I’ve been rocking with TDE and Kendrick Lamar since he first released Training Day and I was fully convinced by the Kendrick Lamar EP that he would be the next big thing in rap. I’ve been telling people that for years and to see it all come to fruition in GKMC was sweet, sweet vindication. The album was a classic, and easily in my top 10, maybe top 5 albums of all time. Now his follow up, To Pimp A Butterfly, while a technically and artistically perfect album, left a lot to be desired in terms of pure enjoyment and it’s a project I honestly don’t find myself revisiting often. I understood what he was doing and why he was doing it and the level of artistic sophistication he managed to cram into it’s run time was astonishing, but it was a divisive project that left a lot of people (including myself) yearning for that real raw rap. Now that he got that creatively off his chest I had a feeling that he would come back with that hard rap his fans have been asking for and once again I knew I would be vindicated by DAMN.
The production on DAMN. is just incredible. It’s a wide selection of styles that provides something for everybody, and I mean everybody. Sound wise I’d say it falls somewhere between GKMC’s conceptual brilliance and TPAB’s artistic modern jazz/rap fusion. It’s got absolute bangers in “DNA.”, “ELEMENT.”, and “HUMBLE.”; soulful instrumental cuts like “DUCKWORTH.”, “PRIDE.”, and “FEEL.”; something for the ladies (“LOYALTY.” and “LOVE.”) and even a wavy beat in “GOD.” that I’d expect to hear on a Post Malone project, not a Kendrick LP. Despite all these varied styles they still somehow manage to work together to create a cohesive listening experience; not as cohesive as his other albums, but there was a clear purpose and intention to the arrangement. Even my least favorite song off the album (and maybe any Kendrick album), “LOVE.” still has fantastic production, it just doesn’t sound like a Kendrick song and it feels out of place. He still has some of the best beat switch ups in music, with “DUCKWORTH.” and “XXX.” seamlessly utilizing three separate beats, and “DNA.” breaking down into one of the most aggressively satisfying beats I’ve ever heard Kendrick use.
“I’m willin’ to die for this shit
I done cried for this shit, might take a life for this shit
Put the Bible down and go eye for an eye for this shit
D.O.T. my enemy, won’t catch a vibe for this shit, ayy
I been stomped out in front of my mama
My daddy commissary made it to commas
Bitch, all my grandmas dead
So ain’t nobody prayin’ for me, I’m on your head”
Lyrically, I don’t think there’s a whole lot that needs to be said about Kendrick at this point. The thing that really sets him apart from his peers isn’t just his bars (he’s got plenty of those), but it’s in the depth and intricacy he layers into almost every song. This is the rawest and most aggressive I’ve ever heard him on a project; not contemplating as many larger political/social themes as on TPAB or delivering a larger connected story like on GKMC, but instead treating each song as it’s own self contained capsule. There’s a certain feeling to his music that can’t be manufactured or replicated. “DUCKWORTH.”, “XXX.”, and “FEAR.” are enough on their own to show why he’s on another level from his peers and why he’s the best rapper alive. DAMN. is Kendrick’s most contemporary and immediate album yet and the fact that he’s able to pull it off without sacrificing his artistic vision or insane attention to the detail is an accomplishment all in itself. In short, DAMN. is the embodiment of hip-hop, in every form and facet.
Have you heard DAMN.? What’d you think about it? Was it the direction you were hoping he would go after To Pimp A Butterfly? Where would you rank it against his other albums? Let me know in the comments below and be sure to leave your rating for the album.