By DREW LACOUTURE
On one of the most anticipated albums of the year, rap prodigy Kendrick Lamar continues his streak of conscious yet addictive music that solidifies him as one the best artists working today. With “DAMN.,” Lamar nearly entirely ditches the jazz influenced sounds of “To Pimp A Butterfly” to create an often eerie but trendy project.
Kendrick is an artist that is constantly evolving and is as unpredictable as the weather, with each album of his being different from the next and the tracks within those albums tackling so many topics and musical elements. No one saw the lead single “Humble” coming and the same can be said for many tracks here.
This is especially true for the other major banger, “DNA.” Its second half and the transition to it are jarring and almost frightening to some degree—it seems like he has been influenced by the group Death Grips. Through this track, the chilling opener “BLOOD.” and “YAH.,” he addresses Fox News’ negative comments on his music and hip-hop music as a whole.
Thankfully, rather than throwing shots at people the entire album (Drake and Big Sean are safe for now), Kendrick once again decides to use his music as self-examination in his relationship with God, his desires, his struggles and his community.
Not only is Kendrick cautious of his actual music, but his content and rapping are still unmatched. His story telling, eclectic voices and flows are so complex that his projects require multiple listens to catch every nuance and detail. “LUST.” is lyrically the best track—it briefly addresses the reaction to Donald Trump’s presidential victory: “Still and sad, distraught and mad, tell the neighbor ’bout it/Bet they agree, parade the streets with your voice proudly/Time passin’, things change/Revertin’ back to our daily programs, stuck in our ways; Lust.”
The only track that fits the stereotypical braggadocious hip-hop track is “ELEMENT.” and producer Sounwave helps bring out the life in this track and so many others here. Speaking of great production, the track “XXX.” with U2 is by far the most shocking cut with numerous beat switches, blaring sirens and Lamar breaking into a 21 Savage-like flow. The bleak track is one of many moments in which Lamar and his producers astonish on all levels.
It will be interesting to see how well “LOYALTY.” will perform on radio and streaming based on the Rihanna feature alone. While it’s a great track with a glitchy, distorted instrumental, her vocals could have been done by a female singer and even Lamar’s monotone delivery might not be pleasing for DJ’s.
Larger song titles and features does not mean a larger album was created, for “DAMN.” lacks the scope and replay value of his two previous albums. This is due to several tracks being slow paced like “YAH.,” the dazed “PRIDE.” and the fantastic “FEAR.” These tracks will challenge fans that want to hear more up-tempo tracks like “ELEMENT.” and “DNA.”
The two most emotive tracks are the insecure “FEEL.” and “LOVE.” On “FEEL.,” Lamar lays out his insecurities more bluntly than ever before: “Feel like only me and the music, though/I feel like you’re feelin’ ain’t mutual/I feel like the enemy you should know/Feel like the feelin’ of no hope.” The ballad “LOVE.” is a beautiful tribute for his fiance Whitney Alford.
Another uplifting track is “GOD.,” in which Lamar talks about his success, only to be humbled by God. This and the DJ Premier produced “DUCKWORTH.” close out the album brilliantly with the last thirty seconds of the album rewinding back to the opening track “BLOOD.” It is super surreal and will be analyzed to death by music critics.
“DAMN.” is not Kendrick Lamar’s best project, but is his fourth great album that is guaranteed to make multiple year-end lists. His versatility, awareness and craft persevere, which pleases music fans young and old around the world. With only a couple of dud tracks and too many progressions to count, Kendrick is pushing the limits of what a mainstream hip-hop album can be. If he keeps this up, he will be considered the greatest rapper of all time.
The Flyer gives “DAMN.” an 8/10.