Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.” barrages the listener with hard-hitting lyrics and no time spared. This is one of Lamar’s shortest albums, with each track centralized around the lyrics rather than the beat. This opposes the traditional view on Lamar as an artist who writes deep-thinking “bangerz” without stripping-back the beat, making the tracks enjoyable on a passing-listen and on in-depth analysis.
Although more commercial than its predecessor, “DAMN.” just creeps out of the speakers with a mid-tempo flow gumming up the majority of the album. He says what he needs to say, clearly and without distraction, so that he can move on to the next track.
This isn’t to say the album doesn’t have a few “bangerz.” The teaser track for the album, “HUMBLE,” singlehandedly made most everyone think the whole album was going to be just as crazy.
“DNA” also was an intense track, sampling a part of Fox’s analysis of Kendrick’s BET performance bridging into a bombastic second verse. The majority of the album was a daunting listen, however. Just about any lyric you pull out and examine has layers of meaning ascribed to it.
I don’t know how long it would’ve taken me to digest the album and review it without being able to read the lyrics online. The tracks require a bit of study to really appreciate, especially “FEEL” and “PRIDE.”
“PRIDE” put a whole new spin on the following banger, “HUMBLE.” As a single, “HUMBLE” seemed as though it were an attack on someone else but within the context of the album it becomes clear that “HUMBLE” is an inward assault.
Pride is one of the seven deadly sins and Kendrick’s one of the best rappers alive, so recognizing his pride and addressing it is a challenge. Ironically, the track about pride is mellow and introspective, using vocal pitch variations to underline the contrast between his ideal of humility (high) and his action of pride(low). This leads right into the concept theory that stuck with me. It begins with the first couple verses of the LP asking three simple questions; “Is it wickedness?” “Is it weakness?” and “Are you going to live or die?”
Do you choose wickedness (pride) or do you choose weakness (humility)? Also, notice how the order is wickedness and live or weakness and die.
Lamar describes the way he grew up with a character named Little Johnny. In Little Johnny’s world, all the successful people around him are rappers or gangsters who appropriate violence as the key to survival. Hence, wickedness is the only way to do away with weakness, to survive and succeed.
Lamar pulls this into his current rap career, addressing the juxtaposition of being a social justice rapper while also rapping about wicked things like murder and treating women like dirt. This helps to explain the musical direction he chose on “DAMN.”
He’s perhaps trying to lessen himself by retreating from success and revealing himself to the world through these internal struggles. Or perhaps he’s frustrated with the lack of reciprocity he has received for his social commentary, as he continually mentions throughout the album that “nobody is praying for me.”
“DAMN.” has taken flack for some of the experimental choruses and even some of the less experimental tracks like the radio-friendly “LOVE,” but I found each track enjoyable and pivotal in progressing the overall arch of the album. I rate “DAMN.” as an A- album.
Published in The Stallion on April 18, 2017.
|What I’m looking for.||Score (0-10)||Examples of Scoring|
|Innovation||6||10- Creates entire genre.
8- Creates a new niche or sub-genre
6-pushes current genres limits
4- pushes their own limits
|Uniqueness (of either artist or album)||8||10-Never before seen (has influences still)
8-More than 3 unique qualities including sound, person, story, ect.
6- 2 unique qualities
4-1 unique qualities
2-Lowest possible score because everyone is unique :^)
|Production||9||10- Perfect Balance
5- Over-produced more than not (or even under produced)
0- Sounds horrible
|Theme||9||10-powerful theme throughout
5-theme but kinda sucks
0-no theme or organization
|Length/Flow||8||10-Songs reinforce each other, album isn’t hard to listen to, and the transitions are smooth/appropriate
5- 2 of those thing
0-none of these things
|Personal Enjoyment||7||10-peak enjoyment
1-Couldn’t hate album more