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Saturday, September 18, 2021

CD Review: Kendrick Lamar

Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Album: good kid, M.A.A.D city
Rating: 5
Twenty-four years after NWA formally introduced the Compton state of mind to the world at large, rising hip-hop star Kendrick Lamar retreads familiar geography to capture another portrait of his hometown in present-day Hi-Def. This time, however, the result is far from familiar.

What we get is not a hood horror story, a glorification of the gangsta lifestyle, or a heavy-handed message about community betterment. If you follow Lamar through the hour-plus length of the LP (his “short film”, as the album’s subtitle describes it) he doesn’t waste any time telling you about Compton; instead, he shows you where he’s been with a cohesive set of tracks outlining a personal journey. Along the way, he deftly inhabits a range of different characters, young, old, male and female, changing his flow to express a new viewpoint or aspect of the story.

Near the beginning, the track “Backstreet Freestyle” shows an adolescent version of Kendrick revelling in the crass fantasies of money, power and sexual exploits. By the end of the album, especially on the 12-minute highlight “Sing About Me (Dying of Thirst),” he embodies people from his life that resent their personal stories being told on the album; but as he says it, their stories “need to be told.” If he ignored them, he’d be “cursing the life of 20 generations after their soul.”

If this album is heavy to the listener, it’s because it has great substance. The production is soulful and fleshed out, with room enough  for the lyrics to swim in. It runs long, but has no filler. It has many talented guest rappers (MC Eiht, Dr. Dre) but no indulgent shout-outs. Lamar has set up a stage and knows all the directions, keeping the players, the timing and the delivery consistently on point.

Give these tracks a listen: “Swimming Pool (Drank),” “Sing About Me (Dying of Thirst)”
For Fans of: Illmatic-era Nas, Outkast, Frank Ocean
— Andrew Russell

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