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The 50 Best Albums of 2012

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

Label: Top Dawg Entertainment, Aftermath, Interscope
Released: October 22

All hail King Kendrick Lamar. With his major label debut album, the artist formerly known as K-Dot crafted a concept album that was quickly hailed as a classic and catapulted Lamar straight into the upper echelon of rap.

The record works on so many levels. For one, Kendrick is a wicked rapper, bar for bar as good as any GOAT contender in their prime. His incredible control can't be overstated—songs like "m.A.A.d city" and "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe" show off his pin-point precision while songs like "Swimming Pools (Drank)" and "Backseat Freestyle" boast his diversity of delivery and cadence.

Meanwhile, the production is subtle and subdued, often aiming for an atmospheric feel rather than an amped-up vibe. In fact, it's the one area where Kendrick doesn't get enough credit. When talking to the album's producers, it's obvious that Lamar had a much greater hand in the overall sound of the album beyond just picking beats.

What also makes the record so great is how it encapsulates a moment in time in the mid-Aughts. Kendrick's real life friends and family provide amusing skits that play between the songs, helping to build the narrative and make the record more immersive.

Clearly, Kendrick was able to internalize his upbringing but he also knows that the journey is more important than the destination. Throughout the album Kendrick is on a variety of quests; trying to fuck Sherane, on his way to a house robbery, plotting revenge after the death of his friend. But ultimately, what Kendrick is trying to reach is adulthood. He's trying to avoid the pitfalls of gangs, drugs, and everything else that brings down so many in the concrete jungle of Compton in order to find his voice as an artist. He isn't quite gangsta, he isn't quite conscious. He doesn't always partake in the chaos around him, but he doesn't pass judgement, either. The only thing more impressive than his mic skills is his worldview.

Who knows what the future holds for Lamar? Just know that for now, well, what's that Jeezy line again? "Last time I checked, I was the man on these streets." -IA

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