The case for Kendrick and Good Kid, M.A.A.D City

By in Culture


The Heist might be last year’s most aptly titled album — and not for any motivation Macklemore and Ryan Lewis had in coming up with the name.

Instead, it is because the hip hop duo pulled off a caper that would make Danny Ocean proud at the 56th annual Grammy Awards on Jan. 26, when The Heist won Best Rap Album over Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City.

Macklemore himself admitted as much when he sent a text message to Lamar that read, “You got robbed. You should have won. I wanted you to. It’s weird and sucks that I robbed you.”

With twelve songs connected as part of a single overarching narrative, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City was an album unprecedented in the rap genre. It tells the story of Lamar’s own upbringing in Compton — a city within Los Angeles, California notorious for its high levels of gang violence — in a twisting, non-linear fashion.

Compton has produced no shortage of rappers who have built careers in retelling the city’s history of street violence. However, Lamar stands out in this field by bringing a fresh perspective on these issues. Whereas other Compton rappers have bragged about the gang lifestyle, Lamar was never interested in being a Crip or Blood and instead wanted to devote his life to more positive ends.

Good Kid, M.A.A.D City is the story of a teenager straddling the line between what his circumstances dictate, what his friends want and his own ambitions.

Defenders of Macklemore’s Best Rap Album win have praised The Heist for its attention to social issues while calling Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City “just another guns and drugs rap album.” However, Lamar’s story brings to light a number of social issues that have gone largely ignored in the rap genre including peer pressure, alcohol abuse and teenaged gang membership.

“I got a blunt in my mouth/Usually I’m drug free/But shit, I’m with the homies.” raps Lamar on “The Art of Peer Pressure.”

The album’s lead single, “Swimming Pools (Drank)” is a reflection on Lamar’s reservations about social drinking and alcoholism. “M.A.A.D City” — which is the story’s climax — explores the human impact of gang violence.

This is not to trivialize the importance of the issues Macklemore addresses on The Heist. The album’s pro-gay marriage anthem “Same Love” has received waves of attention, but other tracks center on equally important issues. Macklemore’s own experiences with addiction make for a powerful reflection in “Starting Over.”

“And you know what pain looks like/When you tell your dad you relapsed and look him directly in the face,” stands as some of the most powerful song lyrics of the year.

Yet the best rap album category does not exist to determine who is the most socially conscious rapper or which social issues deserves the most attention — it exists to name the best rap album of the year.

Again, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City did something unprecedented in the genre; it used a single, cohesive story to reflect not only on the artist’s own history but on the larger issues surrounding that history. In a pioneering effort, Lamar set the bar extremely high for future artists looking to make similar albums.

From a purely musical point of view, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City far outshines The Heist. Macklemore is undoubtedly talented, but Lamar is simply the superior rapper at this point. Lamar’s lyrics are not only more complex, but hold greater depth than Macklemore’s.

Listening to both albums multiple times will show that Good Kid, M.A.A.D City has more replay value because of Lamar’s song writing ability and lyrical talent.

Macklemore’s best rap album win speaks volumes about the Grammys themselves. Good Kid, M.A.A.D City is a better album than The Heist in every sense. What its loss proves is that the Grammys are ultimately a popularity contest. The only place The Heist can legitimately claim to outperform Good Kid, M.A.A.D City is on the top 40 — an accomplishment which is by no means a true measure of an album’s quality.

Graphic: Cody Schumacher/Graphics Editor

  • Tyler

    Good article. I’m just waiting for good hip hop to be recognized. This kind of brings memories back from 1994 when it was Nas vs the Notorious BIG, Nas being the superior artist in terms of writing, Biggie being better topping the charts. Now I’m just waiting for a new Roots album.

  • D

    Any rap grammy award in the future just lost credibility in my eyes.

  • Frank

    When I saw the headline I was seriously worried this article would be shit. But wow, was I impressed. Good shit Scott. Easily one of the most well written articles of the year.

  • Malabar

    Great article, and I agree, good kid m.A.A.d city was better than The Heist. I understand that music is a subjective topic, but personally, Macklemore’s vocal cadence really annoys me. In regards to the musical contributions of Ryan Lewis, I haven’t heard anything from him that was spectacular.

  • Kendrick

    Well said, Lamar’s album was tremendous.

    That being established, I’m not going to pretend Macklemore wasn’t the beneficiary of being an inherently relatable figure for cultural appropriators seeking a sense of superiority and comfort.

    People like to shy away from these considerations, but when pertinent, shying away from these considerations is, IMO, an indicator of unbecoming attitudes — to say the least.

    Yes I said it, Macklemore benefits from being white — you may now throw your rebuttals into the internet abyss.

    • sdc

      i like how you articulated the white privilege piece,