FACTmag

The 50 Best Albums of 2012

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01: KENDRICK LAMAR
GOOD KID, M.A.A.D. CITY
(AFTERMATH / INTERSCOPE / TOP DAWG)


‘Backseat Freestyle’

It’s difficult to talk about good kid, m.A.A.d city without tackling the critical metanarrative. It’s been two years since a hip-hop album garnered quite as much admiration from the critical plunderbund; if you want to get to good kid, m.A.A.d city, you’ve got to hack through a thicket of laurels first. Is there an element of hysteria at work in this mad dash to pay tribute? In a typically percipient article, hip-hop writer Noz cautioned against rushing to anoint good kid, m.A.A.d city – or, indeed, any other rap album – as a “classic”. Lamar himself takes a similar line: “It ain’t a classic yet – it’s got to be at least 10 years”.

Still, proceeding on tiptoe, we’d wager that a record doesn’t necessarily have to steep for years to earn big-C status. By their very nature, some virtues – formal ingenuity, singularity of voice, the shock of the new, sheer audacity – leap out at you on first or second glance. The Compton rapper’s major label debut thrills and surprises so often that it’s hard to imagine it falling out of favour. Lamar’s craftsmanship and good taste are plain to see – and those are values that tend not to pall with time.

good kid, m.A.A.d city‘s biggest surface achievements – the multi-layered, self-reflexive “concept” narrative; the stockpile of killer beats; Lamar’s chameleonic ability to flit between cadences and characters – have been well documented here and elsewhere. But good kid, m.A.A.d city‘s most striking feature is arguably how much Lamar thinks and raps like a critic. There’s not a single verse or hook on the record where Lamar doesn’t do something to sidestep expectations or dodge cliche – a warped intonation here, a carpet-pulling pause there. Lamar’s balked at the term “conscious rapper” but, in a way, it’s a perfect fit: Lamar’s always thinking on his feet, always alert to possibility, always looking for ways to quietly upset the norm.

And, of course, the songs are just so damn good. Peep the crunching, exhilarating ‘Backseat Freestyle’; the remarkably elegant dyad ‘Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst’; ‘The Art Of Peer Pressure”s wonderfully ambivalent street storytelling; or ‘Good Kid’s’ chest-beating cry to the heavens. Save yourself the 10 year wait, and call good kid, m.A.A.d city what is: the most ingenious record of the year.

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