Many know Kendrick Lamar as a fantastic concept artist, able to weave narratives with fantastic beats to create meaningful and fun albums. DAMN, Lamar’s 4th album, is a breath of fresh air that continues to break ground in storytelling.
2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly was heavily layered with jazzy instrumentals and complex storytelling. If TPAB was a grand, political and spoken-word/rap odyssey, DAMN is a conventional but rich rap album. It is not as sonically or topically cohesive as his previous work. However, it seems more fun and relaxed, despite the subject matter is still very serious.
Songs such as the punchy “DNA” and the even more political “XXX” are classic Kendrick, but “HUMBLE” comes out strong as a certified “banger.” A U2 feature would seem out of place, but this along with features from Rihanna and Zacari mesh well and add to their respective tracks.
Kendrick’s, or “Kung-Fu Kenny’s,” subjectivity is on full display on this album. While the songs may be more fun and “punchy” than TPAB, the concept and “storyline” for this record seems to be more morose. At its core, it is the default “rap” storyline with its tropes of rising up from poverty to a place of power and respect. This becomes clear on the song “DUCKWORTH,” where Kendrick remarks on the complexities and coincidences of life. His father, “Ducky”, worked at a KFC and his current record label manager, “Anthony,” had a run in of grave implications.
“If Anthony killed Ducky/ Top Dawg could be servin’ life/ while I grew up without a father and die in a gunfight.” As Kendrick remarks earlier on the track, “Life is one funny mother****.”
The album ends with a gunshot, and this serves as a stark reminder of all the “Kendricks” that could have been; the people that did end up dying through coincidence. This ending leaves listeners with a satisfying conclusion but leaves them thinking, as it rewinds to the intro track “BLOOD.”
Ultimately, this album is already one of the year’s best as it grips listener’s attention and provides powerful and rich tracks about Kendrick’s idea of the human condition.