With his fourth studio album DAMN., Kendrick Lamar takes another herculean leap towards rap immortality. Whereas To Pimp A Butterfly was more politically outspoken, DAMN is more introspective, a reexamination of core values. It is Lamar amassing all his experiences and filtering it through themes. He explores everything from love and loyalty to his pursuit of greatness.
The production remains tight, a cavalry of producers who have a track record of working with dynamic lyricists help maintain a distinct atmosphere. With both ends clicking, Lamar is able to delve into ideas like never before. He is atop the world and looking down upon rap peons with contempt. It is dark and macabre, but his vision is as bright and clear as ever.
More a monologue than a straight-up rap, but effective and poignant all the same. There is an Outkast vibe that embraces the less is more style of preaching. The irony is that it is a blind woman who has the most vision, and through her eyes Kendrick begins his journey. It can be taken literally or metaphorically, a dark and cryptic trip down the rabbit hole: [LISTEN]
A menacing beat creeps slowly over the horizon, the sonic embodiment of an angry panther prowling in the night. There is no mistaking the main focus: a declaration of black pride that reaches into the DNA. The love goes back generations and the fervor in his voice suggests that he’s trying to get his brothers and sisters to follow suit. It is emotive and powerful, a combination of honor and fury: [LISTEN]
Casually swimming in thoughts and inspirations, a cool breeze that comes to him naturally. He leans back in his thinking chair, and lets his mind wander over a mellow beat. Under these conditions he sounds like a prophet drunk on the holy spirit. With nothing in his way he speaks candidly on his fears, hopes and dreams; all of which melds into a Funkadelic-like trip to his inner sanctum: [LISTEN]
Wise and vicious all in one breathe. He’s frothing at the mouth, aiming for the jugular. The beat is slow to manifest, but it matches the intensity of the hunt. There’s no let up in the assault, and only one can emerge victorious. He knows all too well what can happen when you let a flake into your circle; like a virus they can infect and destroy solidarity from within. Dr. Lamar operates: [LISTEN]
It’s lonely atop the mountain, and he’s lamenting over the lack of air. The vantage point, however, does offers up a valued perspective, one that separates him from his peers. The atmosphere is thin, and the willowy beat draws upon his heartache. He’s reaching a breaking point, and trying to release some pressure before he explodes. The price of such a gift is finally taking its toll: [LISTEN]
Love, hate, loyalty and self-assurance only capture a fraction of what makes them tick. The back and forth is easygoing as if they were born under complimentary astrological signs, two companions divulging what they think makes a relationship work. The key is understanding contradictions and how reconciling them can create peace and solidarity; coming to terms with this, no easy task: [LISTEN]
Tweaking the vocals from one verse to the next creates multiple narratives. He’s wrestling with pride, knowing that on one hand it can place you among the stars and on the other it can burn a person into ash. Navigating this dichotomy is rife with obstacles, but knowing how to balance it is what makes it all work. Once he achieves equilibrium, he’s able to move on and unthaw from the cold: [LISTEN]
Like Mike anytime he takes to the court, his opponents shiver in fright. The beat hits like an ancient war drum, creating the sensation of a thousand angry Kendricks. He’s challenging any and everybody, the media and all the sinister institutions looking to manipulate and deceive. It’s a live wire and many have already taken acceptation. A challenge that agitates as much as it inspires: [LISTEN]
Lust extends beyond the flesh, reaching into almost every facet of life. Living in excess is par for the course as far as the rap lifestyle goes, and it’s proving to be too much. It’s saturating the culture and turning a once respected platform into a carnival ride. He’s fed up and looking for a way out or at the very least a way to temper the temptation that comes with being an icon: [LISTEN]
With temptation swirling around him like dust, he takes a moment to clear the air and reminisce over the people that matter most. Clarity is what he’s searching for and connecting with an emotion like love helps ground him, reminding him of why he decided to pick up the mic in the first place. It’s a humble ode to a very simple idea, yet hard to execute considering the nonsense around him: [LISTEN]
From 0 to 100 in a matter of seconds, a lightening bolt that splits the continent in half. The anger and frustration spout out like a geyser, spewing the fury of a nation upon governments worldwide. By the time the alarm sounds it’s already too late; the angry mob has stormed the castle guns drawn. There’s no stopping the tidal wave, the people have come and are demanding retribution: [LISTEN]
Rage, hate and anger are all derived from fear. For Kendrick it is the genesis of all things evil, and a disease that grows stronger everyday. It infects all those who come into contact with it, demoralizing both the victim and perpetrator. It is the lowest rung of hell and he’s trying to crawl out of it. But before he can, he has to understand and recognize it when it manifests: [LISTEN]
Transcending to new heights, a piece that analyzes his rise to superstardom. A statement like this can come off as sacrilegious or at the very least ego-maniacal, but the previous songs explain how this transformation came to be. Rising from harrowing circumstances and navigating a world where he is constantly hunted are the reasons why he had to dig deep and find his inner god: [LISTEN]
Another brick falls into place in the story of Kendrick Lamar. It’s cinematic in a way, a tale that could have ended in tragedy. Life is fickle and success is a prize that few can indulge in. Analyzing what could have been puts his work into sharp focus, as if he was preordained to become a superstar. Dodging death and making the best out of life is what gives him that razor sharp edge: [LISTEN]