DAMN. is an album that sees Kendrick Lamar decisively taking his throne as the king of modern rap, a position that he had previously appeared to be too timid to take on.
DAMN. features mostly reflective lyrics as Kendrick analyses himself and the way larger forces in the world operate. DAMN. touches on several issues, especially in songs like “XXX. Feat. U2” and the opening 2 tracks that include samples of the conservative FOX News criticism on his Black Lives Matter anthem “We Gon’ Be Alright” from his previous album. The news report preposterously describes Lamar and rap music in general as major contributors to racism in America. However, the album as a whole is a generally more personal offering from the Compton rapper.
The album expresses certain anxieties about his achievements, contemplating how they have impacted those around him and his relationships with them. There is a poignancy to the song “FEEL.” in which he says that there is “nobody praying for me” reinforcing his history of ambivalence in terms of his rising fame and growing critical acclaim as an artist. The song definitely describes feelings of isolation and concern over his elevated position.
The album also has tracks like “LOVE. Feat. Zachari”. The song is a much softer and more vulnerable track. While Kendrick doesn’t offer many love songs, they always go straight to the heart and this song is no exception.
Kendrick returns to a sound that is somewhat more familiar to his earlier albums, exhibiting a more stripped back sound, emphasising the vocals, lyrics and more simple beats. This is opposed to his 2015 seminal album To Pimp A Butterfly, that was heavily influenced by jazz and its fluidity of sound and style.
Some fans were apprehensive for the new album from Kendrick following the release of “HUMBLE.”, the 8th track on DAMN. The song, while succeeding in being an enthralling high energy song, also appeared confused in its message and unlike the content generally expected from Kendrick.
Many people heralded the new track as a feminist anthem as lyrics like ‘I’m so fuckin’ sick and tired of the Photoshop…, Show me somethin’ natural like ass with some stretch marks’ appeared to promote body positivity. However he also goes on to refer to women in a derogatory way, representing them in his video clip scantily clad to count his money or at the salon getting their hair done, and certainly not at his “Last Supper” of close friends.
The song also pushes the paradoxical idea that essentially everyone should but humble, except for Kendrick himself. Kendrick Lamar is one of the most talented rappers the world has ever seen, and yet it is hard to take his request for humbleness seriously when it is slotted in between verses of him describing his incredible wealth and success, going as far as to be dressed as the Pope in the video clip.
Kendrick has always been well respected because of his genuine appearance of being humble about accomplishments. His last album mediated on fame and communicated a desire to be as selfless as possible, however, the track along with the egocentric song “GOD.” makes it appear that this is no longer a priority to him.
The song placed within the context of the album reinstates an authenticity to Kendrick who, while an incredible artist, is also presented as a flawed human being. Songs like “LOYALTY. Feat. Rihanna” and “PRIDE.” shows him battling with these issues explaining that “it’s so hard to be humble” and that “pride will be the death of me.” “FEAR.” also reminds us of Lamar’s modesty as he describes the truth of his lifestyle, which doesn’t match the other boastful tracks.
The album itself shows far greater depth in Kendrick and clearly should not be judged from a single track. DAMN. as a whole is another impressive offering from Kendrick Lamar that is dynamic and successfully presents the complexity of his own psyche.
DAMN. is out now. You can stream it on Spotify or purchase it on iTunes.
You can also purchase the t-shirt that is featured in Lamar’s “HUMBLE.” video clip with the album title here (and be quick because the white version has already sold out!).