Kendrick Lamar’s seminal album good kid, m.A.A.d. city turns ten years old on Oct. 22. This project sees Lamar detailing his evolution from a kid immersed in a harsh environment in Compton to a confident, wise rapper. As the front cover proclaims, the album is framed as a short film documenting the life of Kendrick Lamar. Each of the countless hit rap songs subliminally hides a dense, personal tale. Each song analyzes Lamar’s childhood as an adolescent surrounded by gang violence, robberies, drugs, and sex, and how these temptations pressured him into poor decision-making. Tracks like “Backseat Freestyle” and “Money Trees” explain Lamar’s thought process as a youth: focused on money, sex, and power. The music reflects these concepts, featuring loud drums and braggadocious rapping.
Conversely, in “The Art of Peer Pressure”, this harmful mindset begins to break as Kendrick admits that this person is not the real version of himself. His friends and the world around him pressured him to pursue a lifestyle that opposed his own views. The powerful duo of “Good Kid” and “m.A.A.d. city” in the middle of the album highlights the problems present in Compton. Kendrick’s childish, optimistic viewpoint is shattered as he realizes the world’s ugly truth. The world is a place where an innocent teen gets labeled as a violent gang member; where murders are common; where violence is unavoidable; where drugs, drinking, and sex are constantly getting pushed on impressionable youth; where you never know when you will get jumped or get caught in an altercation.
“Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst” is one of the finest rap songs ever created. The first half of the song contains three incredibly honest and harrowing verses surrounding Kendrick’s responsibility to tell the stories of the various people he meets in life. He raps from the viewpoints of several different characters to create an incredibly emotional and deeply connected narrative. Then, the second half of the song introduces a slower and more atmospheric beat as Kendrick realizes that his harmful lifestyle left him “dying of thirst”, desiring but never quite attaining a certain necessary part of his life.
The final skit of the song finally reveals this missing piece in Kendrick’s life: faith in God. It is with this faith that Kendrick is finally able to fully escape from the violence surrounding him and emerge as a more aware and confident person. Good kid, m.A.A.d. city is a uniquely honest and personal tale of how Kendrick Lamar grew out of his immature and childish mindset to realize the importance of growing and maturing as a person. These songs are not just catchy and fun, but at their core seek to tell Lamar’s own story of his childhood. This album has stood the test of time because of how it continues to be a relevant tale of growth and self-improvement, even ten years later.