Over the past five years no rapper has been as widely successful as Kendrick Lamar. Good Kid, M.A.A.D City was a massive breakout, officially putting Compton back on the map.

To Pimp a Butterfly defied conventional thinking and reminded die-hard fans that hip-hop was not only alive and well but thriving.

And then DAMN., a thorough self-examination that propelled Kendrick Lamar into another strata of stardom.

For Kendrick the journey has been long and taxing. Every step of the way he’s had to dodge the hype beast, the three headed monster (money, fame and power) that has consumed countless lyricists before him.

Instead of bowing before it Kendrick took the alternative route; he embraced his own perspective, exploring his place in the pop spectrum and how it applied to the world at large. Politics, social injustice and a mercurial rap landscape has served as inspiration.

But it’s been his ability to rise above it and view those tropes through a more refined lens that has separated him from the pack; the ability to take the everyday and transform it into something wholly abstract yet still within grasp is a talent that only comes around once in a generation.

DAMN. is a lesson in duality. On one hand his dreams have come true, even legends are acknowledging his place in rap lore. But on the other hand the nightmare of being a black man in America is still going on, maybe even more sickening from his new vantage point.

He has so much and every bit of it is earned, but his neighbors, brothers and sisters are still being slaughtered and crippled by abject poverty. It’s enough to bury the average man, but Kendrick has utilized the dichotomy as a way to strike a balance in his life.

According to Kendrick the track list for DAMN. could be played front to back or in reverse order, which is a testament to the complete nature of the album. The first song (not including the opening interlude) “DNA” is exactly what the title implies. It is an examination of his true nature, the biological makeup of a man on the rise.

He acknowledges the royal blood coursing through his veins, but he also takes note of his close proximity to death and mayhem. Stuck in between both worlds, he’s searching for equilibrium, balance that’ll help bring order to chaos.

It’s a lesson for those who don’t take time to examine their own existence; that if you don’t think about who you are and where you’re from your self-worth will suddenly be up for grabs. For Kendrick maintaining his identity and his core values are essential elements in his success: [LISTEN]

On the other end of the spectrum, “DUCKWORTH” is a more straight forward narrative. It’s about the decisions a person makes and how one seemingly innocuous move can change the course of a person’s life forever. It’s about how his father and future CEO of Top Dawg Anthony Tiffith crossed paths years ago, and how the outcome could have ended in disaster.

But it didn’t and they both thrived, and Kendrick is now a world renowned megastar. The song helps listeners understand the nature of consequence and how every move no matter how small is a step towards a destination unknown, so choose wisely: [LISTEN]

All throughout DAMN. are detailed chapters of Kendrick Lamar’s life — everything from his commitment to his wife (“LOVE.“) and need to stay grounded (“HUMBLE.“) to his goals and ambitions (“ELEMENT.“). The difference is that he’s a skilled enough writer to where he can see both sides, how pride can lead to positive self-worth but can also be the seeds to a person’s downfall.

In “GOD.” he talks about confidence and how easily it can turn into arrogance. Without balance a person is subject to extremes which is not something Kendrick Lamar can afford to get caught up in. In many ways he’s being hunted (the headlines on police brutality will testify to that), and he needs to have a clear point of view as to avoid all the pitfalls that lie before him.

For Kendrick DAMN. is an album of necessity; a project made for his own sanity than anything else. It’s been a whirlwind and the accolades are continuing to pour in. But he knows that the same people that praise and love him one moment will kick him while he’s down the next.

An album like DAMN. helped center him and provide clarity on the topics that he feels is most pertinent in his life. The ability to delve deep within your own psyche and yet still be able to display it in a creative and at times groundbreaking manner is a testament to Kendrick Lamar’s greatness.

The world is in flux, and we’re treading dangerous waters. False prophets around every corner. An artist like Kendrick Lamar reminds us that it’s okay to pause and take note of what you’re feeling, what you’re thinking. With an honest assessment a person can then recalibrate their perspective to achieve balance.

Kendrick Lamar is a voice of a generation, not only for Black America but for all those looking to liberate themselves from oppression and persecution.