Checking in from the birthplace of gangsta rap, Lamar turns his major-label debut into a 12-act play about growing up in Compton, Calif. He flips street-life cliches inside-out; his sharp rhymes do double-duty as autobiography and critique. On one level, he's made a great gangsta rap album, one that embraces all the strengths of the genre: its raw beats, its no-punches-pulled street-level reporting. At the same time, he offers a deeper perspective, one that questions the genre's macho tropes and empty promises. By the end, he's wondering if he'll be redeemed or even remembered.
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