Tag Archives: good kid m.A.A.d. city

The Gospel of King Kendrick Lamar


photo credit: karencivil.com

By: Justin Cook

Kendrick Lamar’s presence speaks for itself. The man is a poetic, and artistic, genius. No one else in this current formation of the universe has bars like Lamar. For a lot of hip-hop heads, he is the best emcee that has graced the mic in a long ass time; some even go as far as calling him the “resurrection of Tupac” or the “savior of hip-hop.” It’s like he’s on some Jesus-level shit, or a secret Super Saiyan, or possibly The One who will rescue us from The Matrix. I really don’t think anyone else could get away with having such an otherworldly, almost godlike, reputation. Kendrick is that dude. And in all honesty, he deserves it. The man has been laying down solid tracks since day one, when he still went under his original moniker, K-Dot. Now, I don’t like to claim anyone to be the “greatest,” but without a doubt, Kendrick is sure to be one of the greats, and I will break down why in this week’s installment of “The Poetry Of Kendrick Lamar.”

“Fuck Your Ethnicity” [Section.80]

This was the first song I heard by Kendrick Lamar, and still stands as one of my absolute favorites. The beat, the lyrics, and Kendrick’s peculiar flow: all a testament to the man’s wizardry with words. The opening lines always send a shiver down my spine: “Fire burning inside my eyes, this the music that save my life/ Ya’ll be calling it hip-hop, I be calling it hypnotize.” From that point forward, I’m straight hypnotized, rocking to the beat, awaiting the next sequence of powerful imagery. The way Kendrick moves from line to line through metaphor and double-speak is quite brilliant:

“My details be retail, man I got so much in store/ Racism is still alive, yellow tape and colored lines/ Fuck that, nigga look at that line, it’s so diverse/ They getting off work and they wanna see Kendrick/ Everybody can’t drive Benz’s and I been there/ So I make it my business to give’em my full attention, ten-hut!”

These bars are proof that Kendrick is “kicking that math, dropping that science like an alchemist.” They’re pure gold, shining like an angel. Good God Kendrick Lamar! This “business” is the scripture. I love how he flips “yellow tape and colored lines,” referring to crime, violence, and racial boundaries, with “look at that line, it’s so diverse,” referring to the people lining up to see Kendrick live; these folks break the “yellow tape and colored lines” and come together through the power of hip-hop. And as Kendrick has thoroughly “detailed” in this song, he’s about the give the people his full love and attention. Hallelujah!

“Faith” [Kendrick Lamar EP]

This song is just real as fuck, simple as that. It doesn’t use any elaborate metaphors or word play to impress the listener. It simply speaks universal truths of the human experience: struggle, death, temptation, and the power of faith. At its core, this song is all about maintaining in the face of adversity. Kendrick highlights his own struggles of gaining faith despite being “a person that never believed in religion,” but also extends out into a wider narrative: the struggle of black oppression. This oppression is intimately described in the second verse, which begins “Single black parent from Compton raising children of 4/ That’s 4 innocent bastards cause Papa they don’t know.” I love the way Kendrick blends his narrative seamlessly with the narrative of his people, or in other words, using his own experiences to speak about greater social and economic struggles. We need more of this in not only the hip-hop community, but also in the greater reality of humankind. This song is truly a beautiful piece of poetry that reminds us “the next time you feel like your world’s about to end/ I hope you studied because He’s testing your faith again.

“Cartoon & Cereal”

The whole aesthetic of this song is unreal. It’s so menacing, dark, and bleak—the feeling of a tortured existence. This aesthetic in and of itself speaks volumes. The track, aptly named “Cartoon & Cereal,” details Kendrick’s paradoxical childhood in Compton: “Now I was raised in a sandbox, next to you and her/ You was holding the handgun, she was giving birth.” Just those opening lines display the lyrical mastery of Kendrick Lamar. This “sandbox” comes to represent the whole of Compton, a small section of L.A. where life expectancy for young men is quite young, due to gang violence, lack of resources, drug addiction, and systematic oppression. These men never quite grow up, or grow out of this oppression, leaving them as children trapped in a metaphorical “sandbox.” The next line referring to the “handgun” and “giving birth” represents the vicious cycle that perpetuates this oppression. The handgun symbolisms the absent father, who is presumably out gangbanging instead of watching his child being born; the fact that it is a “handgun” invokes the idea that this violence is “handed” down from father to son, a reoccurring theme throughout the song. On the other hand, literally, we see a mother giving birth. The concept of birth, which gives life through spilling blood, juxtaposed with the notion of systemic violence, reinforces the issue that black bodies are born INTO a cycle of oppression, which they themselves did not create. Rather, it is a creation of the State and perpetuated by social institutions such as prisons, media outlets, and government. As Kendrick comments, cartoons and cereal represent unhealthy food and mindless entertainment; these are the new “Opiates of the Masses” that allow us to be continually controlled by the powers at be.

“Holy Ghost (Remix) [Ft. Kendrick Lamar]”

I’m not a big fan of Young Jeezy, but I had to include this jam on my list. Kendrick snaps on this shit right here. Similar to the menacing vibe we find on “Cartoon & Cereal,” this remix again shows us Kendrick’s dark side. At first listen, this may seem like another rap song glorifying sex, money, and drugs, but it is actually the exact opposite. To me, it reads more like the struggle of maintaining your faith and positivity while living in a Capitalist world full of temptation: the Lexus, Rolexes, sexting, and beaucoup bucks. It’s a song where we can see Kendrick expressing his anger and frustration in being a hip-hop superstar and role model. It’s a side we rarely see of Kendrick, but one I believe is just as honest, and important, as his positive side.

I also highlighted this track for its use of sound and intricate structure. First off, the assonance and alliteration carry this verse through. It’s almost unreal how slippery the sounds are: “Tee-Tee and Tiana sexting/ Teepees and mansions I rest in/ Two T’s and Top Dawg impress with/ TV’s that play their investment…” That shit is wild. It’s so damn smooth, almost like driving in the back of a Rolls Royce Phantom Ghost. On top of all that, the whole verse is syncopated the exact same way; it’s straight mathematical. To carry the same flow throughout sixteen bars is harder than it may seem. On top of that, there are four lyrical “breaks” in Kendrick’s flow, signifying the next onslaught of poetic genius, all end with the same rhyme: burn, turn, vrrrrrm, learn. Most emcees can’t even come close to this kind of artistry and attention to detail, further proof of Kendrick’s lyrical mastery.

“Poe Man’s Dreams (His Vice)” [Section.80]

“Smoke good, eat good, live good. Smoke good, eat good, live good…”

This is the jam. A song you can just chill out and vibe to. After a long day of stressing, this is the track I can rely on to level me out. Again, it’s Kendrick spitting some wisdom, and he’s not being flashy about it: “I know some rappers using big words to make their similes curve/ My simple as shit be more pivotal.” Just sit back and listen. Plus, GLC’s verse on the outro is crazy. This is the Gospel. Cathedral!

“Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” [Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City]

This is hands down my favorite song by Kendrick Lamar. Actually, it’s one of my favorite songs of all time. It’s a masterpiece. It’s so raw. I could listen to it over and over again, all day, everyday. Within the narrative of Good Kid M.A.A.D. City, this song serves as an important, and intimate, moment. In each verse, Kendrick embodies a different voice—the third being his own—which shed light on the harsh realities of living in Compton. It’s just a beautiful song, spilling with great line after great line. And that beat! It’s so damn smooth. Plus, I love how the beat parallels the narrative, adding another layer of poetics. For example, the gunshots at the end of the first verse, which kills the speaker who can’t fully express what he “hopes” for, always tugs at my emotions; or, at the end of the second verse when the vocals fade away, despite the speaker who insists, she will never fade away. That shit is hard and gives this whole song another dimension of artistry. Plus, it seamlessly transitions into “I’m Dying of Thirst,” which illustrates the struggle of material vs. spiritual gain. Time to hop in that water and pray that it works.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Album of the Week: “good kid, m.A.A.d. city” by Kendrick Lamar


Kendrick Lamar
good kid, m.A.A.d. city

Daniel’s Thought

Three weeks ago Bonus Cut’s “Album of the Week” was Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music, a highly underrated piece that was slept on by many critics despite acclaim from others. For 2012, R.A.P. Music was the second best hip-hop record, and as it touched various lights from a veteran in a community focused on new-age rap, it was this new-age rap community that came away the winner with Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city.

The main takeaway from Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city isn’t the dazzling lyrical story-telling, the mix of pulverizing and soothing beats or even the cast of stars that are featured on the album–it’s the narrative. For perhaps the first time in the new-age rap era, Lamar gives us an unprecedented look into the wake of a rapper on an album from start to finish. As opening track “Sherane”–a song which displays a 17-year-old Lamar borrowing his mother’s car to pursue a girl–ends, we are introduced to the first of many voice-mails where his mother is asking for the car back and his father is yelling frantically about missing dominoes. It becomes apparent that these voice-mails aren’t merely voice-mails, but rather the family connection that is holding Lamar back from the Compton, California gang-life that consumes too many.

On “Backseat Freestyle” Lamar transitions his story from being a young kid pursuing girls to a newly-turned rapper freestyling over beat-tapes. The song itself seems like a masculine-charged rap with lines like “Goddamn I got bitches,” but when put into the context of the album it shows that this is the part of the story where Kendrick Lamar is just now beginning to learn how to rap and “Backseat Freestyle” is his first attempt at fitting into the scene. As it becomes evident that “Backseat Freestyle” is a continuous stream of the good kid story, Lamar’s genius becomes even more grand.

“The Art of Peer Pressure” is the next song on the album which screams classic West Coast g-funk with rolling high-pitched synths. The beginning is soothing, almost as if Kendrick is playing an ode to his idols at his friend’s house, and we see a newly turned rapper wrapped in lush happiness. However, the mood of the song changes from innocence to seriousness by way of elongated bass synths and minimalist percussion claps, and here Lamar shares a story timidly. “I never was a gangbanger,” Lamar explains, “I mean I was never stranger to the folk neither. I really doubt it. Rush a nigga quick and then we laugh about it. That’s ironic because I’ve never been violent, until I’m with the homies.”

It’s this continual line of first-person storytelling that makes good kid so strong and cohesive. We collectively see a character under the confines of urban America grow and develop and eventually learn what’s important in life. On “Real,” a song that features another voicemail, Lamar’s father puts it perfectly: “Any nigga can kill a man, that don’t make you a real nigga. Real is responsibility. Real is taking care of your motherfucking family.”

Gus’ Thought

Kendrick Lamar’s second album good kid, m.A.A.d. city was released to immense critical acclaim. After this, Kendrick had cemented his reputation as a quality MC in Los Angeles but also across the country. With Kendrick’s lyricism and unique style of story telling, he allows the audience to hear, see and feel his experiences from growing up in Compton. What sticks out are the complex thoughts and skillful production found on this album. Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore sound features slower melancholy sounding production from the likes of Dr. Dre, Pharrell Williams, Just Blaze and Scoop Deville. With good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick Lamar provides knowledgeable insight into the angst of adolescence, city life, drugs, gang violence, religion and the state of hip-hop.

The first track, “Sherane,” opens with a prayer asking Jesus for forgiveness. From there Kendrick launches into a story about his attraction to a girl and the sexual tension and awkwardness of being a seventeen year old. As he puts into words in the second verse, “Love or lust, regardless we’ll fuck cause the trife in us / It’s deep rooted, the music of being young and dumb / It’s never muted, in fact it’s much louder where I’m from.” And in the third verse, “I’m thinking bout the sex, thinking bout her thighs / Or maybe kissing on her neck, or maybe what positions next / Sent a picture of her titties blowing up my texts / I looked at em and almost ran my front bumper into Corvette.” On this first song, Kendrick perfectly illustrates the complexity of teenage sexual attraction.

This is much different than the hyper-masculinity found in much of mainstream hiphop. As the album moves forward, the intricacies of growing up is evident throughout. This is especially apparent in “The Art Of Peer Pressure,” “Good Kid,” and “m.A.A.d city” where Kendrick sheds light on hanging out with his boys, the true complications of peer pressure, wanting to fit in, the harsh realities of growing up in Compton and gang violence.

On the dark and slow moving beat of “The Art Of Peer Pressure” he says, “I got the blunt in my mouth / Usually I’m drug-free, but shit I’m with the homies” And in the second verse, “Rush a nigga quick and then we laugh about it / That’s ironic cause I’ve never been violent, until I’m with the homies.” In this song, Kendrick shares with the audience his experiences with hanging with close friends, getting into trouble and doing things he probably wouldn’t do on his own time. The brilliance of this track is it’s relatable content as he speaks about being a teenager and chillin’ with his crew. Kendrick’s experiences with drugs, alcohol and girls feel all too real and comparable to most teenage boys as they come of age, regardless of where they live.

He takes this knowledge to the next level on the seventh track, “Good Kid.” Produced by The Neptunes and featuring Pharrell Williams on the hook, “Good Kid” addresses resiliency and the constant presence of gangs and police within Compton. “But what am I supposed to do with the blinking of red and blue / Flash from the top of your roof and your dog has to say woof / And you ask, ‘Lift up your shirt’ cause you wonder if a tattoo of affiliation can make it a pleasure to put me through gang files / But that don’t matter because the matter is racial profile.”

With “Good Kid,” the audience is able to understand the endless racial tension, hostility and harassment from the LAPD. At the same time, the continuous gang violence within the community is exposed. For adolescents such as Kendrick, it becomes clear that they are caught in the middle and that there is brutality from the police, but also the gangs. On “Good Kid,” Kendrick’s delivery is more subdued and it sounds like he is just observing what goes on. On the next track, “m.A.A.d. city,” Kendrick takes many of the concepts of “Good Kid” and expands on them. Comparatively, “Good Kid” is more of a subdued song, while “m.A.A.d. city” is an in your face track where Kendrick showcases his abilities to go in on a hardhitting track. On “m.A.A.d. city,” Kendrick takes on the corruption he has observed all around him as he grew up in Southern California. With this song, it feels that Kendrick is no longer a teenager but is becoming conscious of the social, political and economic inequities that have plagued his community for generations. As he puts into words, “Ak’s, AR’s, ‘Aye y’all. Duck’ / That’s what momma said when we was eatin’ the free lunch / Aw man, God damn, all hell broke loose / You killed my cousin back in ’94. Fuck yo truce.”

Kendrick Lamar’s brilliance on good kid, m.A.A.d. city is the attention to detail and picture he is able to paint about city life, adolescence, gang violence and police brutality. He is able to do this with multi-layered lyricism that pushes the listener to see through his eyes. As the album moves forward, the audience is able to grow with Kendrick and is able to experience what he is saying, not just hear it. I think of Kendrick Lamar’s album similarly to Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A. The 1988 classic shed light on the anger and frustration felt by the people of Compton following the Civil Rights Act of 1964. N.W.A gave a voice to the people of Compton, just like Kendrick Lamar has been able to do. Ultimately, good kid, m.A.A.d. city is the evolution of west coast hip-hop and of what Ice Cube refers to as street knowledge.


“The Art of Peer Pressure”

“Backseat Freestyle” 

“Good Kid” 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: