When you search the definition of classic on the internet, the most common definition you’ll find will be along the lines of “something sustaining greatness for an extended period of time”. Depending on who you ask, that “extended period of time” may range. But an “instant classic”, is the exception to that rule.
We’ve had a few instant classics in Hip-Hop. Some that come to mind for me are: Jay-Z’s “4:44”, Kanye West’s “MBTDF” & Lil Wayne’s “Tha Carter III”. Sure there’s a couple albums that I’ve left out but these albums greatness instantly stood out.
In 2012 Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar released his second album and major label debut “good kid, m.A.A.d. city“. Another album that is on my “instant classic” list. It is debatable that K.Dot is one of the few rappers to actually have multiple “instant classic” albums. However, today we focus on the masterpiece that is GKMC.
A Cinematic Masterpiece
The cover art for “good kid, m.A.A.d city” features a photo of Kendrick as a baby being held by a family member flashing a gang sign, a 40 oz can also be spotted by a baby bottle. In an interview with Fuse Kendrick explained why he chose to go with this for the art. “It’s really just like a self-portrait. I feel like I needed to make this album to move on with my life”. “Two [of the men] are my uncles, to the far right, it’s my grandpa, and a baby bottle, next to a 40 oz, next to a gang sign, holdin’ a kid,”
You’ll notice the “short film by Kendrick Lamar”on the album cover. That is exactly what GKMC is, a concept album that allows us to experience Kendrick’s upbringing. Compton, California is notoriously regarded as one the nations most dangerous cities. Like most inner cities in America, growing up there is no easy task. Which is why the tales told on GKMC is relatable to an abundance of people. And for those who couldn’t relate, Kendrick paints the picture so well it feels as if you were actually there.
“good kid, m.A.A.d city” opens with “Sherane a.k.a Master Splinter’s Daughter”. The track speaks on Kendrick being young and thirsty for sex, willing to ignore all red flags to get some.
“Her favorite cousin Demetrius’s is a reputable, family history of gang banging did make me skeptical
but not enough to stop me from getting a nut”
The track starts and ends with a skit (a common theme throughout the album) which connects the story Kendrick is telling. The Skit on track one starts with a repentance prayer and ends with Kendrick’s mom asking for her car back and his dad going off about some pizza.
The Art Of Storytellin’
“B*tch Don’t Kill My Vibe” was one of the lead singles off of the album and was more proof that Kendrick could cook up a hit. Harping on the current state of Hip-Hop Kendrick spoke on how songs such as this which are outside of the norm can still become a hit. The song also became a “mood” for many. The track ends with a skit of K. Dot’s homies scooping him up to hotbox and freestyle.
That skit leads us into “Backseat Freestyle” which tells a story about Kendrick freestyling while riding around with friends. Me and my friends have definitely drove around freestyling to YouTube beats. Backseat Freestyle flows perfectly into the “The Art Of Peer Pressure“.
A day of smoking and freestyling with friends turns into a night of committing a robbery. Kendrick depicts the tales of riding around with his homies admitting that although he wasn’t gang affiliated the lifestyle was rampant enough in his community to tie him in. The song ends with a funny skit where Kendrick and his friends reminisce their day and plan out their night.
Which leads into “Money Tress” featuring fellow TDE artist Jay Rock (this is my favorite Jay Rock verse). The next track is “Poetic Justice” another one of the albums lead singles featuring Drake. The song samples Janet Jackson’s “Any Time, Any Place”.
Poetic Justice ties us back into the album’s opening track. Upon pulling up to see Sherane, Kendrick is encountered by a group of men who asks if he’s looking for her and then begins to press him.
Life In Compton
I’ve never been to Compton but these next 2 songs made me feel as if I grew up there. “good kid” which features Pharrell on the hook, speaks on trying to rise above the madness that comes with growing up in the hood. “But what am I supposed to do? When the topic is red or blue”.
“m.A.A.d city” speaks directly on the madness that Kendrick has to navigate daily. The first half of the track features a frantic beat as Kendrick vividly depicts life in California. Then it transitions into a slower more classic west coast style beat and features Compton legend Mc Eiht. Both K.Dot & Eiht share their stories of growing up in Compton.
The track ends with a skit about Kendrick and his friends passing a bottle around which transitions into the “Swimming Pools (Drank)”. While the song is a party jam, Kendrick warns against drinking and talks about battling with inner demons. The skit ends with Kendrick and his fans retaliating on the guys who jumped him, but in a shootout Kendrick’s friend loses his brother. That story is sad but unfortunately occurs far too often in the inner city.
“Sing About Me Dying Of Thirst” recounts all of the tragedies that have affected his life. Kendrick also speaks on feeling that things were closing in on him. Although he tries to stay away from the negativity it has somehow engulfed his life. The ending skit of these track features the full version of the prayer that can be heard on the skit of the opening track.
Next is “Real” featuring Ana Wise. At first I didn’t like nor appreciate “Real”, but after continuing to listen to GKMC I understood the message of the song. Kendrick began to understand what the true concept of being “Real” was. It wasn’t the concept of being a “street dude” but being a genuine person.
Lastly the track closes out with “Compton” featuring Hip-hop legend & Compton native Dr.Dre. The track shows love to their neighborhood and serves as a glorious anthem for the city.
The Impact of GKMC & Why It’s Considered An Instant Classic
good kid m.A.A.d city was Kendrick’s introduction to a mainstream audience and he didn’t disappoint. The album has gone on to go 3x Platinum as well take home the award for Album Of The Year at the 2013 BET Hip-Hop Awards and being nominated for 5 Grammys.
Two years later another Compton artist YG made his debut with “My Krazy Life” which harped on life in Compton. Although, told from a different perspective it spoke on gang culture, drugs and violence that’s a reality in Compton.
Music & Culture Writer for Voice of Millennials Now & Sacramento, California native Ebony Durham believes GKMC is a classic. She can also attest to the authenticity of the album.
“This album separates itself from the bunch because if you don’t count section 80. as an album GKMC was a very anticipated album by his fans. This album has a lot of singles that still gets played today and his album cuts are also well known. Definitely had an impact on west coast hiphop because at this time in LA didn’t have any new “popular” artists so we were hype . The skits in this album and the content was very relatable to us on the west coast“Ebony Durham
Livengoodlivin, Founder & CEO of LivengoodLivin Publicity LLC, Director of PR for Playbook Media Group & Co-Founder of The DMVDaily. Harps on how the album helped him battle addiction.
“It is absolutely a classic album. I look at it from this way, all classic albums have an impact on an era it was released. It hit me different. It was my freshman year of college and I needed that album personally. I was overcoming a Percocet addiction & major alcohol addiction. Hearing song like Swimming Pools & Sing About Me, Dying Of Thirst and the concept of giving into your sins because you were influenced dictate your life or will you dictate your own life”.Livengoodlivin
Kendrick Lamar sophomore album GKMC has stood the test of time and is one of the best Hip-Hop albums ever. With that being said, it is debatable whether this is Kendrick’s best album.
Although he considers GKMC to be a classic, Reg an NYC native & founder of Firstklassbreakfast didn’t feel as if it’s Kendrick’s best album.
GKMC is considered a classic to me cause it was able to stick to a cohesive story even with multiple producers involved. That’s rare, considering when that is done there’s just one producer at the helm. He did it with different chefs in the kitchen and got them all on the same page. Listening now, you’ll see how the sound of it inspired the way other rappers tell stories now. And as great as it is, I’d rank it number 3 behind To Pimp a Butterfly, and DAMN.Reg
For me there is no debate, GKMC was like watching an infusion of Boyz N The Hood & Menace II Society just in music form. While it was relatable to some of my experiences in Harlem, GKMC placed me in Kendrick’s world and made me feel like I was there for everything that happened first hand.
Kendrick recently said in an interview with I-D mag, Kendrick stated: “I already knew off the top I can’t make good kid, m.A.A.d City Part Two. The second I’m making that, it’s corny bro. That takes the feeling away from the first. I need that muthafucka to live in its own world.”
good kid m.A.A.d city may have dropped 8 years ago, however it’s impact will live on forever.
“It certainly felt like an instant classic. I wasn’t as much of a Kendrick fan or responsible listener back then so my experiences with the album are way more recent. I see why people feel that way. It put him on a different stratosphere but I don’t think the impact of TPAB can be denied. Commercially, culturally, sociopolitically, etc. That’s his magnum opus. GKMC is right there though. Amazing story and sequencing.
Armon Sadler, multimedia journalist and creator