Here’s a recap of the first ever public listening session for Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city (Food for Thought)

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“Martin have a dream. Malcolm have a dream. Kendrick have a dream.” Those might not be the first words you hear on Kendrick Lamar’s album, but they were the first words we heard last night on the first of 9 new songs he played from his forthcoming album, good kid, m.A.A.d. city. There were some indicators of what was to come before stepping into the studio. Unlike most of these events, there was a swell of people downstairs lined up to get in, more like a concert than a listening session. The energy was in the air and you could literally feel the anticipation of the crowd. Most telling, however, was the fact that all of this took place in the middle of a torrential downpour and literally tornado warnings in New York City. The quiet storm known as Kendrick Lamar had arrived.

Kendrick himself spoke softly as he addressed the crowd and set up the music, in part because of wear and tear from several shows over the last week and also because he tends to be low key when not setting records and stages ablaze. He let the audience know this was the first time he was publicly playing records from the album—ever—and asked folks to be respectful by not recording or otherwise disseminating any of the music. He did not name titles of records (though some were apparent from the choruses—but none will be named here until the official track list is released), did not play them in any particular order and generally let the music speak for itself. The first record he played was one featuring Lady Gaga (gasp, it’s not what you think…). From the second the record started playing you knew above all else, this was not going to be a paint by numbers album where you insert “featured artist A” and “producer B.” As the evening progressed, it became abundantly clear that no matter who the other contributors were, this album is defined and unified by one key element: Kendrick Lamar. The song with Gaga was a dark and moody record like some of the most introspective cuts on Section.80. Gaga’s presence blended seamlessly into the track. In fact, if Kendrick had not said she was a vocalist, you would not have known it was her. He introduced another record as being produced by Hit-Boy and, as you might imagine, it was a BANGER. Again, this was not an imitation of other notable Hit-Boy records. Instead, it was an upbeat, heavy drum Kendrick Lamar record. More highlights included 2 odes to some of the OGs who started the first West Coast hip-hop movement and undoubtedly heavily influenced Kendrick. The first of these records was a 2-part song that changed completely in the middle and featured a voice over and dope featured verse from the one and only MC Eiht. The next record featured the legendary Good Doctor Andre Young himself, and was produced by Just Blaze. Ree-diculous!! Dre’s voice and flow were in vintage form as he and Kendrick heaped praise on their hometown Compton, CA. Kendrick also played a song that had the ladies in the studio sensually swaying from head to toe, no doubt in part due to the sultry Janet Jackson sample. That song also featured a hot verse from Drake.

All in all, the 9 songs played as a balanced representation of the increasingly complex and talented Mr. Lamar. Together, with Swimming Pools (Drank) and The Recipe, it has the rare makings these days of an album that you can play from end to end. The word “classic” is often used and seldom meets expectations, so I won’t use it. What I will say are 2 things: 1. if you are a Kendrick Lamar fan, this album will meet and exceed your expectations for his major label debut; and 2. if you love hip-hop and are not yet on the Kendrick Lamar bandwagon, you will be in a few weeks. good kid, m.A.A.d. city is in stores on 10/22.