Not as groundbreaking as any of his previous work, Kendrick Lamar’s newest album, DAMN. consequently is the most easiest listen of all of his albums and still a very powerfully spiritual album. One that, even still though, with each listen will have you saying DAMN!!! Especially by the time you reach the albums soulfully barring and plot-twisting final track, the 9th Wonder-produced, DUCKWORTH. Which isn’t the only time there’s a plot-twist in the album either. As the first one happens on the album’s very opening track, BLOOD. Where over the soulful backdrop, Lamar tells a chilling story about trying to help a blind woman.
The track than perfectly segues to the very energetic trap-style beat of Mike WiLL Made-It-produced, DNA. A very dazzling display of Lamar’s potent rhyme skills and flow, which show why he’s arguably the top emcee in all of Hip-Hop right now. Fast, furious and as pure as you can get to the ultimate display of lyrical prowess from an emcee. The Compton-bred emcee also shows this on the very soulful Sounwave, James Blake and Ricci Riera co-produced, ELEMENT. Where over the blistering drums and discordant shards of piano, the emcee rhymes about being the top emcee in the game right now, but even despite that and what others think, nobody can really take him out of his element of being risen and from Compton. Also comparing it to that of how people have trouble differentiating his real life with the one you always see on TV. These particular verses from the track, really hitting home on that. “N**gas thought that K-Dot real life, was the same one they see on TV, huh? N**gas wanna flex on me and be in L.A. for free, huh? Next time they hit the 10 freeway, we need receipt, huh? Cause of most of y’all ain’t real. Most of y’all gon’ squeal. Most of y’all just envy, but jealousy get you killed. Most of y’all throw rocks and try to hide your hand. Just say his name and I promise that you’ll see CandyMan. Because it’s all in your eyes, most of y’all tell lies. Most of y’all don’t fade, most of y’all been advised. Last LP I tried to lift the black artists. But it’s a difference between black artists and wack artists.” Lamar’s fast and furious great rhyme display is once again showcased on FEEL., even despite going back to the more live-music like inflections of To Pimp a Butterfly, with the Grammy-winning bass of Thundercat, added to the rickety, rim-shot, round and slowed down production of Sounwave on it. As finally fed up with all the wide range of emotions he has had to go through and in particular most of the negative ones, to get to where he’s at, his patience is finally starting to draw thin. This particular verse really hitting home on that, “I feel like I’m losin’ my focus. I feel like I’m losin’ my patience. I feel like my thoughts in the basement. Feel like, I feel like you’re miseducated. Feel like I don’t wanna be bothered. I feel like you may be the problem. I feel like it ain’t no tomorrow, fvck the world.” Before like a boxer catching a second wind, he goes to a whole other level of energy, after starting off with a slower tempo. Like a lot of records throughout, Kendrick really explores his difficulties with God and religion and, even suicide and how he has a difficulty accepting his place in the game cause of all the pressure it places it him. Which has him questioning if others are also praying for him.
PRIDE., is yet another very introspective track of many in Kendrick’s catalog, which also continues the strong religious themes of the album. As over the drowsy Steve Lacy production, the emcee delves deep into his own pride and how his own recognition as one of the best rappers alive causes tension between his own lyrics and actual actions to do the right thing to bring world peace to others. The slow-building vocals from newcomer, Lacy and hypnotic songwriter Anna Wise, really helping bring the psychedelic feels of the record and the struggles Lamar and most others go through in life trying to humble themselves to do so, truly to life. Which is why it’s very appropriate that HUMBLE. is the next track. The U2 featured and Mike Will, DJ Dahi and Sounwave co-produced track, XXX, also explores the albums very religious themes and gun-control, as well as being one of the few addressing a deeper perspective into the political spectrum, like a lot of his last album did.
There’s even cuts in the album, where Kendrick takes aim at Top 40 Pop radio with the Rihanna-featured, LOYALTY., which was partially produced with longtime collaborator, Terrace Martin and the Zacari-featured, LOVE. A very sing-songy record that would quite coincidentally fit well on a Rihanna album, but somehow still fits onto the album with legendary DJ, Kid Capri’s boisterous interjection of, “another world premiere!”, here and with his other great commentary really taken the album to another level too. It’s the BadBadNotGood co-production on LUST. with Kaytranada’s vocals and Kamasi Washington’s strings, that really bring the jazziness that is very reminiscent of an Outkast song, that is really a true standout on the album though of the more slow-paced or aimed at radio friendly type records.
The latter three tracks of the album though are arguably the greatest latter tracks of any album ever period though. Starting with easily not only the greatest track on the album, but possibly one of the best of his career thus far with The Alchemist-produced, FEAR. As Kendrick explores the many fears of true terror he had at three different stages of his life, ages 7, 17 and 27 respectively. The very soulful cut, helping him really paint the picture of pride and agony with such vivid storytelling that matches some of the greatest emcees ever in JAY, Scarface and Ice Cube among others. Especially the way he connects the dots from each age, leading up to age 27. That fear within each 10-year time difference, really hitting on this verse, “When I was 27, I grew accustomed to more fear. Accumulated 10 times over throughout the years. My newfound life made all of me magnified. How many accolades do I need to block denial? The shock value of my success put bolts in me. All this money, is God playin’ a joke on me?” This then perfectly segues to the Cardo-produced banger, GOD. Where Kendrick makes a trap-type joint in to an unexpected banger that he compares the sensation of success, how it feels and why he works so hard for it to, “what God feels like.” Also reminding himself and other emcees in the second verse, who refer to themselves as God, that they are really mere mortals, who God conveys his message through and therefore, it’s still God, who’s ultimately in charge. The perfect way to close out such a spiritually powerful album, Kendrick closes with the very soulful and chillingly eery, DUCKWORTH. Which is a very crazy street tale about how Kendrick’s father, Ducky worked at a local KFC and his paths coincidentally collided with TDE president, Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith’s years ago and a story you have to hear to truly believe. That ending of the album really leaving a chill in your spine to end such a very powerfully incredible album, which is easily one of the best not only Hip-Hop albums, but albums dropped period this year.