Kendrick Lamar’s ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’: A Love Letter To Compton, And The Power Of Perseverance

When good kid, m.A.A.d city was released a decade ago, Kendrick Lamar was a 25-year rapper on the brink of superstardom. Only about a year removed from his critically-acclaimed debut album Section.80, the California native set out to create a body of work that would not only resonate with the youth of his era, but everyone that would consume his work for generations to come.

Lamar’s second studio project came out during a time when concept albums were thought to be a thing of the past. The vivid imagery in his storytelling brought listeners into a world of poverty, violence, and uncertainty, but also spoke to the hope for a better tomorrow that every human being yearns for; regardless of social class. Throughout its duration, this LP became an exploration of the harsh reality that was the Grammy Award-winning artist’s childhood while growing up in Compton.

Kendrick’s 2012 release wasn’t just an album, it was a journey. A journey filled with actions influenced by love, deception, and greed. It also touched upon serious themes such as addiction and crime, along with how social factors can affect the trajectory of a child in both positive or negative ways.

Lamar begins this introspective tour through his past with the song “Sherane a.k.a Master Splinter’s Daughter,” which lays the foundation for the rest of the project. The track starts with a prayer, then transitions into the chronology of Kendrick and Sherane’s lustful relationship. The intro ends with an unlikely run-in with two men from an opposing neighborhood, followed by an angry voicemail from his parents. It is moments like these that are most poignant on the album, where a variety of emotions can be felt in an instant. It also serves as a painful reminder of the urgency of life.

good kid, m.A.A.d city is 12-tracks deep (along with the remix to “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe, featuring Jay Z) and has been considered one of the most complete recordings ever to be produced in the realm of hip-hop. Lamar’s personal experiences molded him into the man that he is today, but it is the outside forces in his neighborhood – prevalent on cuts such as “The Art of Peer Pressure” – that may threaten his livelihood, and gives listeners a glimpse into how heavy the weight of acceptance truly is.

After the Jay Rock-assisted “Money Trees,” we again hear a voicemail from the pgLang founder’s parents, reiterating the fact that this album is not only a perspective on the hardships of life, but also the unconditional love and concern that family provides. Throughout the record, these messages serve as a grounding agent so that Kendrick doesn’t fly too close to the sun, a luxury that a good amount of his peers weren’t fortunate enough to have.

For many, the middle of good kid, m.A.A.d city is its most potent. Starting with track 6, his collaboration with Drake titled “Poetic Justice,” Lamar further elaborates on the growing love between he and Sherane, followed by the tension-filled “good kid.” On “m.A.A.d city,” gives a deeper look into the heart of a man scarred by his surroundings. In order to cope with the normalcy of violence, some turn to alcohol; which inspired the album’s first single, “Swimming Pools (Drank).” The 12-minute “Sing To Me, I’m Dying of Thirst,” speaks about the difficulty of life from three individual’s point of view, culminating with Kendrick’s decision not to lead a life of crime.

Since the release of good kid, m.A.A.d city, the masses have seen Kendrick grow into one of the greatest musicians of all time. He has won dozens of awards including 14 Grammys, as well as receiving the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2017 for DAMN., which was the first ever non-jazz or classical work to earn that accolade. Even after all of the sold out performances and chart-topping singles, Lamar has been able to maintain both his sanity and integrity, and managed to elude the temptations that come with fame – the monster that has overtaken so many of his contemporaries. 

So, as this era-defining album celebrates its 10th anniversary, we must remember that good kid, m.A.A.d city was not only Kendrick Lamar’s story, but the story of countless other people across the country. The goal was to give young men and women who may feel helpless the hope that you are not your situation, and that anyone can be an example for resilience.

“I hope you come back, and learn from your mistakes,” Kendrick’s mother said during the closing moments of “Real.” “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,” she added. “And that’s the best way to give back.”

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