20 Black Voices for the New Century: Rap isn’t typically thought of as an overly sensitive genre, but that didn’t stop Kendrick Lamar from making a remarkably personal and introspective statement with his 2012 debut good kid, m.A.A.d city. A loose narrative about growing up in the notoriously rough urban sprawl of Compton, the album places him not in the center of the action but on the sidelines. He watches his neighbors struggling to make ends meet and reacts emotionally. He witnesses gang violence through his circle of friends, but is never an instigator. He wants to get out, he dreams of big things; he feels trapped and resorts to escapism through alcohol.

Stitched together by caring, comical and ultimately concerned voicemails from his parents, the album is stunning in raw honesty and willingness to acknowledge weakness, fear and other elements of the human condition that mainstream rap tends to eschew. Subtle and serene atmospheres set the mood; songs ran uncommercially long, allowing the gifted MC to stretch out and flex his storytelling muscle, but that didn’t stop good kid from going platinum.

Kendrick Lamar a game-changer in 21st century rap: a visionary who shifted the focus of the genre away from cinematic flights of macho fantasy and fiction towards raw snapshots of a hard reality in the hope of a better tomorrow.