Matt is a movie watcher, book reader, video game player, and music listener
Good Kiid Maad City is the best christian album of the 21st century.
In almost every aspect of Kendrick Lamar’s breakthrough album it is still successful. Memorable production? Check. Powerful storytelling? Check. Popular hits? Check. Some interesting and actually good ‘bonus’ tracks? Check.
Ten years since its release, GKMC has aged well as an album. It’s simple enough to always be relevant while still remaining musically interesting. The album shows many of Kendrick’s strengths as an artist, most notably being his insane range of appeal. Some songs from GKMC have been concert bangers for the past decade (M.A.A.D City) and others have been covered by some of today’s most acclaimed Jazz artists (Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst).
The best artists are able to cross cultural and generational boundaries to tell their stories. Through all that is different between musical styles now or ones that have changed, some artists are still able to create far reaching masterpieces that are more similar than you might think.
“They say the governor collect, all of our taxes except
When we in traffic and tragic happens, that shit ain't no threat”
“One sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple,
by the relief office I saw my people.
As they stood hungry,
I stood there wondering if this land’s still made for you and me”
-This Land is Your Land
GKMC is the perfect introduction for Kendrick and a setup for what the rest of the decade will look like for him. He starts with themes of violence, sex, and poverty in his own city. That would expand on To Pimp A Butterfly to those problems in America and even in the world at large. DAMN would revisit the ideas of salvation brought up in GKMC and Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers would look even further inward into how Kendrick feels about all this now that he has ‘made it’.
Something that makes GKMC more interesting to go back and listen to now is how energetic and full of fire Kendrick is on the album. He rages against the problems of the world and pushes for solutions, anointing himself as the one to lead us.
“Now everybody serenade the new faith of Kendrick Lamar,
This is King Kendrick Lamar”
Whereas in his most recent album, Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers, Kendrick flat out rejects this idea in the first lines of the song ‘Savior’
“Kendrick made you think about it,
But he is not your savior”
It leaves us to think on how a 24 year old full of energy and determination to at least try and save the world can turn into a beaten down man in his 30’s, concerned only with saving himself. It adds a layer of tragedy to the album when you know that, even after escaping the cycle of violence in his home, Kendrick will not find happiness. That the ‘good kid’ he portrayed himself to be is gone, and a depressed and flawed man is in his place.
The general story for the album is a day in the life of a sixteen year old Kendrick Lamar. It follows him and his friends driving around Compton, goofing off and freestyling (Backseat Freestyle). They rob a house (The Art of Peer Pressure), escape the police and drop Kendrick off to go see a girl he met named Sherane (Sherane). Kendrick gets beaten up by some dudes in her neighborhood, leading to later in the day Kendrick’s friends getting in a shootout with them, leading to the death of Kendrick’s friend Dave (Swimming Pools). The boys plan to retaliate while Kendrick reflects on life in Compton. Right before they head out to get revenge they are stopped by an old neighbor who leads them in prayer (Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst). They decide not to retaliate and Kendrick gets a call from his parents, consoling him about the loss of his friend and urging him not to seek revenge. His mother reminds him that Top Dog wants him to come by his studio, and that he should focus on his music (Real).
This album seems like depressing song after depressing song but it is not all just doom and gloom. A song like ‘Money Trees’ does a fantastic job in showing the warmth and life found in ‘rough’ cities like Compton. Strangely, it gives me a feeling of nostalgia, even though my childhood is as far away from Kendrick’s that you can get. Again it speaks to Kendrick’s strength as an artist that he can make a song that crosses so many barriers and still makes you feel like he wants you to feel. No matter where you come from, as a kid you dream about your perfect future and how much easier things will be as an adult. Obviously, you learn that it’s going to turn out like you hope but it reminds you that having dreams, specifically kids having dreams, is important. Others might have more or different obstacles ahead of them but its still the same dream, an easy happy life.
Kendrick’s parents are featured on several tracks of the album and whether consoling Kendrick for his loss or scolding him for not bringing his mother’s van back, they remind us of that age where parents are trying to stop all your fun. Kendrick’s parents at first fill that more comedic role but they also show how much they love their son and how worried they are of him joining the cycle of violence. In advising him to not retaliate for Dave’s death his father tells him that violence wont bring his friend back and it will instead add to the death and destruction. His mother reminds him to work on his music and to use his talents to tell these stories to the world. GKMC is Kendrick’s fulfillment of that request, he makes his hometown vibrant and empathetic for the whole world. It paints a distilled and nuanced picture of people trying to get by in life and the choices they make in that goal.
Love and family win in GKMC. They win but crucially do not resolve it, the problems and trials of Compton remain intact by the end of the album. Kendrick’s take on how to deal with these problems is not to solve them, but to let love and faith guide your life. Ever since, Kendrick has landed on love and kindness being the armor to deal with the evil’s of the world. Whether it is love for your culture (To Pimp a Butterfly) love for others (DAMN) or love for yourself (Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers) love is always the answer.
GKMC feels like ten years old in some moments. I doubt that Drake would feature on a Kendrick Lamar song nowadays. ‘Swimming Pools’ definitely feels like it’s from the early 2010’s and having no references to twitter will always signal that we’re going pretty far back in time. In all other aspects though, it remains as fresh and compelling as when it was first released in 2012. Thanks to timeless themes and incredible performances from everyone featured, I imagine that that will still be the case in 2032. I just hope Kendrick releases more than two albums in that time.