The Hardest Bars on Kendrick Lamar’s ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’

Tom Atkinson

By Tom Atkinson

Tom Atkinson

27 Oct 2022

It’s crazy to think that around ten years ago, ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city‘ by Kendrick Lamar was released. This was his first record on Dr. Dre’s iconic Aftermath label and saw Kendrick reach a larger fanbase. This began his path to becoming one of the most respected MCs of the 2010s.

The album focused on Kendrick’s upbringing in Compton, California, documenting his evolution from activities with his friends to being signed by Dr. Dre. The album received critical acclaim and continues to chart on the U.S. album charts today. One of the things that stood out on this project was Kendrick Lamar’s lyricism, so let’s check out some of the best lyrics.

Look inside of my soul and you can find gold and maybe get rich. Look inside of your soul and you can find out it never exist. (B***h Don’t Kill My Vibe)

One of the most iconic tracks from the album, this focuses on Kendrick’s thoughts on rap during that time. These are the opening lyrics to the first verse and can be seen as many things. It could be a metaphor for how Kendrick sees himself as above others in the Rap game. It could also potentially be a comment on how Kendrick was in a good place, while others may not have been, during this time. Considering the story of this album, Kendrick could be reflecting on his growth from his younger years. He is telling the listener they can learn and grow as he did through listening to his words. Whatever the case, it’s a great start to the track and grips you instantly.

Goddamn I feel amazin’, damn, I’m in the Matrix.
My mind is livin’ on cloud nine and this 9 is never on vacation. Start up that Maserati and – vroom-vroom! – I’m racin.’ (Backseat Freestyle)

This single from the album is more of a freestyle track. It’s more comedic in nature and based on Kendrick messing about in a car with his friends. This again starts off verse one, but what makes this track stand out is the way it’s performed. The fast-paced flow and energy he delivers get you pumped and helped make this an absolute banger. The song is early on in this story and sees Kendrick feeling good and having a good time with his friends. However, the matrix line shows this happiness may be an illusion. He also references his 9mm gun, showing he is living on the edge and under threat of being attacked. Not only does this line hit hard, but it also highlights the juxtaposition of Kendrick’s mental state.

Magine Rock up in them projects where them n****s pick your pockets. Santa Claus don’t miss them stockings; liquors spillin’, pistols poppin.’ Bakin’ soda YOLA whippin’, ain’t no turkey on Thanksgivin.’ My homeboy just dome’d a n***a, I just hope the Lord forgive him. (Money Trees-Jay Rock)

This part of the story focuses on a home robbery by Kendrick and his friends, while it references other events so far. On this song, it’s Jay Rock that has the best line. The fellow Black Hippy member fits with the theme of the track, referencing the crime he saw where he grew up with the lines about Santa and Thanksgiving, in particular, standing out. The last line also shows the reality of gun violence in impoverished neighborhoods, alongside the high presence of religion. Rock’s flow is so smooth here and he delivers the line so clearly. He highlights the troubles of poor areas and the lengths people go to in an attempt to make money.

I can never pick out the difference and grade a cop on the bill. Every time you clock in the morning, I feel you just want to kill. (good kid)

This part of the album is the title track which is followed by ‘m.A.A.d city‘ and discusses the aftermath of Kendrick being jumped. Not only does this indicate the lack of help he would receive from the police, but also the sad reality of racial profiling. The fact this is still a big issue, not just in the United States of America shows the importance of this line and it’s calling out of racial discrimination and abuse of power. The blunt delivery of the line shows how normal this is for him and others. It creates sympathy, disappointment, and anger that this is still a problem in society.

If I told you I killed a n***a at sixteen, would you believe me? Perceive me to be innocent Kendrick you seen in the street. With a basketball and some Now and Laters to eat?
If I mentioned all of my skeletons, would you jump in the seat? (m.A.A.d city)

One of the hardest bangers on the album, Kendrick references the dark stuff he has seen growing up. This starts off verse three, as the final leg of the track begins and the delivery becomes more erratic. It puts observation on the fact kids can become killers. This is the opposite of how the average person perceives younger people to be innocent. The punchy delivery and rhymes hit you hard and finish the track off in style. It may be a banger, but it’s also a pivotal moment in the LP.

Some people like the way it feel, some people wanna kill their sorrow, Some people wanna fit in with the popular, that was my problem. I was in a dark room, loud tunes, lookin’ to make a vow soon, That I’ma get f****d up, fillin’ up my cup I see the crowd mood, Changin’ by the minute and the record on repeat. Took a sip, then another sip, then somebody said to me (Swimming Pools [Drank])

This single sounds like a club anthem, but actually tackles some issues that many have to deal with in life. It focuses on alcoholism and why people abuse it to feel good or more confident. These lines come just before that catchy chorus and show Kendrick sinking into the swimming pool. Clearly, the drink is taking control here. The fairly fast-paced flow and catchy nature of the lyrics get your attention. While people will be bopping to this in the club, they’ll also be taking in the themes. It’s a powerful moment on the album, highlighting the dangers of alcoholism and Kendrick’s realisation it won’t do him any favours.

This is the life of another girl damaged by the system,
These foster homes, I run away and never do miss ’em.
See, my hormones just run away and if I can get ’em,
Back to where they used to be, then I’ll probably be in the denim, Of a family gene that show women how to be woman. Or better yet, a leader, you need her to learn somethin,’ Then you probably need to beat her, that’s how I was taught (Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst)

This song focuses on many stories from the poor neighbourhood he grew up in, with these lines from verse two focusing on a woman. Kendrick had already focused on the stories of women on tracks like ‘Keisha’s Song,’ but this highlights the trauma young women have to face. The lyrics depict someone damaged in care due to domestic abuse, leading to her becoming a prostitute and feeling dehumanised. She dreams of a better life, highlighting the sadness of her reality. While the witty wordplay of genes and denim are also examples of his talent, the storytelling is what stands out. The ability to make such powerful and intriguing tales outside of his own life shows the importance of Kendrick’s music and why he stands out from his peers.

And that’s a given, I pass the blunt then pass the torch of course that’s my decision. (Compton-Dr. Dre)

On the final track of the album, Kendrick reflects on his newfound fame and his rap career taking off, ending this tale of poverty, growth, and pain on a high. But, the line that stands out the most is this simple, yet effective moment from Dr. Dre. It’s catchy and Dre’s flow is smooth as ever, with the words a metaphor for him passing onto the new generation (Kendrick) while highlighting him being known for smoking weed. It’s an effective statement to show who Kendrick is by the end of the album and was the beginning of a successful relationship between these two artists.

Lyrics like this show why this album has stood the test of time. The storytelling, delivery, and flows of Kendrick Lamar on this album are impactful stuff and elevated him over the majority of his peers at the time. So, go back and reflect on this great piece of Hip-Hop history and if you haven’t heard this album before, what are you waiting for?

Kendrick Lamar is on Instagram and Twitter.