Last night, Kendrick Lamar previewed six tracks for a roomful of fans, media types, and attendees from the corners of the entertainment world who seemed present for free drinks and college networking night atmosphere more than anything else. At the center of it all, of course, was the hotly anticipated major label debut of one of hip-hop’s brightest rising stars, a conscious technical dynamo who fanned enough grassroots fervor to get the attention Dr. Dre and the Interscope braintrust.
A night that should have played as a preview of the public coronation to come began rather inauspiciously with an hour and forty-five minute delay and a spot of speaker trouble. With the mic finally warmed up, Kendrick spoke tersely from the control room: “I haven’t even shared this with L.A. yet, I’m sharing this with New York first.” Speaker issues mostly sorted out, six songs worth of Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City commenced.
The first track bore out Kendrick’s Outkast influences in full force, with a warm bass line reminiscent of Atliens laying the foundation for typically strong, world-weary rapping from the young Comptonite. The room was pleased, albeit not overwhelmed.
Track two fixed that. With a bass knock to make “A Milli” blush and Kendrick shouting “Martin had a dream, Kendrick have a dream” before diving into some of his most maniacal, technically impressive rapping to date, the room had little choice but to succumb to the song’s visceral power. It sounded mean.
Track three returned the room to the ‘Kast-influenced portion of the album, with mellow groove and the sort of cutting consciousness that has buoyed Kendrick to the brink of stardom. Again, a pleased but rather unenthused room.
Taking the temperature, Kendrick struck back with another dose of heaviness, a two part track that featured a first half sounding like a beefed up “Mercy” and a second half a concoction of RZA-influenced thunder and west coast synths. As Kendrick cut the track, a few vocal members let it be known: more like that, please.
Kendrick closed the night with two tracks that suggest slightly divergent paths. The first saw Kendrick shouting “Halle Berry, Hallelu” over an organ-based groove that would have fit perfectly on Section.80. The second was a bass heavy ode to sex that featured a very much in-his-element Drake sounding right at home spitting his usual on-record game. Kendrick’s verse was mostly drowned out by low end, but Drake’s presence on the track highlighted Kendrick’s current strengths and weaknesses even further, a closing reminder that, great though the young emcee is, there are still mountains left to climb on the road to stardom. If the rest of Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City sounds like what played last night, Kendrick could well be on his way.