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good kid, m.A.A.d city: A Decade of Dominance

By Ian Stonebrook & Randall Williams

How talent and timing collided for a timeless album that’s still soaring on the charts 10 years after its release.

On Oct. 22, Kendrick Lamar’s decorated Aftermath arrival, good Kid, m.A.A.d City, celebrated its 10th anniversary.

It also celebrated 520 straight weeks of the Billboard Hot 200.

Photo by Chelsea Lauren/Getty Images for BET

In other words, the album has quite literally lived on the charts.

Rarified air for a pop artist and almost uncharted territory where hip-hop is concerned, Kendrick accomplished the impossible.

All too often, rap’s revered debuts like Illmatic or Reasonable Doubt fail to catch commercially upon arrival. But not only did Kendrick enter Billboard’s Hot 200 a decade ago at No. 2 overall — bested only by Taylor Swift’s fourth LP, Red — it sold 242,000 copies in its first week.

This means much when considering its lead-up single, “Swimming Pools,” was about alcoholism and featured zero famous guest appearances. It means more when considering the artistic highroads Kendrick took when crafting his masterpiece, the segue into the streaming era, and the Top Dawg approach to earning on all art.

So, just how has Kendrick remained a resident on Billboard for an entire decade, and better yet what’s next?

Boardroom explores.

From Concept to Classic

At face value, good Kid, m.A.A.d City took 25 years to write.

Ascending as a straight-A scholar in Compton, California, Kendrick and classmate Dave Free focused on music early and often, releasing their first mixtape as students at Centennial High School in 2003.

It led to landing a record deal with local label Top Dawg Entertainment, allowing the prep prodigy the opportunity to open for The Game and earn the ear of Lil Wayne.

Over time, Top Dawg signed the likes of Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, and ScHoolboy Q. Each artist released a range of prolific projects, garnering downloads and grassroots hype on websites like NahRight while still selling in traditional physical and digital forms.

By July 2011, Kendrick had critics captivated with Section.80, a TDE turning point that featured production from J. Cole and vocals from RZA.

In January of 2012, TDE’s momentum mounted when ScHoolboy Q released Habits & Contradictions. The project earned Best New Music tout from Pitchfork while iTunes sold it for a humble $7.99.

Quickly, Top Dawg Entertainment was a brand that fans could trust and were trained to pay for. As ’12 unfolded, fans debated who was the top star at Top Dawg.

That year, fellow Compton native and Centennial alum Dr. Dre put his stamp on Kendrick Lamar, signing the rising talent to a joint deal with his Aftermath label and Jimmy Iovine’s Interscope. In an instant, Dre brought branding and a marketing machine behind TDE’s chosen one.

All the while, Lamar recalled childhood experiences to form his next album.

Bringing in beats from Tha Bizness, Just Blaze, DJ Dahi, and Hit-Boy, Kendrick leaned on in-house help from Sounwave to keep the sonics personal.

It paid off.

“Everything was premeditated,” Lamar told Complex’s Insanul Ahmed in 2012. “I already knew what I wanted to talk about, what I wanted to convey. I had that album cover for years.”

In theory, Kendrick had the go-ahead to dig through Detox leftovers or call in radio royalty — but every step of the way, he avoided pop pandering for a more focused kind of narrative. Famously, he left Interscope iconoclast Lady Gaga off “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” to sing the chorus himself. To keep the album’s arc alive, he let A$AP Rocky keep “Fuckin’ Problems” for his own project. 

One has to wonder how the suits involved felt about these choices.

At the time, Lady Gaga’s Born This Way was going platinum in 10 different countries, after all.

In parallel, Rocky’s posse posey to philandering ended up cracking the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 – a height even a Drake feature couldn’t claim.

Backed by his team at Top Dawg, Kendrick stayed the course.

On Oct. 22, 2012, good Kid, m.A.A.d City released to rave reviews and hot territory on the chart.

In a decade, it’s only gotten stronger.

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The 10-year Run

In Dec. 2012, just months after its arrival, Kendrick claimed year-end honors from hip-hop outlets web-wide. The album had already gone gold.

The traction deepened all 2013 as Lamar started the year performing on Saturday Night Live and ended the year opening for Kanye West on the Yeezus Tour.

All the while, he kept his name hot and his pen hot by appearing on Big Sean’s controversial “Control” and guest-starring on Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2. If all that wasn’t enough, Jay-Z offered the ultimate co-sign by hopping on a remix to “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe.”

Entering 2014 as GQ’s reigning Rapper of the Year in an era where fashion mattered much, it came to be that a surprising loss for Lamar may have ended up becoming his biggest win yet.

To so many, Kendrick was the favorite to take home trophies at the 2014 Grammy Awards. To everyone’s surprise, however, he walked away with none, losing Best Rap Album to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s The Heist. Those results were critiqued by Macklemore himself, who went as far as sending Kendrick a text apologizing about what he felt was a robbery.

Oddly enough, the controversy only helped maintain fanfare for good Kid, m.A.A.d City both in the cultural conversation and on the charts.

For the duration of the decade, Kendrick released new albums and collected awards by the dozen. 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly made its way to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 200, going platinum in the time since.

“He put together an amazing album,” Dr. Dre told BigBoyTV in 2015 of TPAB. “The whole ratchet thing was fun, but it just didn’t have the substance I appreciated in music. As far as the substance in hip-hop? Kendrick is bring us back to that.”

At the 2016 Grammy Awards, To Pimp a Butterfly lost the Album of the Year race to Taylor Swift’s 1989, but notably won Best Rap Album. Even more critically acclaimed than its predecessor, Rolling Stone went on to rank it 19th on its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list.

All the while, good Kid, m.A.A.d City continued to stream, sell, and chart.

In 2017, Lamar dropped DAMN. to even more endearing success. Always artistic but wider reaching in regard to a mainstream scope, features from Rihanna and Bono brought in a new audience, seeing triple-platinum sales in the US and another Grammy Award for Rap Album of the Year to his resume.

In 2018, he doubled down by producing the soundtrack to Marvel’s blockbuster Black Panther — a platinum project that topped the Billboard Hot 200 itself.

And good Kid, m.A.A.d City still streamed, still sold, still charted.

In 2022, fresh off the release of Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, Kendrick continues to earn off his Interscope entry while paving a way for bigger business pursuits as co-founder of pgLang.

With lifelong friend and former DJ Dave Free by his side, the Aftermath alum looks to top his previous efforts

With another No. 1 album, it’s likely he will.

The Next 10 Years

In Oct. 2022, good Kid, m.A.A.d City completed the ten-year cycle of staying on the Billboard Hot 200 by hitting 520 weeks of charting.

For reference, the only active albums on that chart with longer streaks are genre-defining albums from Michael Jackson, Nirvana, Bob Marley, AC/DC, and Metallica.

Photo by Jason Koerner/Getty Images

We’ve seen similar streaks from greatest hits projects from Journey, Guns N’ Roses, Eminem, and Creedence Clearwater Revival, but the only modern artist to showcase this kind of Kendrick-level endurance on the charts is Bruno Mars.

We can invert that statement and conclude that even Drake, Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Ed Sheeran, and other acts of transcendent acclaim in the 2010s have not managed to achieve the same longevity as good Kid, m.A.A.d City.

As for what could come next, 2022 marks a new era for Kendrick — there is no timetable as to when we can expect new music again, but based on his past, we could be looking at anywhere from two to five years.

And this time, it will not just be about solely his music. He and Free will also have responsibilities related to Baby Keem and Tana Leone, the two artists signed to pgLang.

All told, perhaps it’s unlikely that Kendrick will recapture the exact same magic that birthed good Kid, m.A.A.d City; keeping a single project on the Billboard charts for 10 straight years is unheard of, to be clear.

But with Lamar’s legacy already cemented by wall-to-wall awards, critical acclaim, and cultural cred, he’s playing with house money the rest of the way.

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