I first heard of this project through its singles, and thought they were good but definitely not great. Once the album released, I completely change my mind. This album must be consumed as a whole.
As with Section.80, Kendrick preforms like a storyteller on every track, but this album surpasses that project in cohesion, production, and imagery. The cover of the album says “A Short Film by Kenrick Lamar” and that’s exactly what it feels like. You’re listening to the whole thing, but also watching a young man grow up in Compton and getting a look at his external and internal struggles. Even tracks like “Backstreet Freestyle” make perfect sense in the project and feel instantly recognizable to anyone who’s ever wasted time with their friends in a car talking about girls.
It’s amazingly ambitious for a young artist to risk using their first mainstream album to tell a story. Kendrick avoided them temptation to put all the hottest MCs on a project just to gain attention (even though Drake makes an appearance on Poetic Justice – honestly, he just feels like a third wheel in a two-way conversation). This album is focused and that focus pays off for the listener who sees the story wrap full-circle by the last track.
People don’t look for albums anymore, ever since the rise of Napster showed three or four good songs could carry a record and the rest could be filler. Still, Kendrick offered something refreshing and doesn’t phone it in. He didn’t make songs; he made an album.