Review: Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

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Daaaamn!

DAMN. is more accessible than Lamar's previous albums whilst sacrificing none of their powerful lyrics and awesome production. King Kendrick has done it again.

After Drake‘s poor effort with More Life last month, it was time for the real king of rap to come back and remind everyone why he’s on top of the game right now. And, somehow, Kendrick Lamar has done it again with DAMN., an album worthy to be considered his third classic in a row.

Whilst not a straight concept album like good kid, m.A.A.d city or To Pimp A Butterfly, there’s still a story behind DAMN.: on opening track ‘BLOOD.’ Lamar approaches a woman (who many have speculated represents Lady Justice in that she is blind) by whom he is promptly shot, and in the following moments – i.e. the album – his life flashes before his eyes as he reflects on his shortcomings as a person. This makes DAMN. a much more introspective record than his previous projects, focusing on his own demons rather than wider social issues: ‘LOVE.’ (a fun albeit more poppy track) counters ‘LUST.’ (a look at the allure of hedonistic street life), and ‘FEEL.’ addresses the feelings of grandeur mixed with loneliness that come with being at the top. On ‘FEAR.,’ a highlight of the album, he raps over a smooth Alchemist beat about the types of fear experienced at different points in his life: of child abuse aged 7, of the streets at 17, and of the fears that come with fame aged 27. It’s moments on ‘FEAR.’ that make the album title suddenly seem appropriate – upon hearing the sweet soul sample juxtaposed with the line “I’ll prolly die ’cause that’s what you do when you’re 17,” the listener can’t help but sit back and think it. The songs hit hard, but unlike much of To Pimp A Butterfly, they’re still easy listens.

Lyrically, it remains dark and depressing, but never excessively so, making DAMN. far more accessible than Lamar’s last few projects. From swaggering, bombastic tunes like ‘DNA.’ – he absolutely snaps over a glorious beat switch here – and the still catchy ‘HUMBLE.’ to the melodic, dreamy ‘PRIDE.,’ over which his voice drifts in and out perfectly over a slow beat, as well as the unlikeliest collaboration since Calvin Harris‘ ‘Slide‘ with U2 on ‘XXX.,’ which turns out to be another head-bumping highlight. The album once again demonstrates his range as an artist, feeling cohesive whilst still immensely varied. The lush production and Lamar’s variety of flows must therefore be applauded.

There has been talk in the last year or so of Lamar as one of the GOAT rappers, but I’ve never been sure about that, despite having two of the best hip-hop albums of the decade to his name. Now, with DAMN., I’m convinced. Kendrick has put out another fantastic album to cement his place as one of the greats.

DAMN. is out now via Aftermath, Interscope, and Top Dawg Entertainment

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2nd year History student; also a film, hip-hop & cocktail enthusiast!

5 Comments

  1. avatar

    Probably in the minority who thinks this is Kendrick’s least accessible and least enjoyable album yet. The features are uninspired, the lyrics are less inventive or thought-provoking. In stretching to be ‘innovative’ and fresh, I feel like Kendrick has alienated sections of his listeners. Would much rather prefer a section 80 esque album.

    • avatar

      I definitely don’t think it’s his least accessible, given that TPaB’s jazz/funk sound was initially really hard to get into, and the skits attached to GKMC made it an odd album to listen to out of order. Features I’ll give you, there’s no verses like Jay Rock on Money Trees or Rhapsody on Complexion, but I guess that’s because this album is more about Kendrick specifically and his own persona? Section .80 is underrated as hell but it definitely feels on a smaller scale to his modern stuff so doubt we’ll see that Kendrick again!

  2. avatar

    Had not considered that the Blind Lady of ‘BLOOD.’ represents Lady Justice, so thanks for bringing that to my attention!
    It’s an interesting thought, but I feel it might be a weird metaphor for Kendrick to include intentionally, since while “justice” in the States is so rarely shown to Black people, one gets the feeling that’s because justice is anything but blind in crimes involving race or sex, and that Lady Justice is the ideal, not the reality.
    Not that his intention is at all relevant to listeners’ readings of the album.

    • avatar

      In his Beats 1 Radio interview Kendrick was very coy about the real meaning of BLOOD., so definitely think it’s entirely down to the listener’s interpretation – I actually saw the Lady Justice idea talked about elsewhere, but you raise a good counterpoint!
      Perhaps, then, the woman represents a subversion/misunderstanding of the ideal justice – ie, she shoots Kendrick after he tries to help her – in the same way that the following clip from TMZ was a gross misunderstanding of his song ‘Alright’.
      Or perhaps I’m just really reaching here!

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