7. Kendrick Lamar
good kid, m.A.A.d city

The all-time number of listenable concept albums can likely be counted on two hands. The number of those that are rap albums could be counted on one or two fingers. Leave it to one of the most promising young rap talents in quite some time to defy the odds and make one of the absolute best albums of the year. Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d cityis subtitled on the cover art as “A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar,” which is fitting for the cinematic narrative of Lamar’s experiences and struggles growing up in Compton.

But while the songs work as face-value tales of drugs, violence, poverty, gangs and all the conflicts facing coming of age in an urban environment, ultimately the songwriting and album’s construction reflect a deeper commentary on the social conditioning and inner turmoil found in the face of peer pressure. It would be merely commendable if good kid, m.A.A.d city’s primary addition to the genre would be that of a positive message, but Lamar’s impeccable gifts as an MC and the contributions of Lamar’s producers and collaborators make for nothing short of a masterpiece.

Whether you listen to a rap album for the storytelling, the production, the vocal stylings, the turns-of-phrase or the cohesive presentation of a hip-hop experience, good kid, m.A.A.d city excels at absolutely every level. From the borderline avant-garde elements of “Backseat Freestyle” and “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” to the infectious singles “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” and “Swimming Pools,” the fact that an album could be simultaneously rooted in hip-hop tradition as well as forward thinking and yet wildly successful is a tremendous inspiration and beacon of hope for the future of popular music. – Chaz Kangas

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