Music Review – good Kid. m.A.Ad City by Kendrick Lamar

Last time I explained why Kenrick Lamar should have won the Grammy for best rap album over Macklemore. Today we are going to take an in depth look at good Kid. m.A.Ad City.

The album is presented as a film student’s script. He is filming a short film depicting the life of our protagonist Kendrick aka KDot. The story unfolds over the course of 12 tracks. In essence it’s the story of a high school kid who falls in love with a girl who’s brothers are in an opposing gang. Even though KDot isn’t a gangster he gets jumped. The album is the tale of what led up to that situation. He concludes by expressing disillusionment with hood life as being something shallow. This disillusionment leds him to find fulfillment in turning his life over to God. Having turned the page on his old way of living he finds that the only “real” things in life are responsibility, taking care of your family, and most importantly God.

(Note: Some of the titles and themes below are explicit. I have done my best to censor these as far as possible.)

Track 1 – Sherane a.k.a Master Splinter’s Daughter

We start out with a group of young men praying a prayer of repentance, giving their lives to “The Lord Jesus Christ.”

I receive Jesus to take control of my life
And that I may live for him from this day forth
Thank you Lord Jesus for saving me with your precious blood
In Jesus name, Amen

The “director” of the film employs a device called a flashback (when do you even see that in albums!). The prayer is actually towards the end of the story, but it sets us up to understand the next several tracks. The story starts out with 11th grade KDot describing a girl he met at a party. The girl comes from the wrong side of town, and he probably shouldn’t be messing around with her, but he is a dumb high schooler and he isn’t thinking with his brain….

The summer had passed and now I’m liking her
Conversation we having probably enticing her
Who could imagine, maybe my actions would end up wifing her
Love or lust, regardless….

He is probably making a wrong choice going after this girl. He finds this out when he rolls up to her house only to find that there are two dudes in black hoodies waiting for him….

Then we are thrown into another flashback. We go to the beginning of Kendrick’s day.

Track 2 – B****, Don’t Kill My Vibe

There is an interlude between songs, with Kendrick’s mom calling him asking him to return the van that he borrowed from her. His dad asks for his dominoes back, and his mom complains about the dad and is stupid dominoes. He responds by telling her that she is killing his vibe.

Although this song best fits as commentary on Kendrick’s parents relationship shis song actually foreshadows what is going to happen with Kendrick and Sherane’s relationship, she is going to kill his vibe so to speak.

Track 3 – Backseat Freestyle

It’s the middle of the day and Kendrick and his homies are about to hang out, but first they are going to record a freestyle. Typical high school kids, they dream of being rappers. They dream of money, power, and respect. If you heard this song on its own on the radio you would laugh at how stupid and shallow Kendrick is, but within the context of this album’s story you see it’s a social commentary upon the state of rap and high school kid’s understanding of what being a rapper is all about. This song can only be described as “an ignorant high school kid’s bravado.”

Kendrick have a dream
All my life I want money and power
Respect my mind or die from lead shower

This is young Kendrick’s mindset at the beginning of the story.

Track 4 – The Art of Peer Pressure

The day goes on. After recording some rhymes Kendrick and the homies spend the day hanging out. As the title implies, he explains how even good kids can start doing bad things when hanging out with their friends.

We seen three colors we didn’t like, then started interrogating
I never was a gangbanger
I mean I never was stranger to the folk neither, I really doubt it
Rush a ***** quick, and then we laugh about it
That’s ironic cause I’ve never been violent
until I’m with the homies

They ride around town hitting on girls, getting drunk, smoking weed, jumping people. None of this makes sense. On his own Kendrick was respectful of women, doesn’t smoke and isn’t violent, but none of this is true when he is with the homies.

The day caps off with with Kendrick and the homies breaking into a house and stealing some electronics, getting chased by the cops, and running away.

The song is followed by an interlude where everybody decides that they would all meet up again later at night to go to the big party. Kendrick says he will show up after he hooks up with Sherane.

Track 5 – Money Trees

This song takes a step back and examines Kendrick’s motivations for engaging in petty crimes, specifically robbery. These lyrics capture what he feels:

Dreams of living life like rappers do
Bump that new E-40 at the school
You know big ballin with my homies
Earl Stevens had us thinking rational
Back to reality we poor

Another casualty at war, ya….
Two bullets in my uncle tony head

Money Trees seem to be their only hope for making it out of the hell hole they call home. Jay Rock is featured on the song and he describes the hopelessness people feel in this setting and describes why so many people turn to illegal activities like selling drugs:

Imagine Rock up in the projects where they pick your pockets
Santa Claus didn’t miss them stockings, liquor spilling pistols popping
Baking soda YOLA whipping, ain’t no turkey on Thanksgiving

Pots with cocaine residue, everyday I’m hustling
What else is a thug to do when you eatin’ cheese from the government

Its truly a sad story. They live a neighborhood that even Santa Claus has forgotten. They are forced to earn a living through illegal activities because the government has overlooked the problems in these neighborhoods.

Track 6 – Poetic Justice

Once again there is an interlude where Kendrick’s mom leaves him a voicemail. In the background you hear Kendrick’s dad flirting with his mom. It’s a cute moment where you see how close his parents really are.

This song features Drake and it seems to be made to be released a single. It’s a typical rap-love song. But in the album it functions as more than that. Once again its actually placed in this part of the album to show us how Kendrick feels about Sherane as he is now on his way to visit her. His feelings for Sherane (love or lust?) are going to lead him to trouble.

Track 7 – good Kid

There is another interlude before this song starts. Except this time we are taken back to the point where he rolls up to Sherane’s house only to find that there are two dudes in black hoodies waiting for him….

“I’m gon’ ask you one more time homie, where is you from? Or it is a problem”
“Ay you over here for Sherane homie?”
“Yo I don’t care who you over here for, if he don’t tell where he come, it’s a wrap! Get out the van homie. Get out the car before I snatch you out.”

This song is the heart of the album. It tells what life is like being a good kid living in a mad city. If there is one song you hear on the album go listen to this song. (It was the song Kendrick performed with Imagine Dragons on the Grammys.)

No better picture to paint than me walking from bible study
And ****** called his homies because he had said he noticed my face
From a function that tooken place
They was wondering if I bang
Step on my neck and get blood on your Nike checks

You hired me as a victim
I quietly hope for change
When violence is the rhythm
Inspired me to obtain
The silence in this room
With 20 Xanies and ‘shrooms
Some grown-up candy I lost it
I feel it’s nothing to lose
The streets sure to release the worst side of my best
Don’t mind, cause now you ever in debt

Track 8 – m.A.A.d City

This song is the flip side of good Kid. It describes what the mad city is like. It doesn’t glorify the gangster lifestyle but it describes it in a realistic way. Innocent people are drawn into violence between gangs:

Were the bullets comin from
AK’s, AR’s, “aye y’all. Duck.”
That’s what momma said when we was eatin that free lunch
Aw man, *** damn, all hell broke loose
You killed my cousin back in ’94. **** yo truce

Kids are drawn to do illegal things because they will lead to a quick buck:

Fresh outta school cause I was a high school grad
Sleeping in the living room in my momma’s pad
Reality struck I seen the white car crash
Hit the light pole two hopped out on foot and dashed
My Pops said I needed a job I thought I believed him
Security guard for a month and ended up leaving
In fact I got fired because I was inspired by all of my friends
To stage a robbery the third Saturday I clocked in

Although not strictly a part of the storyline, this song helps us understand what Kendrick is going through. Kendrick, the normal “good” kid growing up in a mad city is drawn into the madness and has become a victim….

Track 9 – Swimming Pools (Drank)

This is another song that has drawn a lot of radio attention. In fact it has become a sort of drinking anthem, but the truth is the song is the farthest thing from a song that glorifies drinking.

Before the song starts there is another interlude. Kendrick is hanging out with his homies after he got jumped. His friends are trying to cheer him up by getting him drunk. What follows is “Swimming Pools.”

Throughout the song Kendrick gets more and more drunk. And his friends egg him on to drink more and more. Kendrick’s partying is actually his coping mechanism. He tries to escape his pain in alcohol, but nobody realizes how destructive it really is:

All I, all I, all I, all I have in life is my new appetite for failure
And I got hunger pain that grow insane; tell me do that sound familiar?
If it do then you’re like me, makin’ excuse that your relief
Is in the bottom of the bottle, and the greenest endo leaf
As the window open I release, everything that corrode inside of me
I see you joking, why you laugh? Don’t you feel bad? I probably sleep
And never ever wake up; never ever wake up, never ever wake up

Track 10 – Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst

Another interlude keeps the story line moving forward. As Kendrick and his homies are passed out drunk on the front yard, they are the target of a drive by, and one of Kendrick’s friends is hit.

The song goes on to describe the destructive nature of gang life and tells about the victimization of women, especially those who have found themselves stuck in lives of prostitution with no apparent way out.

The song changes tempo and we hear Kendrick’s friends suggest they go back and get the guys who killed them. But Kendrick is tired of this dead end lifestyle. He is tired of running, he is thirsty for something more fulfilling.

Tired of running
Tired of hunting
My own kind
But retiring nothing
Tires are steady screeching, the driver is rubbing
Hands on the wheel, who said we wasn’t?
Dying of thirst

Dope on the corner
Look at the coroner
Daughter is dead
Mother is mourning her
Strayed bullets, AK bullets
Resuscitation was waiting patiently
But they couldn’t, bring her back
Who got the footage? channel 9
Cameras looking, it’s hard to channel your energy
When you know you’re crooked
Banana clip split his banana pudding
I’m like Tre, that’s Cuba Gooding
I know I’m good at
Dying of thirst

How many sins?
I’m running out
How many sins?
I lost count

Kendrick reveals that he is actually thirsty for a “fuller” life, he is searching for something that will actually quench his thirst. This is where he begins to turn to God for answers:

Tired of running, tired of running
I’m tired of tumbling, tired of running
I’m tired of tumbling Backwards

my mama say
“See a pastor, give me a promise
What if today was the rapture, and you completely tarnished
The truth will set you free, so to me be completely honest
You dying of thirst
You dying of thirst
So hop in that water, and pray that it works”

Track 11 – Real

Once again there is another interlude, this time featuring Maya Angelou. She then begins to reveal to them that they are dying of thirst and that they need to take a new path and let Jesus into their lives. She then leads them through a sinner’s prayer, the same one we heard in the beginning of the album.

Its apparent that Kendrick’s life changes after this experience. He meditates on the idols of the human heart:

You love red-bottom and gold they say queen
You love hand-bag on the waist of your jean
You love french tip and trip that pay for
You love bank slip that tell you we paid more
You love a good hand whenever the card dealt
But what love got to do with it when you don’t love yourself

You love fast cars and their present is old
You love fast women
You love keepin’ control
Of everything you love, you love beef
You love streets, you love runnin’, duckin’ police
You love your hood, might even love it to death
But what love got to do with it when you don’t love yourself?

He concludes by meditating on his own idols:

But what love got to do with it when I don’t love myself
To the point I should hate everything I do love
Should I hate living my life inside the club?
Should I hate her for watching me for that reason?
Should I hate him for telling me that I’m season?
Should I hate them for telling me ball out?
Should I hate street credibility I’m talkin’ about?
Hatin’ all money, power, respect in my will
I’m hatin’ the fact that none of that **** make me real

Mature Kendrick realizes that the stupid things he was rapping about in Backseat Freestyle are vain and empty. He started out by rapping:

All my life I want money and power respect….

He ends by saying that money, power, respect, doesn’t make him real.

The story ends with his father leaving him a voicemail, giving him a clue about what is real:

Any man can kill a man, that don’t make you a real. Realness is responsibility, realness is taking care of your family, realness is God…

Track 12 – Compton

The last song is Kendrick (the rapper, not the character) celebrating the fact that he has made it out of the maad city, and has reached the heights of superstardom. It doesn’t really fit the rest of the album but its there.


So I have taken you through the whole CD. Its an intricate story with characters that are complex, showing moments of moral uprightness and moments of depravity. They are “sinners who are probably going to sin again.” The best thing about this cd is that is real. It shows us that human beings are complex. It’s the story of humanity in all of its darkness and in all of its possibility. It shows what life is like without God and contrasts what life could be like with God.

All in all, do you want to know why Kendrick is my favorite rapper and why he should have won the Grammy? Because he writes stuff like this:

What’s my purpose?
Maybe this earth is, ain’t a good place to be
How far is Heaven? Let’s see
Is it in the clouds like they said it would be?
I wonder when I die will he give me receipts?
I wonder will the eyes of the Lord look at me?
Look at me, look at me, I’m a loser, I’m a winner
I’m good, I’m bad, I’m a Christian, I’m a sinner
I’m humble, I’m loud, I’m righteous, I’m a killer
What I’m doing, I’m saying that I’m human,



Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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