good kid m.A.A.d city, by Kendrick Lamar
Suggested by Jamie Walsh
How many chances does an artist deserve?
To be clear, I’m not being sinister. I’m talking about judgment levied on their creative output, not their moral conduct. I’m not advocating that we wipe Michael Jackson’s slate clean, or invite Gary Glitter to join our gang. No, I’m simply wondering how many times, after an initial impression has been made, should a listener return to an album or artist in search of that spark of genius that’s so apparent to the ears of others.
Should it be one-and-done? Listen, dislike, discard? Or should a difficult album merit multiple listens? If so, how many is correct? If you’ve not seen the light by Listen Five, is there any hope of revelation at Listen Fifty?
And where does an artist’s reputation come in? If they’ve delivered in the past, do they deserve more time to impress? What if they’ve disappointed before? Should they be immediately overlooked?
This is my second Kendrick Lamar album. I was no fan of the first, the angry yet unfocussed To Pimp a Butterfly, but I fully concede that my personal viewpoint is misaligned with the thoughts of the musical elite. To Pimp a Butterfly, and Kendrick himself, are lauded as revolutionary and unimpeachable. Lamar, it seems, is a singular talent.
good kid m.A.A.d city, Lamar’s mainstream studio debut, is another landmark release for the genre. Rave reviews across the piece, plaudits and awards and universal love. Strings of five-star reviews as long as the eye can see.
Here’s what I liked about it. I enjoyed the intelligence and intensity of the rapping. Kedrick has Things To Say, and the talent and wit to say them loud and proud. I liked the more laid-back feel to the album, when compared to the more visceral tracks on To Pimp a Butterfly. There’s a definite heat here, but it’s a lazy, summer heat, rather than the blowtorch intensity of the follow-up. I like the songs, both individually (such as Backseat freestyle, both good kid AND m.A.A.d city, and my standout, the epic Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst) and collectively (a criticism of To Pimp a Butterfly is that a lot of it sounded like low-rent rap improv… this album is much more coherent).
Here’s what I disliked about it. I disliked the repetitive spoken interludes between the tracks, the candid slices-of-life that do nothing other than irritate. I disliked the lack of musical scope, with every track pitched at the same low-level intensity, with few peaks or troughs. I disliked the artifice and character-acting twinge to Lamar’s voice, sounding at times like a ringmaster and at times like a paedophile.
Overall, I liked a lot more than I disliked. I’m happy I gave Kendrick a second chance, although I likely would have passed if not for this project. But even with this newfound warmth, I still cannot locate that elusive kernel of genius that’s so apparent to his ardent fans. My 6/10 is an improvement on previous scores, but it’s a slow ebb. To me, it’s not the classic that’s constantly preached by the converted, but it does enough to warrant another chance should Kendrick cross my path again.