Hear ye, hear ye! King Kendrick has returned. Just when you think Kendrick Lamar can’t get any better, he manages to supersede expectations yet again. In his April release “DAMN.,” through Top Dawg Entertainment and Aftermath/Interscope, Kung Fu Kenny puts his storyteller hat back on as he reflects on his life, family and his career as a rapper.
The album begins with “BLOOD.”, a track which serves as an opening monologue about life and death, setting the tone for the rest of the album. In this track, Kendrick poses the crucial question “Is it wickedness/ Is it weakness?/You decide/Are we gonna live or die?” Throughout the album he alternates between being both wicked and weak. In doing so, Kendrick puts his listeners on a roller coaster of emotions.
On the album’s second track, “DNA.,” Kendrick is in full wickedness mode. In this anthem, Kung Fu Kenny raps with pride about the literal and figurative traits in his DNA over a boastful beat produced by Mike WiLL Made-It. He exclaims, “I got power, poison, pain, and joy inside my DNA/I got hustle though, ambition, flow, inside my DNA.” Kendrick manages to be simultaneously confident and insecure as he acknowledges the positive attributes and the shortcomings of his African DNA.
Kendrick is known for incorporating religious themes in his music as a means to tell his stories and “DAMN.” is full of them. In “FEAR.,” Kendrick expresses himself with tones of weakness. He recites the lines, “Why God, why God do I gotta suffer?/Pain in my heart carry burdens full of the struggle.” Kendrick alters his voice to create a deep, melancholic tone that exemplifies the pain he discusses. While incorporating religious themes, “FEAR.” is an 8-minute track in which Kendrick manages to split the three verses into three stages of his life.
The first verse starts with him reciting things he heard in his childhood, while in the second, Kendrick raps about his adolescence. “I’ll prolly die anonymous/I’ll prolly die with promises/I’ll prolly die walkin’ back home from the candy house/I’ll prolly die because these colors are standin’ out.,” he mutters. In the final verse, Kendrick raps about the struggles he encounters as a rap artist. He says, “At 27 years old, my biggest fear was bein’ judged/How they look at me reflect on myself, my family, my city/What they say about me reveal/If my reputation would miss me.” Kendrick reminds us that, despite his fame, he is still human with flaws and all.
Unlike his last album “To Pimp A Butterfly,” which had eight featured artists, “DAMN.” only has three. “DAMN.” has guest appearances from Rihanna, U2 and Zacari. This may not seem like a lot, but Kendrick has mastered the concept of quality over quantity for this album.
“DAMN.” is a brutally honest and open listen that carries a sense of urgency in today’s hip-hop.