DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar – Album Review
Kendrick Lamar’s latest album is… well it’s interesting. While Good Kid, M.A.A.D City told the story of Kendrick’s coming of age, and To Pimp a Butterfly was tied together by free jazz, soul, and themes of politics and depression, Damn (stylized as DAMN.) is seemingly less cohesive. That is not to say that the album is not cohesive. Damn is held together by just how straightforward it is. It is also held together by just how unabashedly visceral it is. The bass is heavy. The melodies are less complicated and catchier. The lyrics are direct. This album is not going for the spirituality of G.K.M.C. or the ambitious inventiveness of To Pimp a Butterfly. Damn lives up to its name in the sense that it seemingly has one main mission; and that is to make the listener say the word “damn”.
From the start of the album, Kendrick hits the listener in the face with DNA, a song characterized by heavy bass, aggressive delivery, and repetition. When executed well, these ingredients lead to sore necks and sour faces. DNA foreshadows the rest of the album by pulling no punches and letting the listener know what it is. The song fully embodies what it sets out to be. The same thing can be said for Element and Humble. These are songs that despite having motives and themes, seem to be primarily focused on hitting hard. The thing about Damn is that every song on the album seemingly hits hard to some extent. Even the deeper more introspective songs have heavy bass and more focused singular production. This isn’t a bad thing. This means where Kendrick ditches the explicit overarching narrative, he makes up for with cohesion in sound; very aggressive sound. It’s almost reminiscent of Run The Jewels.
There’s a comparison that I can’t seem to shake from my mind while listening to Damn. Damn reminds me of Kanye West’s Graduation. They are very different albums. However, they seem to be attempting to do similar things. For Kanye West, Graduation was a mainstream friendly album that didn’t lose Kanye’s soul. The album was very pop but very Kanye at the same time. Damn feels the same way. Kendrick’s latest album strikes me as a project that will get much radio play. It feels like an album that newcomers to Kendrick’s music will be able to digest easily. It feels like Kendrick Lamar is resetting the stage and feeling out the canvas in which he is going to continue to paint from. While these qualities sound like they might conflict with what makes Kendrick genuine, somehow Damn is still able to stay within the bounds of what makes Kendrick true. That is the heart and impact of what he is saying and the outgoing nature in which he says it.
The era of To Pimp a Butterfly was a deep, necessary and powerful era. That era is not being completely lost with this album. Elements of Kendrick’s delivery still remains intact. Elements of the instrumentation from To Pimp a Butterfly and Untitled Unmastered still remains intact. Good Kid M.A.A.D City’s Kendrick is just coming back to take the wheel and paint the future in this new project.
The most interesting parts of the album are the attempts at more pop-focused songs. Humble, Loyalty and XXX feel obviously aimed towards radio play and popular reception but the song “Love” is straight up kind of weird. Off the bat it feels like another attempt at a song for the radio to play but even though it has a very strong pop influence, its melodies make for possibly the most ambitious song on the album. Zacari’s chiming in combined with Kendrick’s gentle delivery makes for a dynamic that is oddly catchly.
Duckworth ends the album off beautifully. In an album filled with Kendrick Lamar spitting pure bars. The setup of Duckworth provides such a beautiful avenue for Kendrick to go off. It wraps up an album that sees Kendrick experimenting with hyperbole and over the top production and delivery. With the absence of an obvious narrative, it leaves bread crumbs for the listener to go back and attempt to listen for the deeper meaning of Damn.
Damn is an album that continues Kendrick’s musical experimentation and it does so in a bombastic fashion. It will take a while to fully digest but I suspect by the time all is said and done, we will look back at Damn as a worthy entry into Kendrick’s discography. It’s a different, aggressive, meaningful side to Kendrick’s music; however it doesn’t let commercialism get in the way of its impact and message. Damn is a damn good listen.
This piece was written by Blessing Adeoye. You can find Blessing on the internet either getting into dance battles or praising Jet Force Gemini at @blessingjr on the Twittersphere.