My 10 Favorite Hip Hop Albums Of All Time: Part VI

Posted: March 21, 2017 in Uncategorized

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(Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V)

Can you believe it? We’re halfway through the countdown! There’s so many exceptional works of art that we’ve already had the pleasure of discussing, I’m beyond excited to dive into the Top 5. This is the cream of the hip hop crop. These are the albums I can listen to front to back, no skips, any time, any place, and enjoy the hell out of them.

Number 5 brings us to our most recent album on the list. It came out in 2012 and helped push this artist into the upper echelon of the rap game. He became well-respected not only by his fans, but his peers. He proved that he was much more than “just a rapper.” This album showcased his incredible storytelling abilities. He made a legitimate concept album, which is something super rare in the hip hop genre.

Today, if you ask any real HipHopHead who the best rapper in the game is, you’ll of course get a variety of answers. But any list that doesn’t include this man in their top 5 can be immediately thrown in the trash. His talent level is so clearly above 99% of the rappers out there that he needs to be referred to as simply, an artist.

He’s Kendrick Lamar, and this is Good Kid, M.A.A.D City.

Number 5: Kenrick Lamar – Good Kid, M.A.A.D City (2012)

Kendrick

Man, I was late on this dude. In past reviews I’ve been late on albums because they came out when I was a little youngin’ and I didn’t start digging into hip hop until I was 15. But for Kendrick, I have no excuse. By 2012 I was deep into the game and listening to new music weekly. I’d heard about him from a few different friends who swore he was dope, but for some reason I never took the time to dig into his stuff. I think it was his voice. It was initially a turn off for me. It didn’t sound like a normal rap delivery. But one day in the summer of 2013 when I was driving around exploring my new city of LA, a Kendrick track came on my shuffle. I got deep into the lyrics and all of the sudden, boom. It was a hip hop epiphany. I finally understood why Kendrick was getting the hype from all my respected hip hop sources. I was finally ready to sit down and listen to Good Kid, M.A.D.D City.

Almost all of the albums on this list have exceptional intro tracks, which I’ve made clear I’m a fan of. This intro track, “Sherane,” doesn’t have the juice that some of the others do, but it’s a nice setup for the story that the album follows. We’re introduced to a teenager in the city of Compton (presumably a young Kendrick), who’s trying to get with a girl named Sherane. It all seems innocent enough. Just a young guy trying to get his sex life into gear. But the eerie, ambient echoes give you an uneasy feeling. You can sense that this isn’t going to be a typical teenage summer love story. A skit (tons of very important and storytelling skits on this album), warning Kendrick to stay off the street and finish school seamlessly transitions into the first hit from the album, “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe.” The silky smooth guitar sample layered over bumping 808s works in perfect unison with the laid back chorus lyrics. It has a breezy, beachy feel to it. One where you can close your eyes, release all of the stresses in your life, and tell off anyone who tries to fuck with your vibe. Within the story of the album, it puts our subject in the shoes of a typical teenager who just wants to live life and not be bothered. We all remember the feeling. Can’t nobody tell you nothin’. Kendrick puts you back in the shoes of your teenage self. This young and chill Kendrick then transitions into the loud, aggressive, and braggadocios Kendrick on “Backseat Freestyle.” The setting is exactly as the title suggests. Kendrick is drinking and smoking with his friends while driving around LA. They’re bumping music (and I mean BUMPING) and spitting rhymes about how badass they are. It’s yet another great representation of teenage life in the city. Young Kendrick is starting to get that liquid courage that lets him show off to his friends. This track goes almost as hard as any Kendrick track ever. Almost (just wait for it).

Then, after two songs where Kendrick sounds like he owns the world and can do no wrong, we peel back the outer layer of his personality and realize that it’s mostly a front. “The Art of Peer Pressure” is one of my favorite songs on the album. It’s where the young Kendrick first reveals to the listener his introspective side. He’s just a young man trying to figure out life on the fly. He’s really not into the drinking, smoking, and gang banging. He just does it because he’s “with the homies.” The second half of the track follows Kendrick and his homies running up on enemies, robbing a house, and dodging the cops with vidid imagery. Another skit transitions into the trippy “Money Trees,” a track that on the surface might appear like a standard rap song about “gettin’ money.” But a deeper look into the lyrics within the context of the album’s story shows that young Kendrick, although aware he’s gang banging mostly out of peer pressure, knows that it’s one of the only ways he’ll ever get the money he dreams of. Skip ahead to the Pharrell-produced “Good Kid,” and we’re back to the Kendrick with a good soul who’s stuck at a crossroads between good and “madd.” He talks about life being a tale of “Red and Blue,” and getting beaten for being affiliated one way or the other. Cops harass him because he fits the gangster profile, and he’s looking to faith for guidance in the middle of this war he finds himself in.

Then we get to what I consider to be the climax of the album. There’s not a song in recent memory that made me lose my shit as much as “M.A.D.D City” did the first time I heard it. It’s the penultimate BANGER that I can think of off the top of my head. It. Goes. So. Hard. And Kendrick just rips the beat to absolute shreds. It’s one of those rare instances when the perfect beat meets the perfect rapper, with the perfect lyrics and the perfect delivery. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the nod to one of the old school west coast legends MC Eiht on the second verse. This is an all-time track that will be remembered way down the line. Next up is the biggest single from the album, “Swimming Pools,” which is a unique, introspective look at the affects of alcohol, but masked as a club hit. On it’s surface it sounds like another song about poppin bottles, but the verse lyrics reveal somewhat of an anti-drinking message. Yet another instance where Kendrick takes a typical rap subject and flips it on its head to have a positive message. We’re then treated to the epic, 12 minute long “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.” This was the first track I heard from the album and it really stuck with me. Kendrick again raps with vivid imagery and describes an almost certain and peaceful death in the streets. The track then has a brief intermission with a skit where Kendrick declares he’s, “tired of fuckin runnin,” and decides to seek revenge. The music changes from a peaceful guitar melody to creepy choir hymns and dark distorted drums. The track ends with Kendrick’s grandmother giving the young, angry men a calming talk and leading them in prayer. It’s an amazing story within the novel that is the album.

Young Kendrick seems to come to terms with himself in “Real,” where he celebrates the person he is and not the fake one he thought he was. “Compton” isn’t a bad song, but it felt forced. It seemed like an excuse to fit Dr. Dre on the album where he really didn’t have a place. Also the beat sounds like Just Blaze got lazy and tweaked “Exhibit C” session template, which kind of annoys me. I also didn’t mention the Drake feature, “Poetic Justice.” Again, it’s only because I feel like it’s forced simply to have a big name included on the album. I actually like the song a lot. I’m glad Kendrick did the chorus, and Drake was perfectly fine on it. It’s just inserted into the album at such a key moment where the story is really hitting it’s stride and kind of hurts the momentum, IMO.

Good Kid, M.A.D.D City is a special album by a special artist. If the last 5 years are any indication, Kendrick Lamar is gonna be around for a while and will go down as one of the most talented hip hop artists of all time. 2015s To Pimp A Butterfly solidified him as a true artist in a generation of rappers that struggle to create meaningful music. Nowadays it seems like you either dumb down your content for commercial success, or keep your artistic integrity and struggle as an underground artist your whole career. Kendrick Lamar has proven that trend wrong, and Good Kid, M.A.D.D City is the album that launched him into what should be a long, prosperous career that blesses us with a number of projects of the same quality. Fingers crossed!

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