Hip-hop has a lot of hit records, but few are transformative in that they signal both an introduction of a bright new talent and an aesthetic sea-change for the genre. Nas' Illmatic certainly falls into this bucket, as does Kanye West's The College Dropout and Wu-Tang Clan's Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). And while it's a bit early to throw around the "classic" label, Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d city album certainly feels like it could be a contender for this hallowed list. It's the first commercially and critically heralded West Coast hip-hop debut in eons, and with its complex narrative structure and in-house production squad, it is a cohesive album experience—something that you rarely find in any genre these days. The fact that such a quirky and emotionally honest album can become successful in a genre that commercially thrives on club anthems is a testament to Kendrick's talent as well as the universality of his rhymes.
We recently caught up with Kendrick, as well as members of his Top Dawg Entertainment crew, to trace how a kid from Compton came up through the ranks to create one of the most revelatory and anticipated albums of the year. It's a raw, exclusive peek into the minds of hip-hop's most compelling figure in 2012. – Sam Chennault, Google Play