Many wondered how Kendrick Lamar could possibly follow up 2015's To Pimp A Butterfly, but he has done it with flying colors. The alleged "savior of rap" has returned with some powerful remarks on his new record, with nothing holding him back. Kendrick Lamar challenges society DAMN. with no holds barred.
Kendrick Lamar is known for not holding back, and DAMN. is no exception. It's full of emotion and anger in every beat and every word, not letting up for anything. It begins softly and dark with 'BLOOD.' and introduces the heavy concept of life and death on the record simply. All of DAMN. deals with a theme of living and dying and, furthermore, how the world has come to treat them and affect them. In 'BLOOD.,' Kendrick is shot by a blind old woman as he tries to help her, the opening lines "Is it wickedness? Is it weakness?" providing the question to be asked as the skit plays through.
That's just the first song, and we already have to question society. As 'DNA.' begins with a much more powerful and threatening drive, Kendrick Lamar celebrates his heritage while damning those who see it as a weakness. While the message is strong, what makes it stronger is Kendrick's seemingly unstoppable flow. He goes harder and harder in each verse, the last verse being spit with such ferocity that you can feel the fire. The same can be felt in many places throughout the record, including the end of 'FEEL.' where Kendrick really lets loose amidst the relatively chill body of the track.
The flames aren't just limited to the thrilling, angry verses. There are moments where instead of ferocious bars, he seethes rage, such as in 'XXX.' featuring U2. Not only is Bono's contribution on the track actually fantastic, but it really showcases everything Kendrick is made of. After Bono destroys what America has become, Kendrick continues the sentiment by going off with angered (but softly delivered) lines: "The great American flag / Is wrapped and dragged with explosives / Compulsive disorder, sons and daughters / Barricaded blocks and border / Look what you taught us! / It's murder on my street, your street, back streets / Wall Street, corporate offices / Banks, employees, and bosses with / Homicidal thoughts; Donald Trump's in office."
Rather than being an album solely destroying things, DAMN. also offers guidance. Much of the advice the record provides is about relationships and to a greater extent, being a good human. One of the clearest examples is in 'LOYALTY.' featuring Rihanna, where the two ponder over being loyal and honest in a relationship. Looking beyond that, the song can also be viewed as a song that discusses the value of being loyalty between the government and its people - a question mused over in other tracks, as well. While it is much more suited towards a relationship, there are definitely some political undertones in the sweet duet. 'LOVE.' featuring Zacari is a much more one-faced track about love, where Kendrick raps about finding the right woman, which serves as a contrast to 'LUST.' which discusses the hardships of being a prominent rap figure, ideas being centered around sexual intimacy.
All the songs have a general idea regarding life and death; in particular, the important events and ideas that happen in life: finding love, speaking out against the government, and questioning the zeitgeist. The final tracks 'GOD.' and 'DUCKWORTH.' put things into perspective, in a way. The tracks are essentially parallels of each other, being connected right down to the fact that they have the same play-time. In 'GOD.,' Kendrick celebrates himself and the fruits of his labor, really wallowing in the idea that he is a hip-hop god. 'DUCKWORTH.' has a more mortal presence, discussing how life always comes full circle. He references how Top Dawg almost ended up killing Lamar's father before signing Kendrick to his label fifteen years later. It's a big "what if" song, coming back around at the end to provide an alternate universe at the end of the song. Like at the beginning of the record, Kendrick dies once again, but perhaps as a result of his own mortality rather than due to the poisonous nature of humanity.
While DAMN. is all about its meaning, there's a lot of musically interesting things going on. Unfortunately, it's a lot of these instrumental motifs that end up dragging some things down. It has a great mix of calm and fired up tracks, but on some of the quieter tracks, it feels as if Kendrick is trying too hard to emulate Drake and ends up sounding a bit too out of his nature - 'YAH.' is a good example. It's hard for a lot of the melancholy tracks to really hit hard, but it does happen. The only song that really doesn't sit well on the record is 'HUMBLE.' While as a single this song certainly held its weight, something about it just feels off on the record. The instrumental really saves it from sounding like a whinny diss. There's just no reason for the track to be on the album, and the way he sings the hook really throws me off.
DAMN. is an album about human nature. In between its story of life and death, the record finds the major moments of ones life and evaluates their value in today's world. At the end, DAMN. is an album that tells the tale of Kendrick Lamar's past, present, and future, while challenging society along the way as Kendrick can always do so tastefully. With all the theories going around that a second album is ahead, we can only wonder how a counterpart to this record will sound. But anything that Kendrick comes off as a golden flame, so all that can come from that is goodness.
Favorite Tracks: DNA., XXX., DUCKWORTH.
Least Favorite Track: HUMBLE.
Rating: 89 / 100
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