With the release of his first major label album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, rapper Kendrick Lamar has defied expectations and landed at no. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart this week. An impressive 241,000 copies were sold (according to Nielsen SoundScan), which gave Lamar's debut the biggest sales week of any hip-hop artist this year.
An acclaimed, underground mixtape artist, the 25-year-old released good kid through Aftermath/Interscope under the executive production and mentoring of Dr. Dre. Lamar is the first male artist to have shown such impressive numbers on his major label debut since Drake’s 2010 smash album, Thank Me Later.
Like most breakout rappers these days, Lamar has been amassing a dedicated following from an early age. Before releasing good kid, he had already debuted his first independent album, Section.80, through iTunes to major kudos. However, further validation of his talent came from a cosign by Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre in 2011, when the veteran rappers crowned Lamar the “new king of the West Coast” at a Los Angeles Concert.
“You ain’t good at what you do; you’re great at what you do,” Snoop Dogg told Lamar on stage before a screaming audience. “I’m gonna say this and mean this. You got the torch…. You better run with that.”
Often compared to icons like Tupac Shakur, Eminem, Jay-Z, and Nas, the young rapper has already worked with both the past and contemporary big names of hip-hop, including Rick Ross, Young Jeezy, Lil Wayne, Pharrell Williams, Warren G and Busta Rhymes. And while his discography might be shorter than most rappers out today, his music has been heralded for its intellectual substance and weighty storytelling that places emphasis on quality over quality.
“His is a totally unhurried album, easily the most ambitious in hip-hop this year, maybe the most ambitious in any mainstream-focused genre,” wrote critic Jon Caramanica of The New York Times. “His songs unfold at the speed of life as it’s often lived—slow, meandering, often unremarkable.”
Throughout good kid, Lamar uses his tumultuous coming-of-age experiences in the notorious Compton, California as points of reference. His personal regrets of violence and thoughts on self-destruction are also touched on in tracks like the current radio single, “Swimming Pools (Drank).”
“You pushed past that by finding something positive to do, get some perspective. Music was my outlet,” Lamar told Exclaim! magazine. “A lot of my homeboys weren't as fortunate to have that positive outlet. Having the ability to express myself through music, it gave me peace of mind, and through that it became my true passion.”
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Patrice Peck is a writer and journalist whose work explores the intersection of race, culture, and identity. Her work lives at www.patricepeck.com.