After being scared witless by N.W.A.'s angry, violent tales of Compton, a whole generation developed a healthy fear of this California city. So when a thoughtful MC like Kendrick Lamar paints a much more comprehensive picture of life there, as he does on this album, it's a revelation.
This autobiographical journey translates so well because of its details, such as how he's borrowed mom's minivan to go meet a girl. It also works because hot-button subjects like gang culture get boiled down to universal concepts such as the desire to fit in, especially on the standout track "The Art of Peer Pressure."
Even if it weren't so easy to relate to Lamar's story, good kid would excel on the strength of his talent, which is truly on display as he raps in three different voices on "Backstreet Freestyle." Phenomenal production is a bonus. Somehow, samples of Beach House tracks aren't cloying, and snippets of Janet Jackson hits don't seem obvious.