Kendrick Lamar is an unstoppable force. I can’t really name another artist, in hip-hop or otherwise, who has had five years as amazing as those he just wrapped up. I feel pretty comfortable saying he’s the best rapper active right now, and it’s really not even a competition. Run the Jewels are obviously amazing, as is Vince Staples, who is young enough to still have a lot of growth in the future. And Danny Brown I’d still say is consistently underrated and always amazing. (Enter everyone who’s gonna say “but Kanye!” and yeah he’s fine but if he’s in the top 5 he’s not at the top).
The first time I listened to good kid, m.A.A.d. city, though, I didn’t entirely get the hype. I liked it, but I didn’t necessarily love it. A few more spins, though, and the complexities of it, both production wise and lyrically, began to blow my mind. Kendrick weaves an intricate narrative (ostensibly autobiographically) through these 12 tracks (well, 16 on vinyl) that act as both great songwriting and storytelling. And yeah, it’s got hits: “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” (single edit is “Trick Don’t Kill My Vibe,” which is like, c’mon, guys), “Swimming Pools,” “Backseat Freestyle,” etc.
It’s an ambitious album for being just a second record. And that’s ultimately why it didn’t take me long to go from “This is pretty alright,” to “This is the greatest!” You don’t hear everything on the first listen. You can’t hear everything on the first listen. But there’s always something new to pull you in, to bring you deeper into the world the record inhabits.
I bought this at a time when I realized my vinyl hip-hop collection could use some growth (I still haven’t picked up some ’90s-era classics like Enter the Wu-Tang because the pressings are so universally maligned). But this was also the time that I decided I needed to fill in my Beatles collection and other classics, so if you interpret this as me equating Kendrick Lamar to the Beatles, that’s unintentional, but I’m cool with it. And if for some reason you find that offensive, then I dunno, maybe loosen up a bit.
There’s no question that good kid, m.A.A.d. city is best-of-decade material, and I don’t even think it’s his best album! (We’ll get to that in a while, and you’ll definitely fight me on it, but I’m not backing down.) This is how insanely talented this dude is. Not only that, he managed to put together a record of songs produced by 12 different people and not only make it work, but they all flow together seamlessly and cohesively. That’s some incredible orchestration right there. So there’s a chance that when Treble does its Top 100-200 albums of the ’10s (following up this halfway-point preview), there could be two or even three Kendrick Lamar albums in the top 10. Can’t say it’s not warranted.
Sound Quality: Great