MY THOUGHTS ON – DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar

Always start your day with Lil’ B – Anyway, I’m gonna start trying to simply gather my thoughts over an album and type them out to you guys. This isn’t a “review” necessarily or a “summary” or anything seemingly professional. These are just gonna be the thoughts and words of an average, Caucasian male who studies listens to hip-hop music. Enjoy.

Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper alive. This new album solidified that for me. I was never a huge “stan” of the Compton artist, but I was always able to recognize his consistency and ability to experiment. Section 80 was filled classics for his newly found cult following and showed off a remarkable flow and knack for story telling. We saw the same flow and story telling evolve in his next album Good Kid, M.a.a.d City where the story became much more personal and adventurous. To Pimp a Butterfly exemplified that story telling in a frame that is bigger than Kendrick, himself. He forced himself to make an album that would be hailed as “classic” or “legendary” and somewhat succeeded, in a traditional sense.  But this is about DAMN.

DAMN. is a whirlpool of an album. Just a day after the release, fans and twitter accounts alike discuss the “concepts” Kung Fu Kenny is subliminally trying to get across while others are harboring theories of another album to come based off his producers’ tweets. While I’m not too interested in underlying passages or teasing the idea of more music to come, the album itself is damn near impeccable. It kicks off with some angelic vocals and Kendrick’s prelude to the album where he describes seeing a lady struggling to, what he seems to think, locate lost items in which he offers to help her find them/it, but the confused lady replies that Kendrick was the one who had lost something. And as soon as you feel you’ve caught on, a gunshot rings throughout the song, and we realize that she believes Kendrick has lost his life. This is where a lot of “concepts” for the album arise and the album is being told as a “flashback” through his life. Then the album really gets started as one of the greatest rap songs I’ve ever heard begins. DNA displays the ability Kung Fu Kenny has to make tracks suitable for bass rattling shenanigans and as aggressive the song seems to start, it only gets angrier as the beat switches and we’re met with a Kanye-esque sample pattern with drums that could knock out your teeth and Kendrick begins to rap like his vocals could tear down a wall. Songs like this really remind me of the place Kendrick comes from and how that will always stay with him when he adds lines like

You ain’t shit without a body on your belt
You ain’t shit without a ticket on your plate

because I feel like we, as fans, hold artists like Kendrick in a bubble above all else. When, in actuality, this guy grew up in the city of Compton and as much as he wants to bring change to it and the rap game, itself, worldly rules still apply.

That theme runs into the next song YAH. where he gracefully starts the track by explaining he’s been “diagnosed with real n*gga conditions” and “today is the day I follow that intuition” further detailing the burden that comes with death.  Kendrick crafted a wonderfully catchy and solemn track in YAH and even addresses the attack from Fox News on his music. Next, ELEMENT. is another outstanding track where we find Kendrick being a bit more violent than expected. On this track, we find Kung Fu Kenny bearing his soul and explaining the emotions and feelings he’s shared and sacrificed for his music and how he’s willing to “put the Bible down and go eye-for-eye” for his life of music. Tracing back to his roots in Compton, he isn’t afraid of having to “slap a pussy-ass n*gga” but in fear of losing the spot & glamour he’s earned to this day, he’s going to “make it look sexy” for everyone who is watching. I think it’s really intriguing to hold violence in this type of light without losing any qualities of being “gangster” and Kendrick might be one of the few artists who are able to do this.

FEEL. is a deeply personal, almost cathartic track from Kendrick where he catalogs the feelings he’s dealing with amongst all the fame he has garnered.  He feels he has become a monolith in hip-hop, which has elicited paranoia, isolation, depression, etc. to the point he thinks nobody out there is concerned for his well-being, but rather than the art he makes.  I can imagine that being a troubling place and a struggle for any human being to go through. But quickly transitioning to LOYALTY. where we are met with a collaboration from Rihanna who adds a tasteful element of pop to the album and serves a somewhat impressive rap verse, as well. It doesn’t take a visit to to figure out the song is filled with Kendrick questioning what others are loyal to and ends with Kendrick confirming his beliefs and loyalty to God. Something to add is that it seems like Kung Fu Kenny has been meditating quite often as this song is the second time he’s mentioned the act (Once before in DNA).

PRIDE. is one of my favorite songs off the album. You can refer to my article on Steve Lacy as to what type of genius went on behind the scenes, but this songs is reminiscent of something I’d hear Tame Impala or Pink Floyd try to pull of. The hook is perfectly haunting, emulating the battle Kendrick endures in his mind questioning whether or not he was truly there in this mystery of a scenario. This four minute track seems to sweep by as quickly as it sounds light. We’re abruptly awoken from the dream that is PRIDE. by the hollow keys and solid drums of HUMBLE, which was released as the single of this album. This end up being one of the weaker tracks for me, but I love the lines at the end of this song where Kendrick says:

Watch my soul speak, you let the meds talk, ayy
If I kill a nigga, it won’t be the alcohol, ayy
I’m the realest nigga after all, bitch, be humble

Which FURTHER pushes the theme of Death throughout this album and I like how Kendrick goes on to say if he were to kill someone, it wouldn’t be because of other substances, but the calm, calculated mind of sober Kung Fu Kenny backed behind real emotion.

LUST. is another solid, psychedelic type song with production from BADBADNOTGOOD. It’s pretty amazing to think BBNG got their start by covering songs made by Tyler, The Creator on YouTube. Anyway, as much as I find humor in hearing “Let me put the head in” on this track, I feel like it deteriorates the replay value this song has. Nonetheless, Kendrick continues his album with LUST and croons over a woman on the hook, but his verses contain his definition of the word. He talks about the average things a person might struggle with daily – succumbing to laziness, splurging on accessories, or scrutinizing authority – and although things like this lead and excite our lives, sticking to the same, ol’ routine is how Kendrick views LUST. But she said it’s Okay. It only makes sense to put LOVE. after LUST. and as soon as the track begins, we’re hit some truly angelic vocals from Zacari. This track has a pretty straight-forward message from Kendrick where he is caught in what may be every celebrity’s dilemma: whether or not the woman he’s dedicated to truly loves him for his character or his possessions. Perhaps one of the weaker songs on the album, aside from the beautiful hook tailored by Zacari and the catchy bridge into it from Kendrick.

If didn’t ride blade on curb, would you still (love me?)
If I minimize my net worth, would you still (love me?)
Keep it a hundred, I’d rather you trust me than to (love me)
Keep it a whole one hund’: don’t got you, I got nothin’

XXX. was definitely the track that initially caught my eye because of the U2 feature, but this ended up being a pretty enjoyable track. Of course, by the time I got to it on the album, I had nothing but high hopes for all of the songs. This song continues the theme of a violent Kung Fu Kenny who now has to help a close associate struggle over the loss of his own son. Kendrick gives his account of what he would do if someone did that his own son–or any of his family members–and goes onto describe the actions he would take like “chippin a n*gga” and “throwing the burner in his lap”. During the middle of the song, amongst the sirens and quick drums, Kendrick reveals he’s about to give a lecture at a convention and as the song grows somber, he proceeds to deliver his political views through his “lecture” starting with:

Hail Mary, Jesus and Joseph
The great American flag
Is wrapped and dragged with explosives

He goes on to speak about Wall Street, Trump, Obama, Fox News, Gangs, and America as a whole, in this brief second verse. This is truly an engaging verse and a great transition into the next track.

This is the section of the album that becomes very “heavy” and can get lost in translation. Kendrick packs these last three tracks with what seems like every thought from the folds of his brain. On FEAR. he describes the abuse he saw as a child by relaying the first verse from the perspective of his mother, while also detailing the struggles she was dealing with. Kendrick, someone who doesn’t smoke, tells us if he could roll fear up in a joint and smoke it just to erase what once was while simultaneously numbing himself to it, he would. The second verse goes on to describe his fear of death.  Kendrick gives us all these scenarios in which he could lose his life–at a party, buying weed, settling arguments, or from police brutality–and at the end of the verse, he reveals these were his struggles at the ripe age of 17. On the third verse, he gives a more immediate perspective, giving descriptions of losing all his newly found riches and success when he’s 27. I like to associate this fear with the myth of the “27 Club” but he gives an account of much more rational worries and even gives parallel to the situation Rihanna recently with through with her accountant. The fourth verse, I assume, are his current fears in which he describes losing a number of things that all happen to be the song titles to this album. The line “What happens on Earth, stays on Earth” is something to note, as well. Apparently it’s written on the physical album cover.

GOD. is a song I struggle to enjoy, simply because of the hook. I’m not sure if it’s an ode to Chief Keef, but it definitely does not exude the same type of charisma. And although this song has Cardo, Sounwave, and DJ Dahi behind the production, it still doesn’t quite sell me on what sounds like a crowded track. I can appreciate the ego behind it, but it definitely comes off as one of the weaker tracks for me. There really isn’t even a whole lot I’d like to get into on this one besides the apparent ode to Chief Sosa. But on DUCKWORTH. he gives us some rap-classic storytelling. Something to note, real quick: on the leaked version of the album, he says “GOD* is one funny mothaf*cka” opposed to saying LIFE*, so I thought that was an interesting change. Anyway, in this song, he begins to the detail the life of a young man by the name of Anthony who has the same hardships most kids do his age and in his location. He doesn’t have much for role models and parental figures, in his life and he goes down the path of slanging and banging. Anthony was going to take his no-good shenanigans to his local KFC manned by a cashier whose life Kendrick also goes on to describe. The cashier, named Ducky, is aware of the shenanigans Anthony pulls and when confronted, he gives him free chicken and extra biscuits to avoid any dilemmas. Ducky knows Anthony had shot someone who worked there before. Anthony quickly realizes “Hey, why kill this guy who’s giving me free chicken?” Turns out Ducky was Kendrick’s father and Anthony is the CEO of Top Dawg Entertainment. and if Anthony would have pulled the trigger on Ducky:

Top Dawg could be servin’ life
While I grew up without a father and die in a gunfight

After I read/listened to that, it was apparent the type of MC Kendrick Lamar was. He is simply one who could do it all. On this album alone he delivered #dingers like DNA, melodic hooks like YAH, psychedelia on PRIDE, accessibility on LOVE, introspection on FEAR, story-telling on DUCKWORTH etc. all while sticking to his roots and never seeming out of place to begin with. Granted, there is plenty of room in the genre for argument of who’s better. But I would never be as inspired by the Playboi Carti album, which is great in itself, to write this much in just a matter of days after the release. This album single-handily solidified Kendrick as the greatest rapper alive, today.



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