DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar
“Yall got till April 7th to get your shit together.” was the line every Hip-Hop fan hung onto after Kendrick Lamar dropped his first proper single since 2015. “The Heart Part IV” and the lead single “HUMBLE.” blew the anticipation for his next record off of the roof, with the whole world’s eyes on April 7th. Once the date rolled around, however, all we got was a preorder and release date for the To Pimp A Butterfly follow up. Although fans were disappointed, we got a tracklist and album cover to keep us busy. The clock was counting down, twitter was already buzzing with hype, and at 11 o’clock, Kendrick Lamar dropped his fourth studio album, DAMN.
After about an hour of freaking out and preparation, I poured myself water to scorch the fire in my room with and pressed play on my iPhone. It opens with a looming voice asking the audience if it is “wickedness” or “weakness”. The opener of the album then details Kendrick helping out a blind woman that was having trouble finding something. The smooth instrumental elevated the calm story he was telling, and made the gun shot at the end of the track that much more startling. The short opener actually reveals a lot about the record itself and introduces the themes of weakness and fear, which play major roles on the album. The Fox News sample about Kendrick’s performance at the BET Awards isn’t last time he talks about the infamously republican channel. On the song “YAH.” he even directly addresses reporter Geraldo Rivera, saying “this nigga got some ambition” over the smooth, lo-fi beat. The album’s beat selection is immaculate, and a huge return to some vibes on good kid, m.a.a.d city. They are sporadic in a way where a track like “XXX.” can start off with a soul sample, switch to a loud, rugged trap rhythm, and then go back to a smooth and well paced beat towards the end.
This track, while it was the one song I was scared to listen to due to the U2 feature, was really well executed. Bono’s feature, while short, glided into the song beautifully and felt like a collaboration, rather than something sent over an email. This record, instead of loading on features and household names with half baked verses, utilizes their collaborations to make fleshed out songs that both intertwine with the story and hold on their own. For example, Rihanna’s addition to the album results in a great duet over the poppy “LOYALTY.” A change of pace for Kendrick, the song is a great way of showing Kendrick’s ability to craft a catchy chorus, even if it means sacrificing his god given lyrical talent.
This poppiness on a couple of tracks on the record gives off a general straightforward vibe, which is insanely deceptive. For instance, “DNA” comes off as a trap banger that appeals to festival goers. Nevertheless, Kung Fu Kenny’s lyricism shines through with bars about his black heritage and culture. In addition, with these hooks and chorus’, he still manages to weave together a proper story for fans to follow. The aforementioned theme of living through fear and God are constant throughout the album. The album serves as a journey through Kendrick’s thoughts after death, reminiscing about how lived through fear and how his choices would affect him in the future. “FEAR.” explores these themes directly, with three isolated stories. The first details him at the age of 7, experiencing domestic abuse in his house, with the second story illustrating his fear of dying at a young age while a teenager and the third revealing his lack of confidence and losing the life he has built for himself at the age of 30. He states that he has a “fear of losin’ creativity” and shows that although he has achieved acclaim and riches he still fears losing some of his most vulnerable qualities.
Although the entire album is cohesive, Kendrick decides to have each song stand by themselves and have their own message. Where To Pimp A Butterfly excelled at having a cohesive message and a recurring poem, DAMN. comes straight from Kendrick’s soul and feels like a well groomed, well executed Hip-Hop album. Unfortunately, this is what takes this record down a couple of pegs as it doesn’t quite reach the same album package as TPAB. However, because Kendrick focuses on individual songs, it makes some of his best yet. Take “LOVE.” featuring Zacari, which results in the most refreshing take on R&B and Hip Hop that I’ve heard in a long time. Zacari explained that the song sounds like nothing else, and I would have to concur.
While I can praise each and every track on the record, which can take hours, I want to take a brief moment to discuss the closer, “DUCKWORTH.” The song, produced by 9th Wonder, showcases Kendrick gliding over a funk-soaked beat while chronicling a story from several decades ago. He describes two people, his dad, who works at KFC and Anthony, who lives in the projects and hustles in the streets. When Anthony plans to rob the KFC, Kendrick’s dad decides to give him free chicken, which results in Anthony sparing Kenny’s dad. Kendrick then explains that Anthony would have killed his dad if it wasn’t for his kindness, leaving him fatherless and sending Anthony to jail. He furthermore reveals that Anthony is Anthony Tiffith, AKA the owner of Top Dawg Entertainment and the person who discovered Kendrick off of the street. The whole message of the track is that this simple act of kindness could have changed the course of things and if it wasn’t for his dad, we wouldn’t have the Kendrick we know today. In conclusion, with the record’s unique sound and way of being straightforward but deep all at once, it is safe to say Kendrick has just dropped another masterpiece. The songs blend in with each other so well and messages of fear are carried throughout to give the album constant themes. Although not on par with TPAB, the King still holds the best streak in Hip Hop in recent memory.