What Lamar does differently is to tell us of what it means to grow up as an observer and witness to an under-discussed inner-city war, while remaining for the most part uninterested in joining the battle. He instead sings a tender blues for the permanently underclass.
Good kid m.A.A.d city is a memento mori haunted by dead and living ghosts. It is constructed out of them: there are old messages left by his mother and his father on his phone warning Lamar to focus, to come home, to stay out of trouble. There are the vivid images clipped from his childhood in Los Angeles: that the one in front of the gun lives forever, bodies on top of bodies, Pirus, Crips, Rosecrans, Warriors, Techs, AKs, Leadshowers, Dunk!, Homies, Drank, Church’s Chicken, Steppin’, Bible Study, Red and Blue, Racial Profile, Bullets, The Hood, a smart boy as a human sacrifice. When they are pieced together as a sequence they act like Muybridge’s zoopraxiscope: they give of us the impression that from these clips we are watching a black boy learn to fly above it all.
Read the rest of Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah’s “When the Lights Shut Off: Kendrick Lamar and the Decline of the Black Blues Narrative”