A hip-hop rookie and storied vet slug it out for 2012's highest musical honor
A time capsule for music in 2012 would contain a grab bag of artifacts: 2 Chainz’s two chains, a lock of Chief Keef’s dreads, Carly Rae Jepsen’s prepaid phone. Rummage deeper, beneath Snoop Lion’s Rasta beanie, and you’ll unearth two tremendous rap CDs: Kendrick Lamar’s stunning Aftermath debut good kid, m.A.A.d. city and Nas’ extra-innings homer Life is Good. Both are immaculate efforts of A1 vision and verse from two MCs whose careers exist at polar opposites. Difference is, only one of these compositions is a classic.
Kendrick was seven-years-old when Illmatic dropped in 1994––the very same age as a stone-faced Nas photographed in the album’s artwork. On his cinematic debut good kid, the 25-year-old replaces Queensbridge by evoking the red-and-blue sovereign of cop cars and gangbangers of his native Compton, Calif. It’s a conceptual Caravan ride around CPT, narrating how a juvenile Kendrick’s booty-call-turned-booby-trap, ultimately, triggered a religious rebirth. If Lamar’s masterpiece is a coming-of-age mini movie, Life is Good is a rapid PowerPoint presentation of street and domestic memories both in high-res and sepia tones. At once, the 39-year-old legend dizzyingly laments slain friends (“A Queens Story”), critiques his own parenting (“Daughters”) and finds closure with divorce (“Bye Baby”). Sonically, both albums recall days of the FM dial; Kendrick’s borrows from Death Row’s G-funk and OutKast’s intergalactic soul (“Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”); Nas from ‘90’s Big Apple boom-bap.
Although, Nas adds to the best of his lofty discography, Kendrick’s work rules 2012 for its cohesion. Glued by beautifully engineered soundscapes and accentuating skits, gkmc possesses both the structure and intricate nuances of an instant classic. Like one of those 3D heart models in high school biology, you want to take it apart, marvel at its makeup, piece it back together, just to marvel at it some more. As rap’s Internet class of spitters continue to etch their initials into hip-hop’s halls, 2012 valedictorian Kendrick Lamar sets the latest bar of new-school excellence. Here’s to the new (good) kid on the block.