The first song, "Sherane" isn't a great start to the album. It isn't a bad song, but it's not my type of song, kind of a slower, getting laid type of jam. It's better than most songs like this, but that's not a high bar. The transition to the next song is great, with the recording of Kendrick's parents being fun and entertaining.
"Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe" is a much better song. I had to hear it a few times for it to sink in, and I don't love the title, but the rest of the lyrics are just plain poetry and Kendrick is opening up about his internal thoughts and feelings like few rappers do.
The next song is one of my favorite songs of 2012. "Backseat Freestyle" bangs harder than just about any song in the last 10 years. The production is perfect and while the lyrics don't exactly tear the world up, Kendrick's delivery is complicated, varied and just plain amazing.
"The Art of Peer Pressure" is the N.W.A. song written by the smart, quiet member of the gang. The guy that's the opposite in attitude of Ice Cube. It's totally some "CNN of the Streets" type shit and it's an impressive song, even if the production is a little more subdued that I would like. It matches Kendrick's vocal style, but he's so low-key at times, you underestimate him.
If anything on the album jumps in your head and sticks, it's the repeated "ya bish," on "Money Trees," another downtempo song that continues the ongoing story that effectively makes the album a "hip hopera." It's a song that grows on you over time and is hard to get out of your head once it gets in.
I'm a big fan of conceptual puns and the next song, "Poetic Justice," is built on a pretty good one, with a Janet Jackson sample being the driving force of the track. Janet played "Justice" in the John Singleton film with the same name as the song. It's catchy, but it's far from my favorite song on the album, lyrically speaking, as it revisits the themes of "Sherane."
"Good Kid" is a bit jarring at times, because Kendrick's speed, which is impressive, frequently outpaces the beat and the hook. The lyrics are are pretty thoughtful examination of gang life and, again, are more personally revealing than most songs of the same genre.
"m.A.A.d city" probably has the best production on the album aside from "Backseat Freestyle." I get the brilliance of having laid back, downtempo tracks matched up with Kendrick's very fast and diverse delivery, but I'd like more of hearing him work with faster, harder beats. This is one of those times and it stands out. MC Eiht adds a great guest appearance to an album that doesn't have many of them.
On "Swimming Pools (Drank)," you probably have the most successful example of the slower beat/faster flow phenomenon I just explained. This song also has one of the better hooks on the album. It's also a good enough rumination on addiction that it would've been at home on a Macklemore album.
The next track "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst," is loaded with lyrics that continue the album's ongoing story well enough, but the hook is so jarring it turns me off. The production here is amongst the best on the album, but Kendrick's delivery is starting to get a little repetitive by this time on the album and it doesn't help that this song is 12 minutes long.
"Real" improves upon the previous track quite a bit, except for another inexplicably bad hook. "Compton" is another song held back by the "hook," although the rest of the song is pretty good, and an appearance by Dr. Dre gives a nice vocal contrast to Kendrick's voice, which after this point is losing its originality and novelty.
Flow: 10. Kendrick has a great voice and he has a lot of range and changes up his style frequently enough that it stays exciting.
Lyrics: 10. Kendrick is a poet with a strong voice, and an honest open writing style.
Message: 8. The messages here are pretty loud and clear, although I'm not sure I love the concept behind the concept album.
Technical: 9. Kendrick does a lot of complicated things on this album and most of them work.
Production: 7. The beats here are mostly very original, but too many of them are downtempo and sometimes jarring.
Versatility: 8. Starts off very strong, but gets into a little bit of a rut by the end.
Collaborators: 8. There aren't many, but most of them are strong, particularly MC Eiht and Dr. Dre. I didn't even notice Drake on "Poetic Justice," which is probably a good thing.
History: 9. This album is all about personal and real world history and it tells a good story. It's lighter on music history, but that's okay, it's not really about that kind of thing, so the absence is valid.
References: 8. Because of the heavy emphasis on the story and ongoing theme, there aren't as many obvious references here as you might find on other albums. But the references that are here are usually pretty good and smarter than your average rapper.
Originality: 10. There aren't other albums like this.
Total Score: 87. Great album, and a higher score than albums like "Yeezus" or "Magna Carta...Holy Grail," that I reviewed recently. If Kendrick can improve upon this on his next joint, he'll have a pretty good case for being at or near the top of the rap game.