Highlights: Kendrick Lamar, ‘DAMN.’


★★★★★

Kendrick Lamar, DAMN. © InterscopeKendrick Lamar delivers his best album yet with ‘DAMN.’  The profane title is the best way to characterize the spirited, deep new project.   

The best way to characterize the new Kendrick Lamar album is to use the title itself – DAMN.  It goes without saying that Kendrick is like a god among MCs, and that any new album he releases is certain to be damn good, but DAMN. is truly extraordinary.  The track list with one-word titles suggests K-Dot is taking a break from the conceptual, opting for more straightforward, accessible album.  That’s not the case in the least.  If anything, DAMN. is the most ambitious, and quite possibly the BEST album from the MC yet.

“DNA.”  

After “BLOOD” kicks off DAMN. with a bang, “DNA” bangs hard from the jump. K-Dot shares the composition of his DNA. Ultimately, lots of things characterize him. He raps in maddening fashion as he lists them. Continually tough as he flaunts his rap supremacy, a bridge divides the song into contrasting parts.  The bridge addresses racism, a topic running rampant in urban music lately.  The second verse is more ferocious, backed by a truly malicious beat.  The wordplay is insane.

“ELEMENT.”

Kendrick Lamar exhibits toughness on “ELEMENT,” starkly contrasting the chill vibes of “YAH.” Edgy, on the first verse, he asserts, “[I’ll] Put the Bible down and go eye for an eye for this shit.”  On the second, he states, “I’m allergic to a b*tch n*gga.” By the end of the third verse, he confronts the change in demeanor:

“… Last LP I tried to lift the black artists / But it’s a difference between black artists and wack artists.”  

The hook captures his approach splendidly:

“If I gotta slap a pussy-ass n*gga, I’ma make it look sexy / If I gotta go hard on a b*tch, I’ma make it look sexy…/ They won’t take me out of my element / Nah, take me out my element.” 

“LOYALTY.”

“LOYALTY.” brings the first notable guest of DAMN., Rihanna. Among things that make “LOYALTY” sensational is manner in which Kendrick Lamar and Rihanna perform the verses. Both combine for the third and fifth verses, as well as the choruses.

“It’s a secret society / All we ask is trust… / All we got is us / Loyalty, loyalty, loyalty.”

Loyalty, indeed, is the central theme. The secret society reference raises eyebrows, though it’s hard to tell if indeed the Illuminati plays a role on DAMN.

“HUMBLE.”

From the jump, promo single “HUMBLE.” is energetic. Kendrick Lamar testifies about his come-up, but he’s not bragging – he’s thankful.  He emphasizes being humble, with a brilliant, gimmicky hook. Possessing numerous meanings, some believe it’s a diss track directed to specific rappers.  Most likely, it’s more transcendent than a cocky rapper.  The best line references cellulite, though it runs deeper than such.

“I’m so f*ckin’ sick and tired of the Photoshop / Show me somethin’ natural like afro on Richard Pryor / Show me somethin’ natural like ass with some stretch marks…”

“LUST.”

“LUST” shows how powerful, dangerous, and dirty that lust is.  Kendrick Lamar makes lustfulness sound like the ultimate.  Much of it is sexual, but he expands the scope on the bridge. He also references scripture (James 4:4).  The chorus pads down the religious elements of DAMN.

“I need some water / Somethin’ came over me / Way too high to simmer down / Might as well overheat / Too close to comfort / As blood rush my favorite vein / Heartbeat racin’ like a junkie’s / I just need you to want me…”

“LOVE.” follows, contrasting the filthy “LUST” with sheer beauty.

 “XXX.”

U2 is featured on “XXX.” Continuing to be the master of connection, Lamar relates the harsh conditions of the streets and the country as a whole. The first verse has more of an overt, hip-hop sound, as Kendrick tells the tale of a father who lost of his son because of “insufficient funds.” Kendrick proceeds to adhere to “an eye for an eye,” asserting he’d do the unthinkable if such a thing happened.  The second verse is slower, mellower, greeted by a memorable chorus sung by Bono:

“It’s not a place / This country is to be a sound of drum and bass / You close your eyes to look around.”

K-Dot raps about the state of the union, over a more soulful, urban-rock backdrop.

“Homicidal thoughts; Donald Trump’s in office / We lost Barack and promised to never doubt him again / But is America honest, or do we bask in sin?” 

“DUCKWORTH.”

“DUCKWORTH” concludes the album sensationally.  Musically, there are numerous beat and background changes, which keeps the record captivating.  Beyond that, however, the lyrics are compelling as Kendrick Lamar tells a wild story involving Anthony, Ducky, and ultimately Kendrick Himself.  It ends up being a true story, depicting how Anthony (“Top Dawg”) planned to rob Ducky (Kendrick’s father), a KFC employee.  Ultimately, Top Dawg Entertainment, distributed by Interscope, signed Kendrick Lamar.  

Final Thoughts

What else can be said about DAMN. but damn! Kendrick Lamar has clearly outdone himself, managing to somehow best two hip-hop classics, not to mention a respectable disc of B-Sides.  DAMN. takes several listens to digest and analyze, but once the magic is revealed, it’s clear Kendrick Lamar is one of the most creative and greatest artists of our time.  Come February 2018, maybe he’ll finally walk out of the Grammys holding a Grammy for Album of the Year.

If you’d like to read the full, track-by-track analysis of DAMN., check out the article Kendrick Lamar Delivers His Deepest Album Yet With ‘DAMN.’, published on April 18, 2017 on The Musical Hype.

Gems: “DNA.,” “ELEMENT.,” “LOYATY.,” “HUMBLE.,” “LUST.,” “XXX.,” and “DUCKWORTH.”

Kendrick Lamar • DAMN. • Interscope • Release: 4.14.17
Photo Credit: Interscope
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