Look, I’m not going to beat around the bush here, I think Kendrick Lamar is the greatest rapper of all time. There are plenty of reasons to take my opinion with a grain of salt. I’m a late blooming hip-hop fan in the grand scheme of things, and my lived experience is very far removed from that of the originators and legends of hip-hop history. There are so many things that I am not privy to in the hip-hop community, and I don’t claim to have any real authority on the matter at all. But based on my limited personal experience, I will proudly proclaim that I believe that Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper to ever do it. If Kendrick had stopped making music after Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, I would still entertain arguments for Kendrick in the GOAT conversation, and he only continues to get better with each of his albums. The care and attention to detail Kendrick brings to his art is absolutely wild, and you should consider yourself lucky that you’re alive to witness this genius’ work. I stan hard for Kendrick, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that DAMN. is on my list of the best albums of the year.
My eyes were glued to my phone screen as I absorbed every last bit of news about Kendrick during the three week period leading up to DAMN.’s release. Anticipation for the drop increased with each detail revealed about the project over that time. From “The Heart Part 4”, to the “HUMBLE.” video, to the reveal of the track listing, the album began to come into focus as the fuzzy shroud of mystery surrounding it was gradually wiped away. When Top Dawg Entertainment finally released DAMN. on Black Friday, fans posited theories that Kendrick was going to release a follow up album on Easter Sunday signifying his resurrection from his metaphorical death he described on the album. I think I can speak for all of us and say that we were thoroughly disappointed when there was not in fact an entire second album from Kendrick released that Easter weekend. Little did we know that Kendrick, in his never-ending brilliance, actually HAD released two albums. DAMN.’s track listing is meant to be listened to both forward and backward, and the different order of the tracks represent different narratives told through the same songs. The clues are littered all over the album, most notably in the final track, “DUCKWORTH.”, when the listener is told that “We’re gonna put it in reverse” at the opening of the song and the audible rewind of the album at its conclusion. Kendrick recently erased any possible uncertainty about the duel album theory by confirming that he would soon release a special edition, reverse track order version of DAMN.
Kendrick, you magnificent son of a gun.
Sonically, the landscape of DAMN. takes a departure from the heavily jazz-influenced To Pimp a Butterfly and opts for a more contemporary and electronic aesthetic. However, 808s and electronic sounds interact with plenty of live instrumentation, and this feels like an evolution from the sound explored on TPAB more than a rejection of it. The production is intricate and thoughtful, but it incorporates plenty of pop sensibility. “LOVE.” sounds like Kendrick’s best Drake impersonation, and “LOYALTY. (FEAT. RIHANNA.)” was destined for radio play from the start. The amount of so-called “bangers” on DAMN. far exceeds its predecessor without sacrificing the artistic and intellectual integrity of Kendrick’s discography. TPAB compelled the listener to sit and contemplate its message; DAMN. forces the listener to grapple with its message while they groove to it.
In TPAB Kendrick presented a version of himself that weathered extreme adversity and emerged with a message of hope for his community. This in addition to Kendrick’s prophetic and didactic style has earned him a reputation as an artist with high, almost superhuman moral character. DAMN. sees Kendrick wrestle with the gap between the public’s perception of him and his own. At times he embraces some of the more unsavory and unheroic aspects of his nature. His pride is on display as he says “I can’t fake humble just ‘cause your ass is insecure” and exclaims “This what God feel like.” On “XXX. (FEAT. U2.)”, he reveals his own struggle to live out the message of peace and unity he propagates at the end of TPAB on “i” and admits that he could not simply remain peaceful if anyone were to harm one of his loved ones. His claim that no one prays for him, repeated several times on the album, forces the listener to wrestle with their own perception of Kendrick. Without a doubt, he has been held to a higher standard than most because of his visibility and the messages he has promoted to this point in his career, but is that standard fair to Kendrick? For all of the comparisons of himself to God and the symbolism of him as a Christ figure in DAMN., Kendrick is only human. Can we really expect a resurrection from him? DAMN. somehow brings Kendrick back down to earth while simultaneously providing ample evidence for the argument that he’s the best hip-hop artist of all time.
Favorite Track: “FEEL.”
Favorite Lyric: “Ain’t no Black Power when your baby killed by a coward
I can’t even keep the peace, don’t you fuck with one of ours
It be murder in the street, it be bodies in the hour
Ghetto bird be on the street, paramedics on the dial
Let somebody touch my mama
Touch my sister, touch my woman
Touch my daddy, touch my niece
Touch my nephew, touch my brother
You should chip a n****, then throw the blower in his lap
Matter fact, I’m ’bout to speak at this convention
Call you back—” (“XXX. FEAT. U2”)
Time(s) of the year it could commonly be found in my headphones: April- August, December