Kendrick Lamar – DAMN. Album Review

BACKGROUND INFO

ARTIST: Kendrick Lamar
ALBUM: DAMN.
RELEASE DATE: 14 April 2017
LABEL: Top Dawg Entertainment
GENRE: Hip Hop

CONTEXT

This is the fourth full-length album from American rapper and Compton, CA. native, Kendrick Lamar. He has a very solid discography and is known for his versatility. On his first album, Section.80, his style was a bit more raw, but still delivered in terms of content. His second album, good kid, m.A.A.d. city, told the story of his upbringing while blending in some skits. But perhaps his best project to date is his third album, To Pimp a Butterfly, which combined elements of jazz and hip-hop with socially aware and, frankly, pro-black content. Since the release of that album, more and more artists have begun to release more socially conscious music. In that respect, Kendrick is one of the few trend setters in the music industry.

SO HOW WAS THIS ALBUM? LET’S GO TRACK-BY-TRACK!

WARNING: The lyrics do contain explicit language which may be offensive to some viewers. I only include the lines I feel are most important to the overall message of the album.

1. BLOOD.

Kendrick goes to help a blind lady cross the street, but then… he gets shot.

Yeah.

After that, we hear this clip from FOX News where Giraldo Rivera and the other clowns critique Kendrick’s lyrics for being too “anti-police.”

Obviously, there is a very serious lack of understanding…

2. DNA.

…which carries into the bridge of this song. When Kendrick says, I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA, we also hear Rivera, from that same FOX News clip, state, “This is why I say that hip hop has done more damage to young African-Americans than racism in recent years.”

That’s just a stupid thing to say, and obviously, Kendrick knows that.

Tell me somethin’ / you mothafuckas can’t tell me nothin’ / I’d rather die than listen to you

Mike WiLL Made-It’s production is out of this world, from the sitar-like sound in the first verse to the bass rolls in the second verse. This was a very aggressive way to kick off the album.

3. YAH.

I can do without this song. I’ll leave it at that.

4. ELEMENT.

This track sounded very Drake-esque because of the percussion style and scattered piano keys. Like DNA., Kendrick is addressing his critics, more specifically the rappers throwing “shade” at him.

Most of ya’ll throw rocks and try to hide your hand / Just say his name and I promise that you’ll see Candyman

Just say Kendrick’s name. What, you scared?

He also throws it back to 1998 in the beginning of the third verse, replicating the flow of Juvenile’s 1998 hit song “Ha“. As a Juvenile fan, I enjoyed this reference very much.

If I gotta slap a pussy-ass nigga, I’ma make it look sexy / If I gotta go hard on a bitch, I’ma make it look sexy

The hook sounded a bit silly on the first few listens, but it is quite catchy. Not to mention, the lyrics make sense in the context of the song. If Kendrick does have to take one of these beefs to the next level, he is going to make it look sexy.

5. FEEL.

There’s not really much to this track. Kendrick is just rapping about the negative feelings that his worldwide stardom has elicited such as depression and self-hate, hence the blues-y production.

6. LOYALTY. FEAT. RIHANNA.

Again, there’s not really much content to this track. I just see this as a summertime jam that’s good for long road trips.

7. PRIDE.

I wonder what this song is about…

I can’t fake humble just ’cause your ass is insecure

Which sets up the next song, titled…

8. HUMBLE.

This is easily Kendrick’s most mainstream song. Once again, Mike WiLL Made-It comes through with an amazing beat filled with West Coast piano riffs and in-and-out synth hits. I really enjoyed the simplicity of this song because it’s a nice change of pace from some of his deeper and more complex tracks on To Pimp a Butterfly. This is more out of the book of “i” or “Alright.”

As for the content, let me say this…

– No, he’s not mocking Big Sean on the chorus (hol’ up, lil bitch)
– No, he’s not mocking Lil Uzi Vert in the second verse (ayy)

People need to stop reaching and trying to start something that is not there. Besides, don’t you think Kendrick would actually… you know… say their names? Have you heard his “Control” verse?

But the lyric that has most people up in arms?

I’m so fuckin’ 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

Seriously… what is wrong with this? He’s just saying his preferences, which does not automatically mean that he thinks everything else is worse. Just stop.

9. LUST.

Unfortunately, this track failed to grow on me after a few listens.

In the second verse, he raps about waking up to the results of the 2016 Presidential Election and not wanting to believe it. But as upset as people were about the election, most people just returned to their cycles. Sure, there were protests, but eventually, everyone returns to doing what they want to do.

That’s what lust can do people. It makes people either do things that they should probably think about or just get them caught in those repetitive cycles.

10. LOVE. FEAT. ZACARRI.

This is the best instrumental that Drake has never rapped over.

The hollow, almost watery synths combined with Zacari’s singing make a for nice, laid-back track. Other then that, there’s not much else noteworthy about this song.

11. XXX. FEAT. U2.

The U2 feature threw a lot of people off in terms of their expectations for this song. However, lead singer Bono only has two very short singing parts, so he didn’t really make that big of an impact on the song.

Based on Mike WiLL Made-It and Sounwave’s production, this song can essentially be divided into two parts.

The menacing and chaotic beat combined with the stray, deep piano keys and sirens really set the tone for the first verse. Here, Kendrick tells the story of “Johnny” getting caught up in his surroundings, a situation that is all too familiar for some young African-Americans in this country.

Johnny don’t wanna go to school no mo’, no mo’ / Johnny said books ain’t cool no mo’ (no mo’) / Johnny wanna be a rapper like his big cousin / Johnny caught a body yesterday out hustlin’

But what stood out to me was his phone conversation with his friend, who just lost his son due to insufficient funds. In other words, he probably got caught up in some criminal activity and didn’t have enough money for a drug or arms dealer.

Anyway, his friend asks Kendrick for some nice, spiritual advice on how to overcome this tragic event. But after thinking about, Kendrick says:

I can’t sugarcoat the answer for you, this is how I feel / If somebody kill my son, that mean somebody gettin’ killed.

All the pro-black and anti-violence rhetoric could all go out the window pretty quick when said violence involves a family member. In other words, ain’t no Black Power when your baby killed by a coward.

The second verse of this song flips into more a jazzy beat as Kendrick explores the shady side of business and politics. Essentially, the United States of America has a well-documented history of setting up African-Americans for failure.

It’s nasty when you set us up / Then roll the dice, then bet us up / You overnight the big rifles, then tell Fox to be scared of us / Gang members or terrorists, et cetera, et cetera

In Kendrick’s mind, America is basically saying, “Despite the history, why can’t you guys just get it together? What’s wrong with you guys?” That is just messed up.

12. FEAR.

Here, Kendrick raps about the different things he has feared at different stages in his life. So in the first verse, he is a young child who fears his strict mother for repeatedly “beating his ass” to keep him out of trouble.

The second verse covers Kendrick’s life as a teenager and his fear of getting caught up with the wrong crowd. He fears dying for a number of reasons, from wearing the wrong colors to stepping foot in the wrong neighborhood. It just goes to show how difficult life was for Kendrick growing up in Compton.

The last verse revisits the fears of his newfound fortune, specifically losing his creativity. Obviously, that would be the biggest thing for an artist to lose because he wouldn’t really have anything to say.

Like FEEL., this was another very deep track that dives deep into Kendrick’s mind.

13. GOD.

While this track does sound a bit mainstream, it is completely different sound from what Kendrick normally does. Not to mention, the main producer, Cardo, is known for his very wavy beats (ex: Kendrick’s “untitled 07 | levitate”, ScHoolboy Q’s “THat Part”).

Laughin’ to the bank like, “A-ha!”

Man, that’s still stuck in my head.

As for the content, Kendrick is asking not to be judged for stuff he did back in the day like getting caught with a strap or fuckin’ all the rats. He’s also asking not be judged for making it and succeeding. Now my home got a Valley peak. It’s a really cool way of saying that people are always going to judge you. Even if you’re doing good at the moment, people will try to find dirt on you. That’s just life.

14. DUCKWORTH.

Personally, I was not a big fan of this track, but I can see why others have praised it. The storytelling is just unbelievable.

Producer 9th Wonder comes through with multiple soul sample flips such as Ted Taylor’s “Be Ever Wonderful.” Kendrick tells the story of his father and his connections with “Top Dawg”, the founder of Kendrick’s current label. There was even a point where Kendrick’s father was almost killed by “Top Dawg” at his KFC job. But of course, chicken and biscuits saved the day.

They robbed the manager and shot a customer last year / He figured he’d get on these niggas’ good sides / Free chicken every time Anthony posted in line / Two extra biscuits, Anthony liked him / And then let him slide; they didn’t kill him / In fact, it look like they’re the last to survive

The last part of the song was especially cool as well. Twenty years later, “Top Dawg” and Kendrick’s father met again at a recording studio. Like Kendrick said, it’s amazing to think about what could have happened had “Top Dawg” went through with his original plan.

Because if Anthony killed Ducky / Top Dawg could be servin’ life / While I grew up without a father and die in a gunfight

FINAL THOUGHTS

While there are a few low points, the highs on DAMN. are really, really high. There’s crazy rhyme schemes, content and lots of interesting concepts. Once again, Kendrick’s versatility shines through on this album. As for his best album, I would still give the edge to To Pimp a Butterfly, but that’s just me.

FAVORITE TRACKS

DNA., FEAR., GOD.

RATING: 4/5

Again, I’m still fairly new to reviewing music, so feedback on this would definitely be appreciated. Let me know what you think in the comment section or send me a tweet @danny_shin131

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One comment

  1. joy shin · May 2

    WHAT MADE YOU GET INTO MUSIC COMMENTARY? js

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