Review | Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

“DAMN.”, this is a great album.

DAMN. Is the fourth studio album by Kendrick Lamar and also the great predecessor to his critically acclaimed third album To Pimp A Butterfly released in 2015.

Once again there is great story-telling by Kendrick Lamar throughout the entire album. DAMN. is a very insightful piece of work that gives a vivid look at Kendrick’s upbringing, but also a look at the success and troubles he’s having in his late 20’s.

Behind every track, there’s a truth waiting to be revealed. If you’ve listen to the album only once, searching for the right track, you might have missed what the narrative of the album is this time around. The narrative is quite simple actually – The title of the album gives away the context of the album. DAMN.  opens with the track “BLOOD.”, on the track Kendrick is detailing his interaction with this “blind woman” who seems to be looking for something she has lost. When he approaches the woman to ask what she has lost, she replies “You’ve lost… you’re life”, followed by a gunshot. As the “evils of Lucy” tried to take Kendrick down on TPAB, they seem to have finally caught up to him as now he has lost his life. BLOOD. serves as a grand intriguing intro track that keeps you on your feet. In this instance the “blind woman” who Kendrick speaks with is death, just camouflaged in plain clothing.

Also take a moment to look at how the name of the album is stylized – D A M N. A period marks the end of a sentence. What this means is this is the tragic demise of Kendrick Lamar and the songs that follow BLOOD. are in fact flashbacks to select events that have occurred in his life. This is evident as a ton of reverb and reversed lyrics are used throughout.

Production on the album is phenomenal and for right reason – DAMN. features an All-Star team of producers, songwriters, and collaborators that feature Sounwave, Mike WiLL Made It, Teddy Walton, Greg Kurstin, James Blake, Cardo, BADBADNOTGOOD, Bekon, Terrace Martin, and The Alchemist. In the form of features are Rihanna on LOYALTY, Zacari on LOVE (a standout track), and U2 on XXX.

Just when you start getting comfortable, Kendrick switches up both the flow and beat creating different sections/chapters within the song(s). This album also sees the new alter-ego for the self-proclaimed King of Rap which is “Kung Fu Kenny”. Kung Fu Kenny is shouted out on most tracks by DJ Capri.

Kendrick’s signature rapid flows, with no breaks in between are on full display on “DNA.” On the track, he turns his focus on the Fox News Network and Geraldo Rivera – He raps about growing up seeing people in his community hooked on “poison”, but that doesn’t define who he is as he also comes from royalty.

He continues with stating his has millions and also evil running through his DNA, while a rare sample of Rick James and guitar riffs are echoed in the background. In a sense, the song is about telling those who judge him that they don’t know his story and are just making up assumptions because he fits the mold for the common “angry black rapper”.

“Tell me somethin’

You mothafuckas can’t tell me nothin’

I’d rather die than to listen to you

My DNA not for imitation

Your DNA an abomination”

Good and Evil are also important themes addressed on the album. As the track “ELEMENT.” opens, DJ Kid Capri is heard saying “New Kung Fu Kenny, Ain’t nobody prayin’ for me…” With that, Kendrick Lamar states that since both of his grandmothers are deceased, he has no one praying for him anymore, so now he’s “putting the bible down, and going eye for eye” – The Rap-Sphere is his now, as there is no tie or competition. The track also sees whack rappers being called out to forefront, with Kendrick stating he tried to uplift the rap community with his last album, but in the end they weren’t HUMBLE.

“ Just say his name and I promise that you’ll see Candyman

Because it’s all in your eyes, most of y’all tell lies

Most of y’all don’t fade, most of y’all been advised

Last LP I tried to lift the black artists

But it’s a difference between black artists and wack artists”

As mentioned there are tracks that directly deal with Kendrick’s highs and lows he has faced through his life. On the creative track “FEAR.”, Kendrick Lamar takes the role of his mother and proceeds to warn 7-year old Kendrick about certain things, and if he’s caught “she” will “beat his ass”. As the fear of being beat by his mother, the fear of dying over wearing the wrong colors, and the fear of losing it all at 27-years old engulfs him – the chorus sees Kendrick dive into his imagination stating

“If I could smoke fear away, I’d roll that mothafucka up,

And then I’d take two puffs,

I’m high now, I’m high now”

On the track GOD., Kendrick is extremely satisfied his status in the Rap Game and with the wealth he has accumulated through these last few years as he is “Laughin’ to the bank like, “A-ha!”.

The album concludes with the track “DUCKWORTH.” This arguably might be the most insightful track on DAMN. as Kendrick goes into detail on how if his father, Ducky, and Top Dawg Entertainment’s CEO’s Anthony Tiffith never met (or if Tiffith had killed Ducky) there would be no Kendrick Lamar, the rapper he is today. Toward the end of the verse – it is interrupted by gunshots. If you pay close attention to detail, after the gunshots, you can hear the entire album being played in reverse as if Kendrick is given another chance at life. The last words spoken by Kendrick on this track are the same exact words he first spoke on the intro, BLOOD. – “So, I was takin’ a walk the other day…”.

DAMN. continues Kendrick Lamar’s excellent, creative, and unique ways of telling a story. The album has some very dark tones, while at the same time incorporating jazz into on select tracks such as “XXX.” I did enjoy To Pimp A Butterfly, but I felt with this album, the narrative was more interesting, being it life and death – which always is a discussion starter, so is this album. Not only is Kendrick a talented rapper but he’s a gifted poet as well, especially on “FEEL.” As he flawlessly flows from bar to bar. Finally there is an album that has come along in 2017 where you can listen to it in its entirety without skipping – DAMN. is that album.

– Journalist Without A Beat… Out!


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