Likes: DNA, Element, Loyalty
Overall: Kendrick did it again: he’s carved his own lane and blazing through it. Lyrical proficiency, solid production.
Kendrick Lamar's fourth studio LP couldn’t be more appropriately named, as DAMN is all that’s left to say after hearing it. From the opening introduction ("Blood"), it's obvious this album is offering to take its listener for a ride. The preamble presents two ultimatums of choosing wickedness or weakness, and life or death. Lamar tells a startling story of trying to help a blind woman find what she is missing, only to find that what's lost is his life when she shoots him.
What follows can best be described as a blend of the themes that made Lamar's previous records so compelling. The socio-political threads of To Pimp a Butterfly (ex. injustice, racism, religion and culture) are met with the personal "a day in the life" keynotes of Good Kid, M.A.A.D City to explain the effect of one on the other, and this time, detail a whole life in a day (or a 14 track album). Lamar pours himself out with vulnerability, expressing insecurity, paranoia and anger. Needless to say, the conceptual and musical tones are melancholy. Even the lighter fare is tortured. The production work of Bēkon, Sounwave and Mike Will Made It (among others) serve to draw attention to Lamar's versatility with vocal delivery and lyricism, as he matches the quick rhythmic changes and moods. The analogies, metaphors and symbolism he utilizes to paint his pictures are enough to send any sapiosexual for a cold shower. Older millennials will feel nostalgic when they hear the call backs to Juveniles "Ha" (i.e. "Element"), Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" (i.e. "Loyalty") and the OutKast-esque "Lust." Throwback and classic samples (DAMN.'s include James Brown and Earth, Wind & Fire) are standard on rap albums, which is part of why "Element" and "Loyalty" stick out for their contemporary characteristics. "Element's" hook seems intentionally Drake-like, while the hypnotic and dopamine-activating "Loyalty" (featuring Rihanna) takes from Bruno Mars' "24K Magic." These cuts are highlights, along with "DNA," that opens with Lamar addressing his haters on FOXNews with chastisement they're likely too obtuse to understand. Though some moments are particularly bright, there's zero fat on this record. It closes with gunfire, coming back to the shooting in "Blood." This signals that the entire body of work you've just heard was Lamar's life flashing before his eyes before he dies. DAMN!
In an era where most rappers are just aiming for a hot single, many believe hip-hop is dead. DAMN. will send people back to the genre to check for a pulse. It's not of bravado and braggadocio. Kendrick Lamar is an artist connecting to his fans without ever having to meet them. It's plain refreshing to see a rapper dumping his mind, heart and soul into his art instead of a false persona.