Straight outta Compton may just be a classic line for most rappers but, for relative newcomer Kendrick Lamar, this is actually the case. Lamar’s back story reads the same as many other rappers – after hustling his way from the block by releasing mixtapes and an independent album, collaborations with heavy weights like Game, Drake, and Young Jeezy gained him cult status and led to his contribution to Dr Dre’s Detox album.
His first major label release had ‘instant classic’ buzz surrounding it within days of it being leaked, so the initial listen should be an event in itself, yet the gut reaction here is, this is simply a good album that has fallen into the trap of believing its own hype. While the lyrical content is an obvious nod to the glory days of West Coast rap, the album also suffers from flavour of the month production techniques (such as double speed vocals) making the opening tracks sound sterile and over worked, leaving them in danger of sounding dated when production styles inevitably evolve.
That said, the introspective rhymes, honesty and actual emotion of his delivery are what sets this apart from other hip-hop albums released this year. On the lo-fi G funk inspired ‘The Art Of Peer Pressure’ Lamar questions the influence of his environment with a terrifying yet brilliant narrative about gang culture, saying “I’ve never been violent until I’m with my homies”. His internal conflict is laid bare again on the 12 minute cinematic ghetto epic ‘Sing About Me, Dying Of Thirst’, the autobiographical style and unyielding realism creating a sound that is both tragic and powerful. As expected, when Dre steps into the booth with his verses on their home town dedication ‘Compton’ and laid back party tune ‘The Recipe’, the chemistry between the master and his protégé is effortless. Meanwhile ‘Now Or Never’, with Mary J Blige, features an uplifting, sing a long hook which is just begging for airplay.
A solid effort by the good kid from the mad city then, but whether it actually belongs on the shelf beside the true hip-hop classics remains to be seen.