Leading up to his major label debut good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick Lamar got saddled with the responsibility of saving West Coast hip-hop. That’s just a teeny, tiny bit of pressure, but K-Dot was up to the task, adding his name to the vaunted list of MCs who have delivered a classic chronicle of street life. But Lamar’s differs from predecessors like 2Pac and Jay-Z in the swagger department: sure, K-Dot can be cocky when the beat warrants it, but on this LP, mainly he just wants to paint a picture.
And through crystal-clear lyricism and production, he does just that, creating a hip-hop album that packs a striking amount of emotional heft. It’s one of those rare albums that’s getting love from hip-hop, pop and indie fans alike. Here’s our roundup of the almost unanimously positive reviews.
:: On the way to our 4/5 rating, we noted that while parts of the album meandered, the missteps were outweighed by Lamar’s “utterly compelling narrative.” While it’s a positive tale, it’s also bleak, making it “one of those essential albums that you’ll almost never be itching to hear.”
:: Spin awarded the LP 8/10, echoing our sentiment: “It’s a completely exhausting listen, one that might prove easier to admire than enjoy.” But more than anything, the reviewer was taken by Lamar’s mic skills: “he is a fucking amazing rapper. On a purely technical level, he might be the best of his generation, and it’s awe-inspiring to hear him bend such complicated cadences without even breaking a sweat.”
His flutters, tics, and growls are welded to a sinewy double-time flow that falls somewhere between E-40′s and Andre 3000′s, though it often lacks the glee of the former and the calm of the latter.
:: Rolling Stone gave it the same score we did, lauding the “dense narratives and thickets of internal rhymes” and Lamar’s skills as “a storyteller, not a braggart or punch-line rapper, setting spiritual yearnings and moral dilemmas against a backdrop of gang violence and police brutality.”
:: HipHopDX handed out 4.5/5, saying, “From mic to plug, Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City is stellar…He never takes a verse off, never forgets the importance of connecting as a person…improbably touching that thinnest slice between mass appeal and mass respect.”
:: The ever-stingy Pitchfork gave the album its coveted “Best New Music” label in the rapturous 9.5/10 review. The site’s reviewer felt that “listening to it feels like walking directly into Lamar’s childhood home and, for the next hour, growing up alongside him…the miracle of this album is how it ties straightforward rap thrills– dazzling lyrical virtuosity, slick quotables, pulverizing beats, star turns from guest rappers– directly to its narrative.”
:: K-Dot’s album tallied a 3.5/4 at the Chicago Tribune, because “Rather than recycle gangsta tropes, he gives them a twist, or sometimes upends them completely…[The album] brims with comedy, complexity and the many voices in Kendrick Lamar’s head.”
:: Billboard agrees that Lamar surpassed “the unprecedented anticipation…[he] breathes life into the game with the art of storytelling.”
:: The Washington Post called the album a classic, saying on the cohesive album “Lamar’s rap cadences are finely in sync with the stellar production.”
:: Britain’s The Guaridan/Observer gave good kid the seemingly standard 4/5, pointing out that it “catalogues his experience of [Compton] with a lyrical precision and cool remove at odds with the ‘harsh realities we in.’”
:: But the Brits over at NME were the outliers among the horde of raving critics, dropping a 6/10 without much explanation: “It might lack the raw appeal of Kendrick’s 2011 mixtape ‘Section.80’, but it’s a big-budget reminder that the 25-year-old hasn’t forgotten his roots.”