Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d. city
- Despite undeniably strong beginnings, West Coast hip-hop has often felt like it only really worked in the right context, a sub-genre too often caught in the right place but at the wrong time. By the time the only questionably glorious and character building era of the 1980s shuddered to a close West Coast hip-hop had worked itself into quite a frenzy: 2Pac and N.W.A. turning the essentially harmless electro-infused stylings of Egyptian Prince into a whole other beast entirely - a snarling, emotional beast that was none too interested in dancing (breakdancing doesn't count).
Yes, as the 80s unceremoniously gave way to the 1990s, some of the anger had subsided, and for every Dre and Cube there was a J5, Hieroglyphics or Dilated Peoples, groups going against the grain in a sea of women, weed and weather. For the longest time it felt like as long as the warm, life giving rays of the 90's Californian sunshine shone bright, West Coast hip-hop would also radiate, the uplifting if menacingly laid back ying to New York's depressing yang.
The wave had to break sooner or later, and unfortunately it was sooner: crashing down with depressing force, one millennium mercilessly crushing the memories of the previous. West Coast hip-hop suddenly had no real place in our confused, rotten, new world. Though many tried, few rappers managed to revive much of the old voodoo magic of their fore-fathers, the closest attempt being one time Dre protege, The Game, a flawed diamond who put out one classic record, funnily enough the result of extreme sorrow after a fall out with Dr. Dre himself. Fast forward to the surprisingly tolerable year that is 2012 and, y'know what? The last couple of years have seen that once small light on the horizon slowly emerge, its luminosity burgeoning tenfold, throwing into shadow a sea of pretenders and impostors making way for a new generation of West Coast hip-hop:. Rrecent break-outs Ab-Soul, Jay Rock, Schoolboy Q and personal favourite Kendrick Lamar have all put their own killer spin on various interlocking facets of the West Coast sound.
Kendrick's build up to his major label debut has been a decent, short-long while coming, with the rapper hitting his stride a couple of years ago, eventually releasing a stellar, studio quality album independently, last year. I guess it's because there's no way anything good can come out of Compton without Dre getting his grubby, album-avoiding hands on it, Kendrick was signed to Dre's very own Aftermath Entertainment, a label now boasting an exclusive roster of four: Kendrick joins Eminem, 50 Cent and Dr. Dre himself. While there's no doubt Aftermath is a cash-cow of epic proportions, there's been a definite lack of relevance in that camp, lately.
Though small in stature, it seems that Kendrick Lamar is just the man to carry the whole, often bone crushing weight of this struggle for credibility on his petite shoulders. His Aftermath debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city an epic, sprawling hip-hop masterpiece that makes R. Kelly's vision of a hip-hopera not seem quite as ludicrous an idea as he first made it out to be. Rambling on about the merits or specifics of good kid, m.A.A.d city would be doing the record an injustice. It's a concept album about growing up in an almost extreme social environment and all the pitfalls, trials and mistakes that face any young man getting control of his demons and a place in the world. The record features an array of interludes, extended outros and answering machine messages. Most of the tracks go for over five minutes and at one point on the tail-end of the record a twelve minute monster jam pops up, yet against all the odds this record hits all the right notes, all the risks and questionable moves pay off.
good kid, m.A.A.d city is primed to be a classic even before the metaphorical wax has cooled and not one track isolated on it's own can truly do the record justice. The best compromise I can come up with is the strangely succinct "Good Kid", a track that fits in all that is good with good kid, m.A.A.d city without any of the extra icing, which would feel just a little weird out of context. The track also features the slick, relatively restrained production of Pharrell, a character who continues to prove he's much better behind a desk than behind a mic. Killer stuff.
- Jay Edwards.