Who is this Kendrick Lamar, the 25-year-old rapper from Compton who’s got the hip-hop loving world breathless with his major label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city? His very good good kid, m.A.A.d city came out last Tuesday, and already it’s being talked about as a classic on par with Nas Illmatic or Outkast‘s Aquemini. Technically speaking, Lamar raps very, very well; more remarkable, though, is his storytelling. The best way to get to know him is to listen to the work he puts out, and to listen closely. But there are also a few things you should understand about him…
1. Where He Came From
On the cover of good kid m.A.A.D. city is a Polaroid of baby Kendrick taken in 1992, seated on his uncle’s knee at a table strewn with baby bottles and 40oz bottles. This is where and how Kendrick begins his story. He grew up in Compton, where rappers like Tupac and Dr. Dre were given heroes, and where he spent his early days dodging trouble. “Never was a gangbanger, I mean I was never stranger to the funk neither,” he explains on “Peer Pressure.”
What is most important to Lamar about all of this is how far he’s come from there. When he was still young, he began rapping and turned the studio into his haven, and he talks frequently about hoping to inspire kids from the community to do the same. Therein lies the m.A.A.D. — “My Angry Adolescence Divided”– city he knew.
He got out of the space he grew up in sonically, as well. His jazz-influenced sound nods frequently to the 90’s west coast rap he grew up with — sounding at times particularly like Pharcyde or Digable Planets, while he says his breakout album Section.80 was inspired by a vision of Tupac and he works closely alongside Dr. Dre. But in more ways, he’s sound is entirely his own, hazy and intergalactic. And hence the album’s alternative title, “My Angel’s on Angel Dust.”