1. Okay. Sweeping declaration number 1: “Swimming Pools (Drank)” is the song of the year, bar none. It has everything going for it, including a hook that people can do shots to (although I highly advise making a drinking game around every time you hear Lamar command “Drank,” 8 shots in 11 seconds probably isn’t the healthiest thing to do), and a massive chorus. Besides the mainstream appeal that would make “Swimming Pools (Drank)” work well in any club or house party, there’s the subject matter itself. On “A.D.H.D.,” Lamar touched upon the growing drug tolerance of the newer generation, and here, he moves to the topic of alcoholism, including its causes from the environment (“I done grew up / Round some people living their life in bottles”), genetic predisposition (“Granddaddy had the golden flask”), depression (“Some people wanna kill their sorrows”) and peer pressure (“Why you babysittin only two or three shots? / I’ma show you how to turn it up a notch”). Moreover, there’s just how impressive Lamar’s second verse is, where he increases the nasal qualities in his voice to an extreme to imitate his consciousness, while spitting the verse so fast it makes the climax of “Rigamortus” from Section.80 seem like it was standing still, “I see the feeling / The freedom is granted as soon as the damage of vodka arrive / This how you capitalize / This is parental advice.” And for those who think that it’s a track promoting alcoholism, take a closer look at Lamar’s final verse, where he talks of how his “Appetite for failure” drives his need to “Never ever wake up.”
2. Sweeping declaration number 2: good kid, m.A.A.d city is the hip-hop album with the best skits. Ever since De La Soul introduced skits to the world with 1989’s 3 Feet High and Rising and further explored their possibilities with follow-up De La Soul Is Dead by using the skits therein to critique common complaints against the group and hip-hop in general, other hip-hop artists had jumped on the bandwagon and had loaded their albums with their own. The problem is, most of these hip-hop artists missed the point. Skits have the basic ability of providing variability by breaking the flow of the album, for better or for worse (most artists tend to the latter, especially with sex skits). However, good skits can be used to either provide humour (think: The College Dropout and Late Registration) or further the plot of the album, both of which were seen in 3 Feet High and Rising, and if you want other examples, look at MF DOOM furthering his cartoon persona, or the way Eminem’s “Public Service Announcement 2000” launched right into “Kill You,” or “Steve Berman” skit into “The Way I Am” on The Marshall Mathers LP. With good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick Lamar creates a story, and the subtitle of the album, “A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar” becomes just as important as the title itself. Tracks effortlessly segue into one another thanks to their closing skits, “Sherane” has no trouble shifting into “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” which becomes “Backstreet Freestyle,” three songs that sound absolutely nothing alike.
3. Moreover, on that note, the “Where my mu’fuckin’ dominoes at” skit at the end of “Sherane A.K.A. Master Splinters Daughter” and “Did someone say dominoes?” at the end of “Money Trees” are probably the most hilarious skits since Bernie Mac’s “KANYE! CANNI TALK TO FOR A MINUTE?” It does a great job at the same time portraying Lamar’s broken home; no mother and father should talk to each other that way, not to mention the utter absurdity that Kendrick’s father is more concerned about dominoes (which are never explained to be the game tiles or the pizza) than his song’s life.
4. On Section.80’s “HiiiPoWeR,” it was eerie how good Lamar was at impersonating Kanye West, both in the chorused “This shit is…” (and we expected him to say “Fucking ridiculous”) and the second verse. On “Poetic Justice,” Kendrick Lamar does the best Drake impression the world has seen since Drake (I had trouble differentiating between the two without rapgenius’ help). Lines like “I recognize your fragrance” and “I really wanna know you all / I really wanna show you off” are basically Drake-isms, although damn, if Lamar’s “If I told you that a flower bloomed in a dark room, would you trust it?” isn’t the one of the most poetic lines I’ve heard in a rap song, immediately downplayed by the sexual overtones of “There’s blood in my pen.”
5. Oh, and Drake’s high-pitched “OOH!” after “Your big ass in that sundress” is pretty hilarious. As is the fact that he follows that up with, “Good God, what you doing that walk for? / When I see that thing move, I just wish we would fight less and we would talk more.” Okay, Drake.
6. I’ve heard a lot of people claim that Kendrick’s rapping has progressively gotten worse since (O)verly (D)edicated – bullshit. I mean, skipping the aforementioned verse on “Swimming Pools (Drank),” you’ve got the multiple alliteration of “Fuck is up? / Fuck you shooting for if you ain’t walking up? / You fucking punk, picking up the fucking pump / Picking off you suckers, suck a dick or die or sucker punch” in “m.A.A.d city”, the last verse of “Backstreet Freestyle”, every single verse on the 12-minute epic “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” (“Cadence of his tingling keys” is a great line). Iguess he’s less interested in doing the progressively-faster-rapping-as-he-enters-the-song’s-climax of “Rigamortus” or “The Heart, Pt. 2,” but he’s a lot better at fleshing out concepts (within concepts) in verses without relying on that gimmick. And yeah, gimmick’s the word – remember “The Heart, Pt. 2,” and how he never delivered said climax and just started coughing?
7. At 12 tracks, good kid, m.A.A.d city is also a lot tighter thanSection.80 – you’re not going to find throwaways like “Tammy’s Song (Her Evils)” or “The Spiteful Chant” (the one that lazily rode on a Woodkid sample, you remember). People have understandable qualms about “Real” because of its 7-minute length, but that’s mostly so because it contains a lot of in-track skits to end the narrative. The true throwaway is “Compton,” but it’s a victory lap for Kendrick all the same over the headbanging beat that Just Blaze provides (dig that weird soul sample throughout). Personally, I’ve swapped it out with bonus track “The Recipe” (which also features Dr. Dre), which has a more indelible sample, a mantra (“Women, weed, weather”) and great alliteration (“You want to be on, to peak on the charts / So the peons can be gone and pee on their hearts”).
8. Those two tracks aside, every beat here is perfect and sounds completely distinct from any other beat on the album. “Sherane A.K.A. Master Splinters Daughter” rides on an ominous beat with a really unconventional drum sound, tortured soul and sprinkled piano notes that help bring it into the climax; even if the words didn’t, a Janet Jackson sample (not the first time this has happened on a track from a TDE-rapper) turns “Poetic Justice” into the bedroom track it is; Pharrell brings a psychedelic trip through a haunted alleyway for “good kid” (great hook, too) and while Hit-Boy has had previous successfulbangers that year (“Clique,” “Goldie,” “1 Train,” “Come on a Cone”), “Backstreet Freestyle” makes all of them seem virginal in comparison. Meanwhile, the other tracks are all multipartite: “The Art of Peer Pressure” starting with some simple piano rolls while Kendrick Lamar tells you how great he is before Tabu flips the script from under him for a more urgent beat to fit the track’s narrative; the first half of “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” rides on really jazzy drumming before turning into banger for its second half while “m.A.A.d city” starts banging and ends with a beat that seems designed to trip listeners (it does) and rapper up (it doesn’t).
9. The hooks on good kid, m.A.A.d city are also a completely different beast than on Section.80. Through repetition, lines like “Bitch, don’t kill my vibe” and “Ya bish” and “That’s just how I feel” transcend mere hooks and become mantras. Moreover, Kendrick Lamar does a great job delivering them, so much that I’d feel weird if Lady Gaga were featured on “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” as she was supposed to have been–“You ain’t heard a chorus like this in a long time” is too true. And I’ve already mentioned just how massive the ones on “Swimming Pools (Drank)” sound. If I have one problem with the hooks, however, it’s that some of these hooks go on for too long (see “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” and “Money Trees”).
10. A lot of people seem to have qualms with Anna Wise’s hook on “Real.” Definitely not the strongest, but certainly not as weak as people make it out to be. Better than her bridge on “Money Trees,” anyway, which was just as melodyless but superfluous to boot.
11. There are also a ton of details to be found, for example, the gunshots that interrupt the sentiment “And if I die before your album drop I hop”; the fade out after the pro claims she’ll “never fade away”; the pause in between “I’ll wait” and “Your rebuttal a little too late,” all from the first half of “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.” It’s these details that are why this album is easily the best hip-hop album to come out of the new decade – it reveals itself over extra plays instead of drying up overtime.
12. ”Nobody wanna hear yo ass! Matter of fact, put my mu’fuckin’ oldies back on, you killing my mu’fuckin’ vibe.”
13. “My new year’s resolution is to stop all the pollution / Talk to motherfucking much / I got my drink, I got my music, I say / Bitch, don’t kill my vibe.”