Compton, Calif., has birthed many narratives, including the one at the center of Kendrick Lamar’s “Good Kid, m.A.A.d City.” The 25-year-old Compton rapper’s major-label debut explores how a smart kid survives in a place where failure is not only expected but, in some cases, encouraged. It’s a popular film plot but rarer in rap. Lamar, with his dense, introspective rhymes, seems the right person to set this tale to music.
Last year’s indie release, “Section.80,” was a concept album that explored societal ills through two fictional characters; “Good Kid, m.A.A.d City” does the same, but the two characters here are Lamar and his hometown. “Smoking on the finest dope/Drank until I can’t no more/Really I’m a sober soul/But I’m with the homies right now,” Lamar raps in a laid-back drawl on “The Art of Peer Pressure.” But his willingness to follow his friends quickly takes a more sinister turn. “Black Boy Fly” finds Lamar talking about his mixed feelings watching the ascent of rapper the Game and NBA player Arron Afflalo — both Compton natives — and then explaining the real source of his envy: “I wasn’t jealous ’cause of the talents they got/I was terrified they’ll be the last black boys to fly/Out of Compton.”
A collaboration with MC Eiht, “m.A.A.d. City” bridges the gap between old-school and new-school L.A. rap — something Lamar excels at — starting with a frantic beat that transitions into G-funk. It’s a perfect coronation for the new “King of California,” (Dr. Dre’s words), as well as a shining example of Lamar’s hyper-introspective style of SoCal hip-hop.
“m.A.A.d City,” “The Art of Peer Pressure,” “Black Boy Fly”