Kendrick Lamar's new album is 'DAMN.' good
Lamar's album punctuates but not legendarily
Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment/Aftermath Entertainment/Interscope Records
Release: April 14
It’s difficult being perfect.
Even the best rap acts like Outkast and Kanye West ended their runs of superiority with Idlewild and 808’s & Heartbreak, respectively.
Kendrick Lamar’s flawless run with releases like To Pimp A Buttery (TPAB) and Untitled Unmastered have shown him dazzling amongst rap royalty.
‘King’ Kendrick’s latest release isn’t his best but it’s DAMN. near perfect.
Lamar’s 14-track full-length LP, released on Friday, exhibits his range of pop and dark rap numbers. From broken crooning to reversal rapping, Lamar intelligently attempts to balance his joys and his pains throughout.
The project profoundly offers a theme of duality in the beginning and reveals a perceivably “weak” blind woman as “wicked” after she shoots Lamar.
The rapper’s question of “wickedness” or “weakness” presents a dual nature in sound and in song titles, too, with tracks like “HUMBLE.” and “LUST.” differing from his tracks “PRIDE.” and “LOVE.”
Not to mention the rapper fits the album into frame by rewinding the entirety of his album on the last track “DUCKWORTH.” At the album’s close, listeners are brought back to the intro “BLOOD.”
DAMN.’s cyclical nature doesn’t mean the album is instrumentally unilateral. Cohesiveness is thrown out the window in favor of a ballpark of sounds. The LP is laden with psychedelic rap gems and trap-like songs that zoom past other acts in his field.
Lamar’s “DNA.” is a beat for the ages.
The beat’s hypnotic loops and heavy drums switch mid-way, which makes way for an aggressive harsh bass-filled second half. It’s arguably the highlight of DAMN., which offers limited moments that can match this energy.
“XXX.” is the only production that similarly exhibits bits of Lamar spazzing, also on-top of Mike WiLL Made It production. The rapper, who is joined by U2, offers bars that get especially political.
Lamar notes in the second side of the song, that the “American flag is wrapped and dragged with explosives” and how he misses Obama now that “Donald Trump’s in office.”
Themes of religion and violence are portrayed in the song and collide as Lamar’s friend looks for guidance after his son is killed. Lamar, who in spite of being “anointed,” speaks earnestly that violence should be the option before revealing he is set to speak at a gun control convention.
This complicated self that Lamar portrays carries into tracks like “PRIDE.” The song has Lamar touch on perfection and echo religious elements through his battles finding “faith in men” as well as God.
Over producer Steve Lacy’s bending rock-ish beat, the rapper experiments with vocal pitches as returning collaborator Anna Wise makes an appearance on the track.
Similar sounding, bizarrely-produced tracks like “YAH.” find Lamar also touching on religion, mentioning a family member’s call identifying him as a Black Hebrew Israelite.
His poeticism and production standout at times, best heard in “FEAR.” and “DUCKWORTH.” which kiss the ears of old-school fans.
“DUCKWORTH.” primarily offers a vintage-sounding beat from mastermind 9th Wonder, with Lamar’s storytelling taking precedence.
In the ‘80s, Lamar’s father offered T.D.E. founder Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith free food at his job when Tiffith considered robbing the KFC restaurant. The rapper reveals, powerfully, that he could have wound up without a father and without a means to stardom if his father never made this “one decision.”
Highs like this, however, are met with noteworthy not-so-great joints - especially in regards to Lamar’s attempts at singing.
On “LOVE.” featuring singer Zacari, Lamar half-heartedly attempts to replicate hip-hop’s ever-so popular trap soul wave. Its cheesy lyrics and whininess offer little as far as memorability is concerned, making it the key track to skip from DAMN.
The song’s annoyingness could be a parody of Drake’s R&B rap sound and a jab at his predictable commercial structure. Still, any comparison and explanation for Lamar’s inability to sing on songs like “LOVE.” or “GOD.” seem more like an excuse for mediocrity.
Other tracks like DAMN.’s lead single “HUMBLE.” are equally catchy with choppy piano loops. The single, however, lacks a lyrical weight that the rapper’s past singles have exhibited.
The song’s content is mixed - from lazy shots at fellow rappers to his love for “natural” features. Standalone, the single is fine but within the context of the album it fails to fit into Lamar’s puzzle.
Aside from lowlights, the album is presentable and acts as a sampler of Lamar’s great flare. DAMN. won’t be seen in the same light of TPAB but it’s nonetheless a sweet cornucopia of bangers and lyrically packed records alike.
Benjamin Blanchet is a co senior arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org