Kendrick Lamar has been a force of non-stop consistency ever since he burst onto the scene in late 2009 with The Kendrick Lamar EP. His growth as an artist has been incredible and his subject matter is something so deep, yet so well put together. The context of his last LP To Pimp a Butterfly was about the loss of innocence, the black community, and racial issues. It was a sprawling masterpiece from top to bottom and has been hailed as one of the greatest albums of all time (it’s well deserved.) His newest project DAMN. sees a change in this storytelling technique that he’s kept consistent throughout his two major label records, instead, he opts for a more fractured approach to telling the message of the album, if there’s even one that can be decoded.
First things first, the sound of the album is his most accessible since GKMC, but never feels like a commercialized radio grab. It’s hypnotic, intense, and above all enjoyable to listen to. The fourteen tracks presented on this album are some of his deepest and heaviest themes yet, and they really seem to have been cultivated from a darker part of Kendrick’s psyche, which is something we’ve only glimpsed compared to this album’s gravitas. Where the album shines, it also stumbles as well. These deep themes and stories he tells really have little connection to any sort of cohesive story in the album’s context, in fact, it feels like each track is its own separate story with the album’s beginning and very end having the only recognizable connective thread.
Production on this album is stellar per usual and sounds nothing like any previous record he’s ever made. That’s what’s so refreshing about Kendrick Lamar, his sound is consistently changing and taking risks that work to his benefit. DAMN. would be safe to say Kendrick’s rock album. On a surface level that statement sounds blasphemous, but if you look at nearly every song, there are some kinds of guitar present on it (not to mention there were eight different guitarists recruited for this album.) Songs like “DNA.” and “HUMBLE.” are sure-fire radio hits, but never feel like they’re reaching for radio status. “PRIDE.” and “FEAR.” are some of his most gut-wrenching tracks and paint a story you can’t help but feel for. The U2 collaboration on “XXX.” seemed like a disaster waiting to happen, but thankfully it’s one of the best tracks on the album, complete with a great section of song’s three sections by U2. “LOYALTY. (FEAT. RIHANNA.)” has one of the most hypnotic beat and choruses I’ve heard this year, and for sure sounds like it’ll be playing throughout the summer nearly everywhere.
The album is incredibly well done, and some of his best work. It’s not his most politically charged, but definitely one of his most religiously charged albums, and it certainly gets points for that. At first glance, it may not feel as cohesive and realized as TPAB, but the sound of the albums are different. This will probably be hailed as his most popular listen to date since it forgoes all the jazz and funk sounds that made TPAB and untitled unmastered, not as accessible to nearly everyone. It’s a great album but not a masterpiece. But compare this album to any other rapper and you’ll realize why Kendrick is probably one of the best rappers of all time. Yeah… I said it. It’s true.