Inside the Year's Best Album
Kendrick Lamar celebrated his 24th birthday performing a concert in Toronto. At the end of the show on a summer night in 2011 at the Sound Academy, the Compton, CA MC sported an ear-to-ear grin as he blew out the candles on a birthday cake brought to him on stage while Stevie Wonder's "Happy Birthday" played. Earlier that night, he'd previewed songs from his then yet-to-be-released Section.80 album, acting out the verses of "A.D.H.D." and "Hol' Up" with non-verbal mannerisms as if he were playing charades. Another segment of the show featured a chair-bound Lamar in an endearingly profane mini-play, recreating a scene from his childhood; he played both his mother and father bantering over a "gangsta rap and oldies" playlist with ribald selections from West coast pioneers like Snoop Dogg's "Ain't No Fun."
At the time, the giddy presentation seemed to be tied to the celebratory mood of the night, but in hindsight it was particularly prescient. Now 25, Lamar recently released Good Kid m.a.a.d. city, subtitling the album "A short film by Kendrick Lamar." Cinematic aspirations on record are often easily dismissed, but Lamar's vivid knack for storytelling, technical superiority and poetic lyricism have garnered him the most critical acclaim for any rap album this year and arguably the biggest buzz for a major label debut since Kanye West's The College Dropout. It wouldn't be an understatement to say that Good Kid, m.a.a.d. city was one of the most highly anticipated records of the year. With everyone from Lamar benefactor Dr. Dre to Lady Gaga somehow associated with the record, the album not only matched the attendant hype surrounding it, but surpassed sky-high expectations with ease, leaving listeners slack-jawed. It's simply that good.
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