Final Rating 9/10
After much anticipation, and what seems like an eternity of waiting, he’s back. DAMN dropped early on Friday, April 14th and fans around the world took to their streaming services to dissect Kendrick Lamar’s 4th studio album like a musical puzzle. Following his Grammy-nominated, To Pimp and Butterfly and last year’s untitled unmastered, there was much public speculation on what he had to bring to the table next.
His previous work has led the artist to be recognized not only for his artistry in the music community, but for his advocacy on political and social issues, particularly surrounding Black Lives Matter, and police brutality in the States. From the very first track, “BLOOD”, the social and political rhetoric is clear, however throughout the album we begin to understand that this piece of work is much more introspective than ever before. In “BLOOD”, he tells a short story about trying to help a blind woman who seems to be confused, only to be shot following her telling him that he’s lost his life. He later uses a sample from a Fox News broadcast, where two reporters seem to be taken aback by his lyric “And we hate the popo, wanna kill us in the street fo sho”, to which the female reporter replies “ugh, I don’t like it”.
The album continues with “DNA”, a song that boasts his life accomplishments to date, revealing a great amount of pride he carries in himself. He makes comparisons to Jesus, being born out of “immaculate conception”, and boasts other traits that set the tone for the rest of the album’s tracks with themes such as loyalty, pride, and faith.
In “YAH”, we hear ambient, synth chords that serve as a foundation for the laid-back vibe of the song. He makes another reference here to Fox News, rapping that, “Interviews wanna know my thoughts and opinions/ Fox News wanna use my name for percentage”. At this point it’s pretty clear he has some issues with the news platform.
The album moves forward with the track, “ELEMENT” which was composed with the help of James Blake, the British singer/songwriter/producer. This is one of my favourites on the album, as it has a super catchy chorus and sharp lines throughout the track. Another favourite would be “LOYALTY”, which features the signature drowsiness of Rihanna’s vocals throughout song. The collaboration and catchiness together really make a recipe for a summer hit. You could say the same for “LOVE” which features the very Bieber-esque vocals of Zacari. This song is really pretty, easy to listen to, and simple—coming down to the painfully and easy-to-relate-to hook, “I wanna be with you”. It definitely shows the artist’s versatility in his approach to music.
The album ends with the track “DUCKWORTH”, which tells a story of how Kendrick ended up getting signed, which came from a coincidental relationship between his father (“Ducky”) and his the man who signed him to his label (“Top Dawg”). This story kind of brings the whole album together, ending with a reverse sequence of the songs featured on the album, right to back to his first tale featured on “BLOOD”. The song itself is a really clever way of ending off, summing all of these thoughts he put forward throughout the album with his line,
“Whoever thought the greatest rapper would be from coincidence/Because if Anthony killed Ducky, Top Dawg could be servin’ life /While I grew up without a father and die in a gunfight”.
Overall, it’s pretty clear that Kendrick has struck listeners with another genius piece of work. To me, it seems like every second is carefully thought out—not one second of the time you take listening to this is wasted. It features ambient backing, a lot of jazz influence, impeccable collaboration (including the help of Toronto’s own BADBADNOTGOOD on “LUST”) and off-the charts storytelling throughout the album. Kendrick’s creativity is undeniable, a compilation of songs focusing on introspective thought, inner struggle and innovative musical elements.