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Producer: Sounwave, THC, Terrace Martin
Album: good kid, m.A.A.d city
“m.A.A.d city” is easily the most lyrical and most cinematic song ever recorded by one of rap’s latest, greatest storytellers. Running nearly six minutes long, it’s carefully detailed to feature just about every hallmark of Kendrick’s music; spitfire rapping, a song that turns into another song, autobiographical details splintered across a larger narrative, nods to West Coast OGs like MC Eiht and Ice Cube, and vocal effects courtesy of TDE’s go-to engineer, MixedByAli.
The first half is the superior half—it sounds like the soundtrack to running through Compton’s alleyways being chased by police in the middle of the night. Kendrick raps frantically recalling the “Warriors and Conans” of his teenage years over THC and Sounwave’s pulsating beat.
The nightmarish two-and-a-half minutes would have been more than enough to make this list, but instead of waking up screaming the song restarts sounding like yet another day in the lives of Compton’s Most Wanted. On Kendrick’s final verse, he reveals that the acronym of “m.A.A.d” is Me, an Angel on Angel Dust (he’s also said it stands for My Angry Adolescence Divided) as he reveals he once smoked laced weed, which is why he doesn’t smoke now. There are also tales of staged robberies, days spent playing basketball, and the question of whether or not a 16-year-old Kendrick could actually commit a murder. With so many vivid escapades packed in, this is the only song that fully encapsulates the scope of Kendrick's vision and talent. —Insanul Ahmed