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The ‘Last Song Standing’ Episode 1 Syllabus: ‘Good Kid, M.A.A.D City’

Join Charles Holmes and Cole Cuchna as they break down the album that changed the trajectory of Kendrick Lamar’s career and see if they can get a little closer to crowning the rapper’s best song

Getty Images/TDE/Ringer illustration

Welcome to the inaugural episode of Last Song Standing, a new show from The Ringer and Dissect built on a simple premise: two hosts figuring out an artist’s greatest song by debating their way through every album in their discography. Season 1 will tackle one of the most significant artists working today: Kendrick Lamar.

Each week, Cole Cuchna (host of Dissect and Key Notes) and Charles Holmes (from The Ringer Music Show and The Midnight Boys on the Ringer-Verse feed) will tackle a different Kendrick project, nominating three songs and ultimately picking one apiece. Then, they’ll take their individual picks into a season finale battle royal, where they have to determine which song should be crowned Kendrick Lamar’s best of all time.

For our first episode, we’re going back to the album that changed everything for Kendrick’s career …

good kid, m.A.A.d city

Release date: October 22, 2012
Billboard 200 peak: no. 2
RIAA: 3x platinum
Singles: “The Recipe,” “Swimming Pools (Drank),” “Backseat Freestyle,” “Poetic Justice,” “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”

The follow-up to his debut Section.80, Kendrick’s good kid, m.A.A.d city arrived in 2012 and immediately proved that he was more than just another buzzy blog rapper. Cinematic in its scope, GKMC tells the story of a single day in Compton, California, as seen through the eyes of a young Kendrick. He thirsts after a woman, shows off his lyrical prowess, and engages in the street-level violence that had enveloped his neighborhood.

Good kid, m.A.A.d city is considered one of the best albums of the 2010s and is on the short list of best rap albums ever. It earned him four Grammy nominations (including for Album of the Year) and has been certified triple-platinum. It’s arguably the beginning of the Kendrick Lamar we know today. But what’s the best song on it?

What the critics said at the time: “The miracle of this album is how it ties straightforward rap thrills—dazzling lyrical virtuosity, slick quotables, pulverizing beats, star turns from guest rappers—directly to its narrative. —Pitchfork

“While good kid is deep and thoughtful and a bellyful to digest, a cerebral stew of an album with roots in early West Coast skater rap, Southern mental swerve, and Rawkus-era ‘consciousness,’ it ain’t always easy. To borrow an overused phrase, this is a difficult album, particularly when you consider the stakes and the machinery in place to make it happen.” Grantland

Trivia: In May 2022, GKMC became the second rap album in history to spend 500 weeks on the Billboard 200 albums chart.

So how does the Last Song Standing team feel about GKMC?

What Charles says: “There’s something going on in the ecosystem [at the time] where so many of these heavyweights believe in Kendrick Lamar, and you’re wondering the entire time can he do it. And boy, does he do it.”

What Cole says: “It was this jaw-dropping moment of, ‘Oh, this is where hip-hop has gotten to.’ Just this incredible evolution, sonically.”

Hottest take from the episode: “Swimming Pools (Drank)” has aged like milk.

Possible choices for their lists: Will Charles and Cole opt for the trap banger “m.A.A.d city”? The album’s emotional climax, “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”? “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe”? Something else? Listen to find out.

Next week’s episode: Charles and Cole jump a little bit into the future to break down an album that reveals an entirely different side of Kendrick. Check back next Thursday on the Dissect podcast feed, and until then, check out the Last Song Standing companion playlist.

Hosts: Cole Cuchna and Charles Holmes
Producer: Justin Sayles
Production: Kevin Pooler
Theme Music: Devon Renaldo