After releasing singles throughout April like “The Heart Part 4,” a diss track and “HUMBLE.”, the hype for Kendrick Lamar’s new album was through the roof. Kendrick dropped “DAMN.” around midnight April 14 and delivered on the hype. While the short, 14-song “DAMN.” may not be a musical masterpiece like his previous album “To Pimp a Butterfly,” and may not have the hits like “m.A.A.d. City” (other than “HUMBLE.” which was a top-10 hit after the single release), “DAMN.” has a clear and important message and perspective. Lamar delivers this message in a musically deep album, and his creativity, word flow and style are arguably the best they’ve ever been. The scope of the album goes from African-American culture, to Lamar’s own introspective views to the cultural problems in America as a whole.
The first part of the album is very much about the artist. It is very introspective and examines how Lamar’s past and rise to fame has effected his perspective on the world. With “YAH.” Lamar tackles a subject he hasn’t yet with this intensity: his own image. In this track, he examines how his image and fame are being used for the wrong reasons, like being labeled as a representative or advocate of ideals that he doesn’t subscribe to, due to his style of music or his look. “FEEL.” is classic Lamar, with a West-Coast beat and background bolstering his old-school rap style. With this track, Lamar is again introspective on a subject that he hinted at in “To Pimp a Butterfly:” his own introverted nature and how alienated he feels from the rest of the world and the subsequent paranoia about the intentions of those around him. These themes of paranoia are also examined in “ELEMENT.”.
“LOYALTY.” is another classic Lamar track with the same West-Coast-Dr.-Dre samples that he used in “m.A.A.d. City” and showcases, in my opinion, the best Rihanna feature in a hip-hop song since “FourFiveSeconds” with Kanye West and Paul McCartney.
“LOVE.” is my favorite song from the album, not because it is the best or has the best bars, beat or rhythm, but because it is so divergent from Lamar’s norms and it seems to be so far outside of the box for him. The track is Lamar’s take on a love song. He mixes his west coast style with some R&B work, which certainly isn’t something he has done before. This is mixed with a beautiful message about imperfect people and how we can all find love, but often times problems and obstacles are ever-present and there isn’t a perfect ending.
The tail-end of the album contains the bulk of the larger message behind “DAMN.”. Tracks like “LUST.”, “XXX.” (feat. U2), “FEAR.” and “DUCKWORTH.” examine the societal and behavioral problems of urban, impoverished community lifestyles, and how the infrastructure of power in the country doesn’t help and often continues these norms. This part of the album offers a great perspective into these problems, while still posing tough and interesting ideas to the listener, all on top of some top-notch hip-hop tracks.
There is an important message behind “DAMN.” and Kendrick Lamar does a beautiful job delivering it. While the tracks in this album are very deep and complex, musically and lyrically, they are also just plain fun. The pulse-pounding beats, the unique rhythms and rhymes and the interesting choice of samples littered throughout the album make it a fun, casual listen in the car, and just as easily a listening and thinking piece of art.
Cover photo courtesy of Hypebeast.