Kendrick Lamar 

good kid, m.A.A.d city

The best-reviewed albums are not generally the ones that become our favorites. Few year-end lists feature the best album to clean your apartment to, for example, or the album that you absolutely must take on the plane. To correct this injustice, I nominate Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d city as best album for driving around Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon. That we are a thousand miles away from L.A. makes no difference; Kendrick will take you there.

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Yes, his rhymes are wordy, and his style harks back to Outkast and Bone Thugs—groups that fit into the history of rap the way manatees fit into the evolution of the shark. It is also 90 minutes long, and much of that is skits. But tracks like "Money Trees" are irresistible head-bobbers, and the whole baroque mess coheres in a way that few contemporary hip-hop albums do. Kendrick is a smooth rapper with an ironically lush persona, as if R. Kelly had Snoop's career, and the Compton he describes is real and fantastical by turns. It's a fine place to spend an hour and a half, and he keeps it vivid in a way that transcends keeping it real.

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