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Rap rookie Kendrick Lamar scores with cinematic debut

Dart Adams
Rap rookie Kendrick Lamar scores with cinematic debut

Kendrick Lamar’s highly anticipated major label debut album “good kid, m.A.A.d city” has already been regarded as a modern classic.

This concept album effortlessly weaves together coming-of-age tales, stories of loss and portraits of life in Compton, Calif.

Much like multiple stories merge in Steven Soderbergh’s film “Traffic,” multiple characters collide in Lamar’s project, showing significant growth from his last album, “Section.80.”

The project establishes a pronounced sound and aesthetic that envelops the listener and reveals the world as seen through the eyes of the protagonist, Kendrick Lamar.

Typically, albums have standout songs that are obvious singles. But on this album, the focus is on the combined power of the overall narrative.

From the opening track, “Sherane a.k.a Master Splinter’s Daughter,” the listener is instantly transported to Lamar’s world, giving further credence to the subtitle written on the album’s original cover art: “A short film by Kendrick Lamar.”

 On the next few tracks, the album tackles the subject of everyday life in Compton for a young black male: “Backstreet Freestyle,” “The Art Of Peer Pressure,” “Money Trees,” “Good Kid” and “M.A.A.D City” touch on peer pressure, gang violence and the death of close friends and family.

By placing “Poetic Justice” — featuring RandB/rap star and former tourmate Drake — in that stretch of songs and bookending them with the album’s lead single “Swimming Pools (Drank),” the end result comes off like a string of events that occurred in a well-made film.

The crowning achievement of “good kid, m.A.A.d city” might be the ambitious and expertly-executed 12-minute opus “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst.”

In that song, Lamar speaks from the perspective of multiple characters, including a comrade of his who was killed and a woman whose tale he told on “Section.80.”

The album continues with “Real,” an affirmation that echoes his parents’ words about life, responsibility, loss and maintaining identity in the face of adversity.

“Compton” is the album’s grand finale, featuring Compton’s favorite son and West Coast rap icon Dr. Dre over a Just Blaze-produced beat. It serves as the representation of triumph, signifying that Kendrick Lamar has finally made it.

Over the 12-track span of “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” Lamar also trades bars with fellow Black Hippy crew member Jay Rock and Compton legend MC Eiht. In addition to the indispensable contributions made by vocalists Anna Wise and JMSN, the end result is one of the best hip hop albums of 2012.

Lyricism: B+

Production: B+

Themes/Content: A+

Originality: A

Overall rating: A-