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Kendrick Lamar is pretty easy name to remember and if I were to pull a prediction out of my musical crystal ball it would be fans of hip hop will be hearing his name soon.
The 25-year-old born Kendrick Lamar Duckworth has captured my attention with his second album "Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City," released Oct. 22. This is the follow up to 2011’s “Secton.80,” which was released on Top Dawg Entertainment.
I must admit that it took me awhile to give this album a serious listen.
The first time I heard the second track …"don't kill my vibe," I tossed it at the bottom of my mental stack. I thought like the missing word in that track (it's a family newspaper, folks), this album seemed to be loaded with the words that begin with "b" and "n" that litter rap music. There's a lot of popular rap which use those words like bondo to hold together the structure of verse and hook, which will ultimately shatter under pressure.
But Kendrick Lamar schooled me.
This is one of those discs that takes a few spins to really soak in.
A dozen tracks plus four more bonus tracks on the Spotify edition, "Good Kid in a M.A.A.D. City" is a clear indication of the direction of hip hop. It could be labeled a concept album because the tracks follow Kendrick and his homies (who call him K.Dot) through their exploits in Compton.
It begins with a 17-year-old K.Dot and his troubles begin as soon as he meets a young lady from the wrong side of the tracks. In the first song "Sherane a.k.a. Master Splinter's Daughter," K.Dot meets her at a party and they text all summer. But, when he goes to meet up with her, she has a couple of tough guys waiting for him.
Lamar is a ninja with his rhymes. The hooks seem simple at first but he turns them inside; analyzing the gangsta stereotype from within.
"Backseat Freestyle," begins with K.Dot's buddies picking him up with a CD of beats to drive around in the Toyota.
The story progresses but it is not linear, and there are also asides like "Poetic Justice," featuring Drake and down the rabbit hole tale of "Swimming Pools (Drank)."
I realized Lamar’s genius while listening to "Sing About Me/ I'm Dying of Thirst." The 12-minute track, which is divided into the two parts, happens in the story after the boys go to seek revenge on Sharane's brothers. In the skit at the end of "Swimming Pools (Drank)" they convince K.Dot a drive-by shooting on the house is a good idea. But one of the guys in the car, Dave, was shot and killed in the return fire and K.Dot held him until he died.
Dave’s brother reflects in the opening verse:
"I'm hoping that I can borrow a peace of mind
I'm behind on what's really important
My mind is really distorted
I find nothing but trouble in my life
I'm fortunate you believe in a dream
This orphanage we call a ghetto is quite a routine
And last night was just another distraction
Or a reaction of what we consider madness."
But then, Lamar says he's tired of running and dying of thirst. Throughout the album distorted audio tracks tell some of the story that isn't told in verse. At the end of the track a skit is played where a pastor fulfills their thirst for holy water by baptizing them. The woman who plays the pastor is author Maya Angelou. After the baptism, Lamar drops the K.Dot mentality and this is the beginning of his new, real life.
The next track, "Real," Kendrick Lamar laments the situation he has gotten himself into with the girl he loves getting him in trouble and his friends convincing him to seek revenge. He can pursue music, join a gang or do nothing.
"The reason why I know you very well
Cause we have the same eyes can't you tell
The days I tried to cover up and conceal
My pride, it only made it harder for me to deal
When living in a world that come with plan B
A scapegoat cause plan A don't come free
And plan C just an excuse like because
Or the word ‘but,’ but what if I got love?"
At the end of the track, the skit features Kendrick's mother, who has been looking for her van since the first track. But this time, after hearing about his friend's death and fearing Lamar himself may to have been killed, she offers him a piece of advice on his voicemail. She says, "If I don't hear from you by tomorrow, I hope you come back and learn from your mistakes. Come back a man. Tell your story to these black and brown kids in Compton. Let 'em know you was just like them but you still rose from that dark place of violence, becoming a positive person. But when you do make it, give back, with your words of encouragement and that's the best way to give back to your city."
The last track "Compton," proclaims Kendrick Lamar the king of his city with that bravado of a young rapper on top of the world. The track features Dr. Dre, one of the original kings of Compton. It's been more than 24 years since N.W.A. released "Straight Outta Compton," ushering in a new era in rap that glorified the story of the street. Kendrick Lamar is the update on the traditional Compton rapper.
In a wonderful sense of story telling, the album ends with a skit of Lamar telling his mom he's taking the van and will be back in 15 minutes. The attention to detail here so acute that the three bonus tracks, "The Recipe," "Black Boy Fly" and “Now or Never," all enhance the story and are, in total, about 15 minutes long.
Kendrick Lamar has put a lot of work into this album and it takes a little work to get to its core and message but it's absolutely worth it. The beats are smooth and Lamar's dry execution is a perfect match for the music.
Kendrick Lamar will be the musical guest on Saturday Night Live! Jan. 26 with musical host Adam Levine from Maroon 5.
What’s your favorite Kendrick Lamar song? Comment on Twitter @DBCurrent #TheHighNote