Matt Brune | Staff Writer
Seen by several as the greatest rapper of this hip-hop generation, Kendrick Lamar delivered another timeless masterpiece on the morning of Good Friday. The name of the album, “DAMN,” is his most straightforward title since 2009’s “The Kendrick Lamar EP.” But this album is anything but straightforward.
Lamar’s underlying messages and creative twists are very difficult to grasp in the first few listens.
The intro track is Kendrick at his creative peak. It lays out several of the album’s ideals and does so while making your eyes widen and jaw drop. It introduces a blind woman killing Kendrick, which shows two things. One, it shows that the choices we make all impact our future whether we know it or not, and while God has put souls in us, we all make our own decisions like Kendrick’s blind choice to help the woman.
On the other hand, the scene shows people being blind to the point where it costs someone their life. Whether it’s gang violence or the American judicial system, people can kill or incarcerate anyone in an instant.
The theme of choices is heard throughout the songs “YAH,” “FEEL,” “PRIDE” and perhaps the best in “LUST.” That song talks about wanting love, until the final verse when he brings up President Trump’s election. He raps about how angry people were and their subsequent protests, but the lust for everyday living led them to ultimately give up: “Reverting back to our daily programs, stuck in our ways. Lust.” The power and thought behind that song is incredible.
Another theme becomes prominent when the album opens with the question, “Is it wickedness?/ Is it weakness?/ You decide.” He’s letting the listener decide if his situation and the way African-Americans are treated in America is wicked and evil, or simply weakness and overreaction. Also, the wicked songs are the dark songs such as “HUMBLE,” while the weakness songs are akin to “LOVE.” One of these two themes is in every song and it shows how life can be, and has been for him, a mixture of the two.
I feel like I truly know Kendrick and how he thinks simply through his four major releases. This is another extremely introspective album where he spills out his thoughts, past and how he came to be.
The religious undertones take “DAMN” to another level. Kendrick puts his belief into the final track, “DUCKWORTH,” where he raps about God’s actions. “You take two strangers and put ‘em in random/ predicaments; give ‘em a soul/ so they can make their own choices and live with it.” This ultimately goes back to free will.
“DAMN” is also sprinkled with bible verses that complement his message, like “LUST” where he mentions James 4:4. He also alludes to various religions and their gods. It’s a deep record that causes the listener to question themselves and realize that all of this is what Kendrick has felt and will continue to feel.
Kendrick’s choice of using vocals played backwards shows another layer of creativity, and every time it happens, it’s to make us feel like we’re going back in time to revisit a point in his life. Probably the deepest track, “FEAR” rewinds back to his seven-year-old self when the only fear he had was his mother. Then he’s 17 and fears dying in Compton, listing all of the ways he could die and forcing you to feel his hopelessness. He then becomes 27, afraid of losing everything he worked for, followed by his current fears since he’s accomplished his dreams.
Songs like “FEAR,”as well as his ability to hook the listener in everything he does, separates Kendrick from any other artist.
“DUCKWORTH” rewinds the whole album after he’s “theoretically” shot in a gunfight, and ends with the beginning line. The gunfight in Compton could have the same message as the gunshot in the opening track: the kind of blindness that gets African-Americans murdered.
The only track that feels extraneous is “LOYALTY.” The message is not as strong and it felt like a reach for radio play, which was weird to hear from Kendrick. Every other song on here shows versatility and the extent of Kendrick’s talent.
The production on “DAMN” is amazing. The mid-song beat changes and additional intricacies, like on “ELEMENT,” make this listen slightly more enjoyable than his past works.
It’s no secret that “To Pimp A Butterfly” and “good kid m.A.A.d city” have been dubbed classics by the hip-hop community. With “DAMN,” Kendrick Lamar has added another classic to his already staggering discography.
Featured Image: Kendrick Lamar promotes the release of his fourth studio album. Top Dawg Entertainment.