I was always a Kendrick Lamar fan even though I knew little about his music. I liked him because he made conscious rap that I could just as easily jump to in the club and because, in comparison with his peers, he is quite a humble Hiphop artist. After listening to Kendrick Lamar’s “good kid, M.A.A.d city”, my respect for him as an artist grew exponentially. This album solidifies Kendrick Lamar’s place as one of the most talented rappers, writers, and storytellers. Listening to this album gave me kin to an out of body experience; it felt like I was with the 16-17 year old Kendrick Lamar as he navigated his life in Compton, a violent but dear city to him. It could sound exaggerated but if you listen to how Kendrick manipulates his voice to fit the different narratives of his songs, how he articulates his feelings and thoughts, how he incorporates phone conversations with his family and his homies - a technique that I found effective in painting how he was shaped by his surroundings - then you will know what I am talking about.

The first song on the album is “Sherane A.K.A. Master Splinter’s daughter”. This song is about Kendrick Lamar’s love interest which is present throughout the whole album. In the song, Kendrick learns that Sherane’s brothers are gang bangers but he wants to sleep with her so badly that he ignores the negative consequences that might come with messing with a girl with a gang association. At the end of the song, Kendrick is in his mother’s car on his way to finally get laid by Sherane after a whole summer of pining only to find two men infront of her house. Kendrick’s mother calls him to tell her that she needs the car to get food stamps for her family, a portrayal of the poverty in compton, while his father in the background is yells about dominos(pizzas)?

The second song is “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe.” I knew about this one, but its meaning became clearer as I progressed through the album. This song is about grown Kendrick Lamar achieving success as a rapper and how his city Compton has supported him and put him on the map. In the song, Kendrick also acknowledges his christianity and his shortcomings: alcoholism and drug use which are also recurring themes in the album. He also speaks on how rap is his means of bringing about change instead of making a quick living through rapping nonsense. As the song ends, we hear his friends telling him to get into the car.

“Backstreet Freestyle” is back to teenage Kendrick Lamar expressing his dreams of becoming a successful rapper with money, power, and ample supply of bitches as he says in the lines: “a, wifey, girlfriend,and bitch.” Dick size (a very specific size too because in the hook he prays for a “dick as big as the Eiffel Tower”) is also important to him because it represents growth and manhood and respect from his bitches and his friends.

“The Art of Peer Pressure” is among one of my favorite songs on the album. Remember how “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” ended with Kendrick (he was called K-Dot at the time) getting in the car? This song is a detailed account of his adventures with his friends after he got into the car. I particularly liked this song because we learn more about who Kendrick is and just how persuasive peer pressure is as it makes him do things that are way out of his character.

“Money Trees” featuring Jay Rock is also another favorite of mine on the album. In this song, Kendrick raps about getting money by any means necessary so that he can shield himself from the violence in Compton. By any means necessary, he mostly means the 3 major ways through which most Compton young people get their money; prostitution, drug dealing, and robbing/violence. Kendrick also calls out the state of California for taking taxes from Compton residents yet completely ignoring them by not making any substantial changes about the violence. The song ends with Kendrick Lamar’s mom’s voicemail telling him to bring her car back so that she can go get a drink. His father in the background, is very happy/high, has forgotten about his dominos, and is asking Kendrick’s mom for some ass. This was a very clever representation of how impoverished communities were involved in heavy drug use because it provided temporary happiness and made them forget their problems.

The 6th song is “Poetic Justice” featuring Drake. In this song, teenage Kendrick is confessing his lust for bad bitches( mostly Sherane). Drake is his usual self, tastefully shaming women for moving on from him. I will cut him some slack though because he gave a shoutout to East African girls! The song ends with Kendrick Lamar being interrogated by the two men in front of Sherane’s house. Remember the end of the first song?

“Good Kid” reminds me of the thematic songs they put in movies when you know some shit is about to go down. It’s ominous sound is the perfect way to describe how the men he found in front of Sherane’s house jumped him and how he is neither safe from gangs nor the police which is notorious for racial profiling. This realization of “damned if I do and damned if I don’t” makes Kendrick turn to drugs, much like his dad. This is shown in the lines: “The silence in this room with 20’s, Xannies, Shrooms, some grown up candy.”

“M.A.A.D city” featuring MC Eihit is teenage Kendrick Lamar rapping furiously on a very fast beat on how he wants revenge after being jumped and how he witnessed death at such a young age. He acknowledges that even though his image is pretty perfect, he is also not innocent because of how much violence he was exposed to. The song ends with his friends consoling him with alcohol after he was beaten by Sherane’s brothers.

“Swimming Pools” is a track that portrays alcoholism as a means of escaping one’s problems and fitting in. Even though Kendrick realizes that this alcoholic lifestyle might kill him prematurely, he is still pretty powerless when it comes to the pressure from his “homies.” At the end of the song, Kendrick and his friends seek revenge from Sherane’s brothers and the song ends in gunshots.

“Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” is a heartbreaking record. The first verse is a recording of Kendrick’s friend whose brother (Dave) has just died. He is asking Kendrick to tell his story when he becomes a successful rapper because he (the brother) will not make it out of the violent gang lifestyle (he wants revenge for his dead brother and so the vicious cycle of violence will go on). The second verse is from a girl whose sister Kendrick sang about (this song shows that Kendrick is has grown into well known rapper). Her letter reads with anger, calling him out for using her sister’s story to shame her for prostitution. The girl points out that she too is a prostitute because it pays and because she gets attention which is important because she was abandoned by her parents at a young age. The subsequent verses are about Kendrick’s consciousness of his mortality as a teenager in Compton where deaths of youth are pretty common. He also acknowledges how even as a relatively successful rapper with money, women, and power, he is still longing for something else. The song ends with Dave’s brother vowing to Kendrick that he will take revenge, then cuts into an encounter with an old christian lady, played by Maya Angelou, who encourages the young men to accept Jesus into their lives.

“Real” featuring Anna Wise is a real triumph. I can’t stress just how much I loved this song. In this song, Kendrick is starting to put himself first in the sense that he won’t compromise his beliefs because of peer pressure. He also addresses women and men who stay in unhealthy relationships to fill a void. At the end of the song, his father leaves him a voicemail urging him not to seek revenge for Dave in the following lines:

“Any nigga can kill a man, that don’t make you a real nigga. Real is responsibility. Real is taking care of your motherfucking family. Real is God, nigga.”

The last track, “Compton” featuring Dr Dre, is the perfect way to end a perfect album. Kendrick Lamar reflects on his success as a rapper and how Compton made him who he was despite taking his childhood from him.

With the album’s context in mind, I’m happy that Kendrick “made it past 25”. This album is a raw, hopeful, ride into Kendrick Lamar’s formative years. The album’s song arrangement and production are intentional and executed so beautifully that it is hard to imagine that the album could have been any better. As a new stan of Kendrick Lamar, I look forward to listening to his subsequent albums: “To Pimp a Butterfly” and his Pulitzer Prize winning album “Damn”, and maybe I will tell you all about them too.

Portia Uwase Zuba’s academic interests are Economics, International Affairs, and French.