Kendrick Lamar- DAMN. Album Review
Rap music, for the better part of the last couple of years, has consistently pushed the boundary of what its artists can do in music. And, although as a whole many artists have helped to push that forward, Kendrick Lamar has been the leader on this front. From his story telling on good kid, m.A.A.d city to his jazz incorporations on To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar is the most forward thinking and complex artist making music today. His latest album, DAMN., takes a new direction sonically, while also rehashing some themes that have always been prevalent in his music.
Sonically, this album has an incredible mix of the jazz fusions heard on To Pimp A Butterfly, as well as making straight rap hits, something Kendrick Lamar has never truly embraced. Songs such as “DNA.,” “HUMBLE.,” and the Rhianna featured “LOYALTY.” are guaranteed hits, whether that be in the club or on the radio. A big complaint from Lamar fans, however, has been much of this album feels like any rapper could have made it. The only problem with that statement is that no artist has or can make a straight rap album like this. Yes, these are hits, but they are better than any of the other hit songs other rappers are putting out.
What makes this album significantly more compelling for music fans are the themes and storytelling riddled throughout. For one, the tracks alone hint at an album full of parallels. “LUST.,” “LOVE.,” and “XXX.” all follow each other on the album and focus on the different types of emotions there can be. “PRIDE.,” and “HUMBLE.” find Lamar battling whether to boast about how great he is or to just sit back and allow himself to be overshadowed by artists he feels are inferior to him. “I can’t fake humble just ‘cause your a** is insecure,” Lamar raps on “PRIDE.”
Another huge theme prevalent on this album is the role of God in both Kendrick Lamar’s life and beyond. Noticeably, the song “FEAR.” comes before the track “GOD.,” a clear nod to the idea that man should fear god. Several times on the album Lamar also references the book of Deuteronomy and the story of the Israelites, who were God’s chosen people. Lamar states on “YAH.,” “I’m a Israelite, don’t call me Black no mo’,” and then later on “FEAR.,” his cousin explains the relation between the Israelites and the current minorities of today and how they are the same. Lamar’s strong Christian values poke through constantly, but in a way that is not overly religious. Kendrick Lamar is more interested in educating than saying people are wrong.
The possibly most important part of the album, however, is the clear understanding Kendrick Lamar has for rap culture. Kendrick Lamar has Kid Capri basically narrate the entire album, something any rap fan would find extremely exciting and clearly shows Lamar’s love for the culture.
Something else that is a big part of rap culture is rap beef, and there are no shortages of subliminal shots by Kendrick Lamar at other rappers on DAMN., specifically at Big Sean. The aforementioned quote from “PRIDE.” is a clear shot at other rappers, but the most obvious diss comes on the song “ELEMENT.” The entire song feels like a shot at the industry and at Big Sean. “All my grandmas dead/So ain’t nobody prayin’ for me,” feels like a shot at Big Sean and his constant talk about his grandmother, who played a vital role in his life. Kendrick Lamar also calls himself, “Mr. One through Five,” clearly saying he thinks he is the greatest of all-time by a landslide. That is all without mentioning the hook of the song, which is one of the best hooks ever put to music.
And at this point, two of the best songs on the album have still not been discussed. One is “LOVE.,” which is the most real love song heard in a long time. The song strips away the fame of love and asks if the girl of the song would still be around without all of that. Lamar, with an assist from Zacari, a little known artist until now, soothes the listener over soft drums with a relatable story between two lovers. It is refreshing to know that a song about love can be so raw, yet feel so original, and that that subsection of music has not be diluted by genres such as alternative rock. The chorus, which repeatedly asks “just love me” is a standout track on the album.
The closing track on DAMN., “DUCKWORTH.” brings the best told story on the entire album to life. Kendrick tells the story of Anthony Tiffith, better known as Top Dawg, the founder of TDE who Kendrick Lamar raps under, and how he almost killed Kendrick Lamar’s father at a KFC drive-thru. Tiffith robbed the KFC, but decided not to kill Ducky, who was working at the KFC. As Kendrick details, that could have led to a much different life, or Kendrick Lamar never existing. “Whoever thought the greatest rapper would be from coincidence?/Because if Anthony killed Ducky/ Top Dawg could be servin’ life/While I grew up without a father and die in a gunfight.”
DAMN. continues Kendrick Lamar’s winning streak and firmly cements his place in rap history. This album is a certified classic, with the best replay value of an album by Lamar to date. The question should never have been if Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper alive, but rather if he is the greatest rapper of all-time.
David Arroyo is sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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