Five Years After: Good Kid Maad City

Five Years After: Good Kid Maad City

In 2012, Kendrick Lamar released one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the past few years. Good Kid Maad City was Kendrick’s second album to the masses and it was an in depth, personal dive into a chapter of Lamar’s life that was told on the album in a nonlinear narrative. The album deals with moments from Kendrick’s life that are laid bare for us as the audience listens to the “Backseat Freestyle”, voicemails from his parents as the night grows worse and takes several turns in an almost cinematic style arc. The production, executively produced by Dr. Dre, sticks to the smooth somber moments on the pillars of rough around West Coast raps and the character arc of Lamar as the tracks progress and it was apparent Lamar had something special with GKMC. The harsh realities of Compton, California and his life shaping the story, people across the country and the world tuned in to listen too and gain some awareness about one rapper’s album detailing gun violence, women, religion, and growing up when life is moving too fast for you through twelve tracks (with more if you got the Bonuses!) The unofficial GKMC short film captures these themes, location and life of Compton beautifully and it’s pushed further and enhanced by the music for sure.

Good Kid Maad City turned five years old on October 22  and what better way to celebrate the album that threw Kendrick Lamar into the stratosphere by reflecting on it and seeing how fans feel about the album? I reached out to several fans to ask how they recall feeling about the album those five years ago and how it’s aged in their opinion.

This is taking a look back on Good Kid, M.A.A.D City.

@bolu_ay – It’s 2012 and the entire world has been raving about some guy named Kendrick, who I admit is an impressive rapper , but he just never did it for me. It was then I learnt how to appreciate music and learn to appreciate art, I finally got tired of the hype and decided to do a proper study, it’s influences, what the album was about, Kendrick’s contradictions, the story of his life to a degree. I decided to give him a chance when I hear “Bitch Don’t Kill my Vibe,” it resonated and made want to actually see what he was about and give the album another listen without overrated bias just a fascinating study on growing up in compton, what he loves about and what he hates about it, and in a small way I relate cause I am from Nigeria and that frustration with a place he loves and adores resonated with me like “Real” it’s by far my fave Kendrick song and actually made me into a huge fan, and yeah he was robbed of the Grammys in 2017. I think it’s a timeless album and is an interesting contrast to DAMN, which is more about Kendrick dealing with being famous than others.

@ajclassic – I was listening to it at work and I was very compelled by the storyline at first. “Backseat Freestyle” was the first banger and I liked it. The album reminded me of Death Certificate by Ice Cube. I mean the record he had with MC Eiht was actually over the “Bird In a Hand beat” which I liked. I remember finishing the album thinking it was pretty good. I just never felt the need to relisten like the songs were all over the radio after the album dropped and I really felt like Kendrick was inescapable. That was the biggest debut album that year and it felt like it. I thought the album was good but not this instant classic everybody said it was. I didn’t find any of the records particularly timeless and I feel like that’s what makes an album timeless.

@thirdeyesquints – Ight so basically, when GKMC dropped I was already a Kendrick fan, having been introduced to his full catalogue Christmas of 2011 when I was home from school on break, so going back down south anticipating an album had me hype because at that point the best thing I’d heard from him was Section 80 and I loved the storytelling on that one. Fast forward to a week or two before the album dropped, Heart pt. 3 comes out. Instantly became my new focus track. Then GKMC hits and I’m like…this nigga got a minivan on the cover, calling it a short film. This about to be epic or complete trash. Ended up being epic enough to take my attention away from Lupe’s Food and Liquor Vol. 2 which also dropped around that time. But yeah that album became my manifesto for the rest of that year, the tracks caught me from jump and every song was like a different piece of my own childhood. Case in point, I grew up on the edge of Compton and Watts, so every time he mentioned a location nearby my house I started thinking, this guy lived my same life just a few blocks over. And I imagine that’s the way folks over here felt when NWA dropped because it’s one thing to be a hometown hero and have a cohesive record, but when you capture the essence of growing up on the wrong side of the tracks and make it poetic, that’s when you know you’re tapped into something classic. To date I’ve only skipped through two tracks on the album after the initial drop, and that’s because I’m not a fan of new Mary J Blige and “Real” because it was the moment that pulled the story together for a close and I’m no longer listening for the narrative. People compare DAMN and TPAB to it but there’s a certain kind of hunger that freshman efforts have that you only get echoes of on the later albums. Like Backseat Freestyle was more than just a song about young K. Dot, it was the prelude to the Control verse that would mark him as the leader of his class. Every record on GKMC demands respect, even the ones I don’t care for, and I say that because I still feel guilty when I push past a record I’m not in the mood for but I still give it credence for even existing on the same album as the others. This has never been one of those albums where I feel like things should’ve been left off. Everything belongs. Everything is excellent in a way that his other records only seek to remind you of rather than standing on their own.

@RAMIMWAMBA – I think it dropped at the perfect time in my life, which is how we envision all our favourite albums doing, fresh out of high school, just started college, I think the systems are different here, so College for us, is a step before University. The album really hit home for me, it solidified the notion that Kendrick is for you Rami, the concept of deep down being a “good kid” and the environment and people around you influencing your actions, I wasn’t gang banging at aaaall, but Art of Peer Pressure can relate to any shy black boy who wanted to be like his cousins. I’d spent the year prior getting to know Kendrick, listening to mixtapes, freestyles, singles, anything! I was pestering my friends about Section.80, showing Rigamortis to anybody who’d lend an ear or two, so when the album came I was ready to be disappointed, when you build things up like that that’s often the case. Lupe Fiasco was my “fave” but Lasers was Lasers, Eminem’s novelty had worn off and Drake got too much pussy for me to ever relate. So when I pressed play on my Blackberry on the album I’d illegally downloaded on my way home (I’ve bought every Kendrick project since) and you hear that tape being injected and the sound system gearing up, along with the group prayer, I sighed the biggest sigh of relief, I don’t know why, but I was just so happy, to feel/hear that atmospheric sound, the imagery, sense of time and place, it was ballsy of him to go concept, when everyone was expecting him to go pop. To me, the music was out of this world, he married lyrical potency, storytelling and mainstream rap sensibilities perfectly, he really kept a balance on that album, and I was so surprised, it was unheard of for me at that point, didn’t listen to anything else until the end of my first year in college. I knew it was a classic, I likened it to the Illmatic of my era, the one album I’ll always be mentioning to people younger than me when I’m describing the millennial era as rap’s golden age, it’s essential listening. Present time, my views are just as strong, and I’d defend that album to the end of time. It’s such a moment in time for me, so many memories and friendships have been made from songs on that album and that artists, it’s amazing to see what he’s become, so clinical in his movements, militant almost, meticulous with his artistry, and everything was more or less there in that album. He got a fan for life with that album.

@John_Noire –  “To understand the importance of good kid, m.A.A.d city, you have to understand its context. My first introduction to Kendrick Lamar was Overly Dedicated. From the breath-taking lyricism of “The Heart Part 2” to the ingenious imagery of “Heaven & Hell”, Kendrick’s talent was self-evident. Not since Lupe had I witnessed an emcee of Kendrick’s calibre. But there was a question that remained over his head until his major-label debut: Could he deliver? Any child of the blog era will remember the million emcees we championed as ‘the one’: the one to deliver the classic album, the one to bring balance to hip-hop. So many had tried, so many had failed. Whether it was of their own doing or by label intervention, it seemed that mainstream rap was doomed to mediocrity. Therefore, Kendrick became our last hope. Every step he made was on a high wire we were familiar with, we just prayed that he would be the first one to make it to the other end.

Fast forward to October 22nd, 2012. Everything Kendrick had done till then made me believe the hype: Section.80, “Buried Alive”, King of the West Coast. Kendrick could do no wrong and this was the moment of truth. The first time I listened to good kid, m.A.A.d city was in alphabetical order. Initially, I was worried but it wasn’t until I heard “m.A.A.d city” and “Sing About Me” that I realized Kendrick had done it. He had delivered the first classic album of our generation. For me, a classic album has to do one of two things: represent the best of the genre or innovate it. good kid, m.A.A.d city did both. Since its release, good kid, m.A.A.d city has impacted hip-hop in the following ways: (i) Set the blueprint for artists to be themselves and avoid the trappings of major-label compromise (ii) Gave a platform for more lyricism and social consciousness in the mainstream (iii) Reintroduced the importance of concept albums and storytelling (iv) Started a West Coast Renaissance that is showing no signs of slowing down. When I was growing up, I would hear all these stories about how amazing Biggie and Nas were on their come-up. How you just had to be there to see it. How it would never happen again. Kendrick Lamar is my chance to watch greatness develop in real time and good kid, m.A.A.d city was the beginning of that journey. Five years later, that hasn’t changed. I’m just happy I now have the opportunity to talk about it.

@incognegroi – People out here were extremely happy for him & it was a pivotal time for the city but I feel like people had mixed emotions about it despite him becoming successful. Like he was one of those artists that would lose sentiment because outside culture & mainstream America would fetishize him. Especially with the success of his second album I believe America crowned him a sweetheart rather than incriminate him which usually means he’s become disconnected from the city. If you look in those crowds from OD to Damn, periodically the crowds have a lot more snow in them you feel me? And at that point that’s when you know it’s less about the culture and more about him being a “star”. It was a dope album probably the truest and closest part to Kendrick Lamar we’ll ever get again. We’ll never get K Dot again just because when you in the hood you see things for what it really is, but when you on the road and working you lose the sentiment.

@OhiniJonez – Good kid Maad city dropped, changed the world around me, and I didn’t give an iota of a fuck. Not that I didn’t appreciate Kendrick’s skill and content, I just didn’t have a love for the music anymore. 20 hour days producing, recording, mixing and writing made any music I heard outside of my bubble feel like ‘meh’… and there was probably someone like me somewhere when Illmatic dropped too.

I didn’t really understand the album until I started seeing its impact. 2012 was an interesting year, a time when the love children of Weezy, Yeezy, and Based God roamed the Earth; Kendrick slapped all that in the face. While the stylistic choices didn’t go, I noticed there being more effort in flows, more effort in content and all roads pointed to Good kid Maad city. As a child of the first Kanye renaissance of the culture, I became instantly aware of the all important event I hadn’t noticed. This was the first classic of the new decade, the first album to have an impact beyond sales. I saw kids of all identities, nationalities and backgrounds truly resonate with something. What was merely a great album to me was life affirming and life changing for a whole generation of hip hop listeners. Good kid Maad city was a teaching moment as well; once it was compared to albums like Illmatic, Ready To Die, It Takes a Nation…, and AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted one could see folks born well after these albums were released debating the comparisons. I don’t care if they were right or wrong, a generation listened to Illmatic to find common ground between their father’s CD collection and their iTunes library. I found common ground between my father’s love of Gil Scott Heron and Kendrick’s own harrowing narratives of merely existing in Compton

Aight, this brings me to my last point. In an era of super hippies, super thugs, and over exaggerated personalities Kendrick released an album that celebrated being a regular nigga in surreal circumstances. The stories aren’t told from the perspective of the bystander, or the perpetrator. They are told from the perspective of the nigga in the backseat who got caught up in some crazy situations. He wasn’t a super player, he was a high school kid trying to balance getting laid and bringing his momma’s van home. What made this album a classic was the universal appeal of Kendrick Lamar as a human, and not a character.

@LILETHBASEDLORD – I remember when I first heard Swimming Pools (Drank) and thinking how good it was at that time and I used to play it a lot until the radio basically killed it, same for Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe, especially the remix with Jay-Z. When I finally heard the whole album, I remember basically loving everything from Master Splinter’s Daughter to Sing About Me, Dying Of Thirst and not really caring for the rest. Nowadays, I actually like the singles all over again, not to entirely Swimming Pools anymore. Bitch, Don’t kill My Vibe actually aging pretty good. M.a.a.d City isn’t really in my opinion. Sing About Me, Dying Of Thirst is still the best song on the album to me. After two more studio albums from Kendrick and acknowledging Section .80 as an album, I’d rank GKMC at number 4 honestly.

Good Kid, Maad City gave an even bigger spotlight to the kid from Compton and the world was forever changed because of it. A story of love, death, rebirth, and finding yourself even in the worst of circumstances is the story of younger Kendrick on the album. Here we are five years later still listening, still reflecting, and going back to see why we think this album is so great in the first place. I want to give a big THANK YOU! to everyone that gave their words to this piece and to everyone out there that’s reading it.


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