Recently, the hip-hop charts have been dominated by albums like Watch the Throne. They rap about Bentleys and Hublots, ditching poor chicks in mall bathrooms. It’s enough to make you forget where hip-hop came from. Its roots are dirtier, wrapped in a history of drug deals and drive-bys while trying to survive in the ghetto. With his album good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick Lamar tries to remind us of that.
Lamar himself is the “good kid” in the title, and the album tells the story of a trip he made as a teenager into the “mad city” of Compton, CA. Famous as the home of the Crips and Bloods, Lamar gets a taste of the thug life when he watches one of his friends die in a shoot-out. The mood of the beats matches, sounding more like Aphex Twin than Deadmau5 or Swizz Beatz.
In “F*** Your Ethnicity,” Lamar says, “Don’t mistake me for no rapper.” His frustration with the rap industry is tangible throughout good kid; it’s clear he believes that they’ve abandoned the neighborhoods they left behind when they found fame on the big stage. In “Bitch Dant Kill My Vibe”, he raps, “You can see that my city found me and put me on stages / to me, that’s amazing / to you, that’s a quick check.”
With good kid, m.A.A.d city, Lamar remembers his hometown, the good along with the bad. The result is a dark and stunning piece that stands apart from the rest of the hip-hop scene in its rawness and clearness of vision.
Ironically, with appearances on national television and huge album sales, Lamar may soon appear more like rap industry stalwarts. Let’s hope he remembers his roots in his eventual follow-up.