by Dalton Martin
WARNING: This review quotes lyrics from the album that contain strong language.
Kendrick Lamar has already earned his spot as one of the greatest rap artists of this decade with albums Good Kid, M.A.A.D City and To Pimp a Butterfly, the latter of which has become a rallying album for the Black Lives Matter movement. Where Lamar focused heavily on pushing hip-hop to the limits with his unique style and sound in his earlier albums, Lamar has dropped the heavy electronic vibes and funky basslines in DAMN. in favor of a more classic hip-hop sound that would be more fitting in the 90’s.
Where To Pimp a Butterfly ventured inside the multiple personalities and voices of Lamar, in DAMN. he explores almost everything with the same voice, opting to tackle his internal and external problems with a singular focus. This flow allows many of the tracks to mesh together, with many tracks purposefully juxtaposed to highlight the inner contradictions of Lamar. One of biggest themes of DAMN. is Lamar’s personal battle with humility with the track “LOYALTY,” likening boasting to a sign of weakness with Rihanna proclaiming “It’s so hard to be humble.” Quickly followed up by “PRIDE,” Lamar laments about almost being obligated to be prideful, saying “I can’t fake humble just ’cause your ass is insecure.” The three part personal journey is finally capped off with “HUMBLE,” having Kendrick finally proclaim “Bitch, be humble.”
While the LOYALTY/PRIDE/HUMBLE trilogy explored Kendrick’s personal battle with humility, the larger story present is the reason he feels the way he does. The opening track has him trying to help an old woman find something that is lost, only for him to be killed by the very person he is trying to help. With lines like “I feel like the whole world want me to pray for ’em/But who the fuck prayin’ for me?” it is evident Lamar feels weighed down by what society thinks and what they want him to be. With that type of influence and power given to him, it is no wonder he bounces back between prideful bravado and waning pain and suffering.
DAMN. is at its best when Kendrick delves into the philosophical spaces of the album. It admittedly lags slightly whenever the humility concept loosens, which is by no means a bad thing. “LOYALTY” and “LOVE” have all the makings of a summer hit, but at the cost of becoming a low-risk track. That being said, “LOVE” is one of my favorite songs from the album, being a tender and catchy track that flawlessly alternates between the falsettos of Zacari and Lamar proclaiming his undying feelings for his fiancée. While a nice breath of fresh air from some of the more suffocating themes, you can’t help but feel if they were included to add a bit of commercial flair to a rather philosophically inclined album.
While it will be argued where DAMN. ranks with the rest of Kendrick’s discography for months to come, this is hands-down his greatest story-driven album and feels like a complete exploration of the psyche of a man who is raised up and brought down by pride and humility. Being Kendrick Lamar, there was never any questioning about the production behind the album. The man has proven yet again why he deserves to be considered one of the greatest of not only this decade, but of all time.
Recommended if you like:
A Tribe Called Quest
All images from Tiny Mix Tapes
For those who enjoyed Kendrick Lamar’s past few albums, prepare yourself for a more nostalgic hip-hop experience that delves into a deep storyline. DAMN. is a true multifaceted masterpiece that uses contradictory dualities to explore the psyche of a man struggling with his pride. The production, lyrics, and sounds effectively make this album into a work of art. DAMN. is definitely the greatest hip-hop album released this decade so far.