is another highlight for that legendary opening, for both of the beats which center on moving up from the tonic by a half step (first one is Phrygian, second one only moves up the top note of the chord), for Kendrick’s near-crying lyrics, and for the ending which specifically addresses Kendrick’s loss of innocence before going into beautiful old-style synthesizers. (One of the really cool instrumental riffs in m.A.A.d. City is elaborated on in the bonus track “Black Boy Fly”, and it works great.) This is the album got me into Kendrick after hearing “For Free? – Interlude” from his next album, and it is an album that deserves to go down in history.

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