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West Coast, Best Coast

Miko Malabute | Friday, October 26, 2012

As a bit of a disclaimer, I must go out of my way to inform everyone this: being from California, I have a natural inclination toward things West Coast-related — the music, the culture, the In-N-Out and, once again, the music. With that said, I tried to inject little bias into my examination of Kendrick Lamar’s major label debut under Interscope Records, “Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City.” And despite my bias, I have found only good things about Lamar’s debut effort, as he exceeds the expectations that the hype seemingly unfairly placed around him. With superb presentation and extremely captivating substance, he provides a refreshing album, yet still pays homage to the “old-school” style of West Coast hip-hop that consequently gets nods of respect and appreciation from fans all over.  

The songs in “Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City” are compiled into a story, which presents the narrative of Lamar who struggles with the decision to either transcend the dangers and temptations of his city Compton, Calif., with his music, or succumb to the daily traps that his friends and everyone else seem to be a perpetual part of. His music chronicles his time in an environment that veils the opportunities of the rest of the world to its people.

The story opens with the track “Sherane a.k.a. Master Splinter’s Daughter,” telling the story of Lamar falling into temptation with Sherane, where it is revealed that Lamar was simply deceived and ambushed.  

From there comes a total sequence of tragedies fitting for scenes out of the Compton classic movie “Boyz N The Hood,” where the story falls like a tumultuous set of dominoes, one folly leading to a disaster leading to a heartbreak. The first-person narration that Lamar provides is truly impressive, never missing a beat in story telling (except for a single curiously placed song “Don’t Kill My Vibe,” a solid song, but one that really has nothing to do with the overarching story).

Each track provides a different partial ambiance to the overall story of the project, perfectly capturing the mood appropriate to its portion of the narrative in a way that really allows the listener to relate to the song not just for the message being delivered, but also the feel of the song. The feelings evoked by each song are so pure and raw that the strings of the guitar in “Don’t Kill My Vibe” pull at some heart strings and the crescendo of Lamar’s roars in “Backseat Freestyle” are felt in the chest.  

Yet there’s also a versatility factor to “Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City” that makes it so beautiful, where the songs can also be standalone songs as well as sequences to the stories.

Obviously, lead singles “The Recipe” (produced by and featuring West Coast legend Dr. Dre) and  “Swimming Pools (Drank)” are standouts as individual hits, but other not-so-obvious songs impress. “Don’t Kill My Vibe,” “Money Trees” (featuring fellow Top Dawg Entertainment artist Jay Rock), “Poetic Justice” featuring Drake, and “Now or Never” featuring Mary J. Blige are automatic hits.

One can definitely make a case for any song being the standout song, which only speaks to Lamar’s ability as a musician and artist, and the effort he puts forth in each song as well as his passion and pride in his work to avoid any filler songs.  

The fervent rapping ability combined with insightful material that has come to be known as Lamar’s standard of product is alive and well, pure and untouched in his major label debut.  

While “Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City” does have its faults, they are far and few in between, as Kendrick Lamar seamlessly flows into his debut in his own style and his own comfort zone. And if my bias shows a little, feel free to prove me wrong, and purchase the album and try to find a counter-point. You just might appreciate it after all.