When Kendrick Lamar delivered a classic with GKMC, nobody saw it coming. Now that the whole world is watching, can he outdo himself?

On the dull gray door to Studio 2 of the L.A. soundlab where Top Dawg Entertainment makes the magic happen, two warnings are posted. The first one, printed on TDE letterhead and titled “Studio Rules, Bitch!!” reads like ScHoolboy Q wrote it, mostly because rule No. 3 is “Don’t touch, ask, or reach for Q’s weed.” The second sheet, also on TDE letterhead, is more serious. At the top, in black capital letters, it reads: “IF YOU NOT THE HOMIE, DON’T COME IN HERE.” At the bottom, in red letters: “DISREGARD THIS AND GET THE TIPS PUT ON YOU, HOMIE.”

The reason for the caution: On any given day, Kendrick Lamar might be in deep concentration working on the follow-up to his 2012 major label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city. GKMC was more than a great album; it was a landmark event, a modern masterpiece to rival Illmatic, Reasonable Doubt, and Doggystyle. It’s an artistically ambitious, highly personal piece of work: a day in the young artist’s life, encompassing gang culture in his Compton hometown, alcohol, drugs, life, death, God, family, and the pursuit of a girl named Sherane, a “concept album” that managed to sell over 1.2 million copies while making zero creative concessions. It transformed Kendrick from an Internet sensation into an A-list rap star.

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