The Black Hippy crew definitely had a good 2012. ScHoolboy Q started the year off well with Habits & Contradictions, an album that somehow managed to meld Southern party rap with gloomy trip hop and the eeriness of mid-nineties East Coast hardcore. Control System, Ab-Soul’s darkly psychedelic tour of his own mind, followed. But the Hippies were saving the best for last: come October, Kendrick Lamar released good kid, m.A.A.d city. And it’s the best record I heard all year. Heck, it’s the best record I’ve heard in years.
Good kid is subtitled “A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar,” but it’s not an accurate description; if anything, it’s closer to a one man show. Actually, scratch that. Talking about good kid in terms of other forms of media (while helpful in establishing that yes, there is an ongoing narrative at play here, yes, this is a concept album, no, that isn’t considered a bad thing anymore) is ultimately pointless, because like many other works of genius, it would be impossible to translate into another medium. What makes Lamar’s masterpiece so amazing is how it uses the structure of an album to tell a story, or rather stories. Over the course of seventy minutes, Kendrick shuffles through personas and perspectives; sometimes he’s a sixteen-year-old version of himself, sex-and-status crazed and freestyling in the back of his friends car for the first time; sometimes he’s the sister of a prostitute he eulogized in his first album, Section.80; sometimes he’s his father, weary and drunk; sometimes he’s many all at once, an ethereal amalgamation of human hopes and failures. Lamar weaves tales of teen lust, peer pressure, bloated egos, self-doubt, and revenge elegantly around one central incident in which the girl of young Kendrick’s dreams lures him across town to get jumped. The whole thing is a brilliant machine, with well-paced cliffhangers, musical themes connecting disparate threads, and, and I can’t believe I’m saying this either, possibly some of the only good uses of skits in the entire history of hip-hop. Voicemails from Lamar’s parents and conversations with his friends help flesh out his character, sketching a portrait of a likeable, sensitive kid trying to seem cool in front of his more gangster friends. Overall, it’s the story of teenagerdom: testing out unknown and dangerous waters until it gets too deep and too far away from the shore. good kid is the story of a boy who’s deciding whether to fight against that riptide all the way to the beach, or just drown.
The whole thing sounds great, too. That east-meets-south production of Habits & Contradictions is done even better here, especially due to the addition of Compton G-funk flair. Everything that happens in good kid takes place in Los Angeles, sure, but this is a coastless album, in certain ways.
It’s an album to dance to, and one to cry to.
It’s an album for anybody who’s ever been a teen.
It’s the best album of 2012.
And that’s it for 2012. Hope you’ve had a good one, and be sure to tune in next week for more Now Take Them Out, Devils. Follow Simon Lazarus Vasta on Twitter @Hunter_S_Narc
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