good kid, M.A.A.D. city
Hype is an important factor for any musician’s start in the business, but out of all the genres, it is most important in the world of hip-hop. Hype made artists like 50 Cent, Drake, and Nicki Minaj household names before they’d even released their first record. In the world of rap music, hype is king, whether it be legendary hype-men like Flavor Flav and P Diddy, or the multitude of hip-hop outlets that rely heavily on the idea of “hype” (Hoodhype.com, H.Y.P.E. Magazine, Hypemixtapes.com). In recent years, a major factor in the growth of an artists hype results from the online, mix tape movement, an avenue for budding artists to get their sound out there.
One of the artists to get his start through the mix tape avenue is Kendrick Lamar and his Black Hippy crew. After several mix tapes, he released “Section.80,” a promising album for a young rapper. From there, the hype began to grow (out of proportion). After doing a concert with Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and The Game, the trio called him “The King of the New West Coast.” Dre took it a step further, signing Lamar to his Aftermath label. Before his first release on the label even came out, Dre and him could be found mean-mugging on the cover of XXL Magazine, and inside, the XXL touted his latest album as “the biggest debut since Illmatic.” Even Nas himself said that Lamar was the future of hip-hop. Before anyone had even heard the album, Vibe Magazine ran a story on why his new album would change California rap forever. All of this had gone down before anyone had even heard the album!
So did Lamar’s good kid, M.A.A.D. city live up to the hype? Here’s just sampling of scores it’s received from major music publications:
Consequence of Sound: 100
Entertainment Weekly: 91
All Music Guide: 90
Pop Matters: 90
Here’s how good kid, M.A.A.D. city has ranked on the “Best Albums of Year” lists that have been released so far:
Spin Magazine: #2
Rolling Stone: #6
Time Magazine: #2
Filter Magazine: #4
The only two major publications I can find that gave it a score below 80 were Tiny Mix Tapes and NME. Are these two publications that far off, or could it be that the other reviewers were blinded by the hype and rapped up by this deuce of an album?
I had to find out myself. I mean really, so many reviewers couldn’t be wrong, right? It has to be an incredible listen, an unforgettable collection of songs that will go down in hip-hop infamy, correct?
…may I approach the bench, sir?
First off, good kid, M.A.A.D. city is far from one of the top 10 best albums of 2012. In fact, it wouldn’t even come near my honorable mention list. It’s not even one of the top 10 best hip-hop albums of 2012 (in alphabetical order: Action Bronson, Brother Ali, Death Grips, El-P, Joey BadA$$, Killer Mike, Roc Marciano, Schoolboy Q, Theesatisfaction, Wu-Block). It’s not even the best album to come out of his Black Hippy Crew (Schoolboy Q’s “Habits & Contradictions”). For an album that has already been lauded as the most important rap LP of the 21st century, good kid, M.A.A.D city is one damn mediocre listen.
After a couple exhausting run-throughs of the album, I had to figure out what I was missing. I scoured the online reviews and saw many of the same catchwords being thrown out: “intelligent,” “narrative,” “sonically complex.” I can’t think of three words that could be further from the truth.
In most reviews, it is a common sentiment that Kendrick Lamar is, simply put, a lyrical genius. They seem to think he’s a breath of fresh air in a genre where most artists focus solely on promoting themselves and talking about the usual suspects: money, violence, drugs, liquor, and treating women like a piece of meat. Instead of handpicking lyrics that show Lamar being an imitation of the predictable rap music of today (which would be like shooting fish in a barrel), I’m going to simply give you a sampling of the chorus/hook from each track on the album:
1. (No chorus, just lyrics about hitting on a chick with a big ass)
2. “Bitch don’t kill my vibe. Bitch don’t kill my vibe.”
3. “All my life I want money and power/ Respect my mind or die from lead shower / I pray my dick get as big as the Eiffel tower / So I can fuck the world for 72 hours”
4. “Me and the homies / Bullshitting, acting a fool / Me and the homies /Tripping, really tripping / Me and the homies / Just riding, just riding, just riding.”
5. “Ya bish, Ya bish / Ya bish, Ya bish”
6. “You can get it, you can get it /You can get it, you can get it / And I know just know just know just know just know just / What you want, Poetic Justice, put it in a song.”
7. “Mass hallucination baby / Ill education baby”
8. “Man down / Where you from, nigga? / Fuck you, where you from my nigga / No, where you from, my nigga?.’’
9. Nigga why you babysittin’ only 2 or 3 shots? / I’ma show you how to turn it up a notch / First you get a swimming pool full of liquor, then you dive in it / Pool full of liquor, then you dive in it.”
10. “Promise that you will sing about me / Promise that you will sing about me.”
11. “I do what I wanna do / I say what I wanna say.”
12. “Compton, Compton / Ain’t no city quite like mine.”
Believe me, I could have nit-picked more stereotypical lyrics like going “to that Church’s Chicken,” “one pistol and orange soda,” “A shot of Henessey,” and of course, “Beeotch! Beeotch! Beeotch!”, but I thought that’d be too easy. I figured including the hook for each song would illustrate my point. This album is not some higher level, intelligent examination of the human condition as reviewers seem to believe; it’s an album about growing up on the streets of Compton, smoking pot, drinking liquor, and treating women like garbage.
Some would argue that the reason some of the songs have such immature themes is because they are just part of the overall narrative. According interviews with Lamar, the album is intended to tell his life story, starting with him as an arrogant teenager, moving forward through the lessons learned on the streets of Compton, all leading toward the final track “Compton,” a supposed celebration of Lamar’s success after such a rough life.
The album starts with Kendrick as a teenager who likes to puff out his chest and go out searching for girls. This would explain the first several sexist, moronic tracks, but why do these same themes continue throughout the entire album?
One of reviewers’ favorite parts of the album is the running answer machine messages that appear between tracks. Supposedly these help focus the storyline, but all I hear are people mumbling about “hood rats,” “Dominoes,” and “girl, you got a big ol’ fat ass.” Some reviews seem to see these fake answer machine messages as some type of voyeuristic look inside his life, poignant an insightful. While some of them are just silly, others are filled with cheesy sentiments, like his mother’s message near the end of the album, “Come back a man, tell your story to these black and brown kids in Compton. Let ‘em know you was just like them, but you still rose from that dark place of violence, becoming a positive person.” This concludes Lamar’s after school special “Kendrick Learns To Become a Man (after taking a quick dip in a swimming pool full of liquor)”.
And if this is some type of epic, narrative, let me retell you this enthralling tale, track by track:
The story starts with 17-year-old Kendrick saying a prayer to God, followed by a trip to a party in El Segundo. He meets a girl there, they keep in touch, and months later when he goes to meet up with her, he sees two guys with guns. Suddenly we’re transported to his room, where he insists on telling some girl over and over and over that she’s a bitch and that she shouldn’t kill his vibe. Transport to the backseat of a car with Kendrick flowing with his friends about how he wants a dick the size of the Eiffel Tower. His friends and him then go on a spree, robbing, drinking, and doing drugs, but in the end, they almost get caught by the cops. Next thing we know he’s dreaming of what life would be like as a rapper, sleeping under a money tree. Transport to Kendrick writing love poems and talking about how bad he wants to have sex with some girl. He’s then walks to church and gets his neck stepped on by gang members, and then a little later by cops. To deal with the stress of getting his necked stepped on, Kendrick begins drinking a lot and dreams of building a swimming pool so he can swim laps in Patron. We then hear several of his friends begging him to sing about them when they die. Unfortunately, one of the guys gets shot mid-verse – yikes! Next thing we know, Kendrick has money, power, and respect but he still has a hole in his heart. But just as we think he’s sad, he’s alongside Dr. Dre talking about how much they love Compton. And really, it sounds like a wonderful place, right? Oh, and then Kendrick says another prayer.
Quite the cohesive, enthralling narrative, right?
It’s a huge overstatement to call good kid, M.A.A.D. city sonically complex (I saw these exact words paired up in several reviews – plagiarism much?). First of all, none of the beats or production on this album are innovative. Much of the album feels disjointed, probably a result of having so many different producers offering up their talents (or lack of) to each track. For an album that is considered by some as an instant classic, musically, it is a mish mash of rap genres that don’t mesh.
In terms of his skills as an MC, Kendrick offers up some great lines and on several occassions, he exhibits his skills at spitting out lyrics at machine-gun speed. Then again, his voice offers nothing in the way of anything that should be considered unique. It’s straight-forward, nasal, and lacking the emotional heft that an album with “deep themes” should contain. He attempts to take on several personas in the album, but his abilities at vocal impressions ranks up there with Joe Piscopo.
The most important component to reviewing an album is the actual music. Not the sound clips between songs. Not the lyrics. Not the over-riding narrative which, as already noted, has more holes and flaws than “Troll 2.” When it comes down to it, all reviews should be about the songs (obviously). Don’t get me wrong, songs like “Backstreet Freestyle” and “Swimming Pools,” as moronic as they are lyrically, are both catchy, radio singles waiting to happen (“Swimming Pools” already gaining steam). But to consider the overall effect of the music as anything but commonplace is a stretch as big as a vagina fucked by the Eiffel Tower for 72 hours.
As corny as that last line was, if it were used in a Kendrick Lamar song, reviewers would call it genius. Now if only BDWPS could get a little bit of hype…