Album Analysis | Kendrick Lamar - Good Kid, M.A.A.D City
Kendrick Lamar's sophomore album, Good Kid M.A.A.D City, gives us a strong visual representation through the power of storytelling whilst touching on life in Compton, politics and life through Lamar's eyes.
The album name Good Kid M.A.A.D City originated from Lamar's perspective of good children living in a place that may not always serve the best influences. Lamar grew up in Compton in the 1980s, a time where the crack epidemic was rising and West Coast gang culture was rife. This album proves that this systematically disposed environment of predominantly black and ethnic minority population and the manifestations of gang violence, drug epidemics and lack of resources didn’t deter Kendrick from eventually being a ‘good kid’ that could find a way to beat the system. The environment in fact inspired him to poetically drive out an album that depicts a futuristic sound of West Coast Hip-Hop through Kendrick Lamar’s eyes and ears. The album is subtitled ‘A short film by Kendrick Lamar’ and the album is designed to depict one particular day in Kendrick’s life.
The album commences with a prayer that reads; ‘Dear God, I come to you a sinner and I humbly repent for my sins.’ This sets up a spirituality that is continuously touched on throughout the album. It sets the tone of morality and dignity as an anchor to the album, even in the disarray of Lamar’s world.
The first track on the album, Sherane a.k.a Master Splinter's Daughter, gives the listener an initial look into Kendrick’s adolescent life and his lust towards a female named Sherane. It boasts a provocative melody met with a G-funk beat that eases the listener into the album. The song carries an undeniable swagger which eases you into the album’s storytelling. The sway of the groove line aids in the imagery of adolescent Lamar indulging in potential sexual relations. Kendrick’s pursuit is interrupted by a phone call which cuts the song short.
The album is laced with voicemail messages from his mother and father as they wait for his return. The messages add humour and lighten the sense of complex reality the album brings and are smartly placed to add multiple intervals to Lamar’s stories around the city.
Written in the perspective of a 16-year-old Lamar, Backseat Freestyle shows his humorous side, comparing himself to civil rights activist Martin Luther King and his famous 'I Have A Dream' speech. Lamar echos ‘Martin had a dream, Martin had a dream, Kendrick have a dream.’ The song is playful whilst demonstrating Lamar’s consciousness for activism, even in his adolescence. At this time in his life, Lamar's dreams consisted of money, power and sex, but he later realised peace and unity is what we need to guide us in life.
The Art of Peer Pressure begins with native West Coast hip-hop synth sounds accompanied by drumlines and the piano that paint the picture of West Coast California sunsets and euphoria. The sound swiftly changes in to a deeper and darker beat as Lamar sets the scene of his lucky escape from the law when he and his peers perform a robbery. "…Look at me, I got the blunt in my mouth, usually I’m drug free, but shit I’m with the homies." Lamar’s lyrics explain his disillusioned sense of self through peer pressure when being with the wrong crowd. "I hit the back window in search of any Nintendo DVDs plasma screen TV’s in the trunk." Kendrick helps to perform the robbery whilst yet again enticing us into the story. "We made a right, we made a left, then a right, then another right…One lucky night with the homies." After the song comes to an end, a dialogue begins that is heard throughout the album, complimenting the storytelling whilst creating a presence.
Sampling Janet Jackson and produced by Scoop DeVille, Poetic Justice serves as an homage to East African girls, which is mentioned in Canadian rapper Drake's verse, which keeps this song light and easy. Poetic Justice breaks the album in a way that shows Lamar’s genius by making a song that sounds beautiful, just because.
Swimming Pools (Drank) gives us an insight into Lamar's conscience that paves his way to victory. Although this was the first song released on the album, Lamar made sure the sociopolitical themes were embalmed within the song. ‘Okay, now open your mind up and listen to me Kendrick, I’m your conscience, if you do not hear me then you will be history Kendrick.' Lamar fears falling into the cycle of alcoholism that is meant to be the systematic birthright of growing up in Compton and could ultimately enthuse his demise. Lamar's conscience wins in the battle against oppression through substances that are so easily accessible in his environment.
Although the album stays true to Lamar's experiences, Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst changes the tone of the album with violins and simple melodies that chase Lamar’s poetry. The song samples Grant Green’s Maybe Tomorrow and brings us back to the origins of African-American jazz sounds that act as a musical ancestor to this 12-minute song, which is split into two parts. The first part of the song is written in the perspective of his late friend Dave, whom Kendrick promised he would dedicate a song to if he didn’t make it. It’s a pivotal and deep moment of the album where Lamar must decide which way his life will go.
The album comes to a close with Real, which touches on a number of things that were previously mentioned in past songs in a way that's serious, provocative and vivid. Lamar knows that his actions throughout the day in the life in Compton don't change the person Lamar is. 'Look in the mirror and know I’m there, with my hands in the air, I’m proud to say yeah. I’m real…’ Midway through the song we hear another voicemail, this time from his mother, which brings a softness to the song, which makes it more emotive, acts as a redemption to his wrongdoings and builds his character.
On this sophomore album, Kendrick exceeded his creativity with futuristic as well as optimistic themes through somewhat difficult situations. The politics and oppression that he is faced with as a young African-American man and the fight for true freedom and chances are exalted and celebrated through the sheer creativity of Good Kid, M.A.A.D City.
Listen to Good Kid, M.A.A.D City on Spotify here.