good kid, m.A.A.d city

The title "Next Big Rapper" has been a curse as often as a blessing. But on the major-label debut by Dr. Dre protégé Kendrick Lamar, the Compton, California, MC wears it lightly, like a favorite hoodie. The album opens as if in midsentence, in brisk conversational mode – "I met her at the house party on El Segundo and Central" – and never slows, gusting through dense narratives and thickets of internal rhymes. Lamar is an unlikely star: a storyteller, not a braggart or punch-line rapper, setting spiritual yearnings and moral dilemmas against a backdrop of gang violence and police brutality. The plush production of tracks like the Neptunes-produced centerpiece "good kid" hearkens back to Seventies blaxploitation soundtracks and Nineties gangsta-rap blaxploitation revivals, and good kid warrants a place in that storied lineage. Every so often, Lamar lets loose a wild boast – "I pray my dick get big as the Eiffel Tower/So I can fuck the world for 72 hours" – but the triumphalism feels warranted.

Listen to 'good kid, m.A.A.d city':

From The Archives Issue 1169: November 8, 2012