That’s My Jam is a feature where one person from the Selective Hearing staff goes to wax poetic about music that is pivotal to their musical tastes. Whether that would be an album, a song, or anything in-between. We all had to start somewhere.
Released October 22, 2012
- Sherane a.k.a Master Splinter’s Daughter
- Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe
- Backseat Freestyle
- The Art of Peer Pressure
- Money Trees featuring Jay Rock
- Poetic Justice featuring Drake
- good kid
- m.A.A.d city featuring MC Eiht
- Swimming Pools (Drank)
- Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst
- Real featuring Anna Wise
- Compton featuring Dr. Dre
Kendrick Lamar released Damn, his fourth album back in April, and he captivated the internet for two weeks, possibility even longer when both Humble and DNA were released beforehand. In that wake, the talk of whether Kendrick can be declared as the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) caught fire. I refrain from having that conversation seeing as the album is still relatively new as of this writing. Instead, I want to take this edition of That’s My Jam to talk about the album that brought Kung-Fu Kenny fully into pop culture.
Kendrick’s buzz started building with his Overly Dedicated mixtape back in 2010, then his first album, Section.80 in 2011. I first learned of Kendrick around this same time but he didn’t stick with me. As with most artists, I learn of their existence then move on. I listened to the Swimming Pools while in various social settings, but it wasn’t until I had my Jimi Hendrix moment and heard Swimming Pools is when things changed.
With a chorus that is still incredibly infectious with a dark undertone to the beat, it blends in well in any social environment where alcohol is involved. But play the song while not in a scenario like that, that’s when the song starts to reveal itself. In the verses, Kendrick is rapping about how peer pressure can force even the most casual drinkers to have more alcohol than they normally would, even to the point where someone could develop alcoholism. Placing insightful lyrics on a catchy musical bed isn’t new, but it comes together well here. Kendrick takes this formula to a higher level when he released i for To Pimp a Butterfly, and while that song was initially divisive (it has now gained universal acclaim), it wasn’t a jarring change of musical direction when placed into context of Swimming Pools.
Good Kid, M.A.A.D City is an album that needs to go beyond first impressions. If you were just to listen to all the singles, they paint an impression that the album won’t go further than an above-average album made with craft. Fortunately for us, Kendrick applied the same process of Swimming Pools to the album. GKMD requires active listening. Kendrick takes you into a day into a younger version of himself in Compton, California. The album starts out innocently with Kendrick rapping about a summer fling, Sherane. The album beings to reveal itself when The Art of Peer Pressure begins.
Look at me, I got the blunt in my mouth
Usually I’m drug-free, but shit, I’m with the homies
I never was a gangbanger, I mean
I never was stranger to the fonk neither, I really doubt it
Rush a nigga quick and then we laugh about it
That’s ironic, ’cause I’ve never been violent
Until I’m with the homies
My mama called: “Hello? What you doin’?” — “Kickin’ it.”
I should’ve told her I’m probably ‘bout to catch my first offense, with the homies
Kendrick is the album title. He’s a good kid, but he grew up in an environment that influences even the best of us. In another situation, Kendrick or anyone else for that matter probably wouldn’t engage in home invasions or randomly beat someone up. The flip side is when the good kid is on the receiving end of the action. At the end of Poetic Justice when Kendrick is in his mom’s van waiting for Sherane and he’s confronted by two people who have a problem with Kendrick’s mere presence. By the end of Swimming Pools, it’s revealed that Kendrick was jumped. His homies decide on retaliation.
We gon’ do the same ol’ shit
I’ma pop a few shots, they gon’ run, they gon’ run opposite ways
Fall right in —-‘s lap
And he gon’ tear they ass up, simple as that
The song ends with one of his homies, Dave, being shot dead.
Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst is the song that follows, and this begins the best moment of the album. The first half, Sing About Me, involves three separate points of view. The first verse is Dave’s brother calling Kendrick about Dave. The second verse is from Keisha’s sister responding to Kendrick sharing her sister’s story on his first album. The third verse is Kendrick himself responding to both people. Dave’s brother is thankful that Kendrick loved Dave while Keisha’s sister felt Kendrick was judging her sister about her life as a prostitute. Kendrick draws the common line between both people saying their lives must be told. The mad city has taken so many lives that Kendrick felt it necessary to encapsulate their lives in music for the future. Kendrick ends his verse asking if he dies, will anyone sing about him.
The second half of the song, I’m Dying of Thirst is the frustration that arises living in the mad city. Seeing the death and destruction takes its toll on those who witness it. Those who do witness it want it all to end, but the frustration arises from the inability to change it. The song ends with Kendrick and his homies speaking with an older woman who gets them to calm down about the situation and they all begin in a prayer in hopes to cleanse themselves of sin for a better future.
The chronological end of the story is with Real. This is current-day Kendrick advocating self-love and self-care with a maturity that he didn’t have earlier in the story. It ends with a voicemail from his mom encouraging him to pursue music to continue to share the stories and experiences of people in Compton. The one-two punch of Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst and Real creates the best moment on the album. It flows musically and thematically. For many, the album should’ve ended with Real.
Compton ends the album, and I love that Kendrick chose to close out with this. It’s a triumphant anthem for his city. It’s also a follow-through on the message his mom left him with Real. While Real would’ve ended the album on a hopeful note, I think Compton takes that a step further and presents Kendrick’s newfound mission as on-going, and shows that progress has already been made.
The overarching theme is why I keep revisiting this album. While the story here isn’t mine, certain moments Kendrick raps about was eerily close to my own experiences. I consider myself another good kid who grew up in a mad city, so I gravitated to this album more than most. Most other rap albums the rapper is speaking about the urban ghetto from the viewpoint of being directly involved in illicit activities. Seldom are their rappers who are rapping about the rhythms of the ghetto are on the sideline. While Kendrick says himself in the music even he got caught up, he’s still the kid with a basketball and some Now & Laters to eat. I’ve always viewed rap as a mirror of my own life. GKMD’s mirror is the clearest I’ve held up.
Even if someone can’t relate to the actual events, everyone can relate to the emotions, and the reliability is why GKMD is the moment when Kendrick became fully integrated into pop culture. Section.80 gave everyone a glimpse into who Kendrick is as a person, but GKMD builds on that by telling a story that is easy to follow and digestible by anyone. To Pimp a Butterfly is Kendrick’s most important album he’s created, and Damn, while great, is still too early to determine what it represents for him. However, consider for a moment that GKMD is to Kendrick as Reservoir Dogs is to the director Quentin Tarantino. Both works aren’t their firsts (Quentin has his amateur film, My Best Friend’s Birthday), their later releases show their skills at full bloom, and those later projects is when they blew up and became universally acclaimed for their artistry. GKMD and Reservoir Dogs is the both of them not fully understanding the depth of their skills and vision, and the full realization of those abilities are shown later on in their careers.
In the middle of his development, props to Kendrick for creating an album is simultaneously accessible and at least for me, deeply personal. It might not be his best album, but it will remain my favorite.