DAMN. is a thoughtful, honest and passionate exploration into Kendrick Lamar’s mind. A collection of tracks that listen as if they were entries into a diary, Lamar’s fourth studio album is his most moving and personal endeavour yet.
Although it’s sonically strong throughout, the topics and themes he divulges in are really where this piece of work comes into fruition. Musically this is Kung Fu Kenny at his least cohesive; the mood takes a number of deliberate swings from song to song, remoulding his sound with it. Sweet, optimistic and light cuts such as ‘LOYALTY’ and ‘LOVE’ are almost satirical at times, juxtaposing with much darker and morbid tracks ‘FEAR’ and ‘XXX’. This is the Compton rapper detailing his own internal struggles with the bi-polar sonic tone a deliberately confusing one.
‘ELEMENT’ and ‘FEEL’ perfectly encapsulate all of this, the former is Lamar brimming with confidence. He repeats the proclamation “I don’t give a f**k” before the intro builds with a raising piano riff, before crisp snares and rattling hi-hats set a brisk tempo. Riding the beat effortlessly, he spits in a braggadocios manner about his past gangster lifestyle in Compton and light heartedly throws shade on those who don’t share a similar background. The chorus is again very tongue in cheek, claiming he can take these illicit subjects and “make it look sexy”.
‘FEEL’, on the other hand, is mellower in its production; the minimalism in the instrumentation brings Kendrick to the forefront, encouraging his audience to hang on every word as he admits to insecurities and anxieties. Showing a vulnerability previously unseen, the rapper discloses the pressure he feels in his figurehead role in the movement for fairer treatment of blacks in America; a status inadvertently established by himself in To Pimp A Butterfly (TPAB). Seeing the lack of progress after the extensive efforts on that release, it’s easy to understand his disappointment and hopelessness. These tracks are conjoined through the lyrics “Ain’t nobody praying for me” and “What happens on earth stays on earth” flipped on their head from a bold, laissez-faire tone to that of defeatism and depression. Other track pairings PRIDE/HUMBLE and LUST/LOVE continue to convey a personal battle and providing a wide window into Kendrick’s psyche.
In a hip-hop landscape consistently criticised for its one dimensional, uninspired and basic nature, for a third consecutive time Lamar has manufactured an LP that has layers, forcing all caring listeners to invest emotionally. There were whispers of G.O.A.T after TPAB but the 29-year-old did not yet have a large enough body of work to be considered amongst the greats. But after an incredible debut, two certified classics and now one in the making – it’d be foolish to not put Kendrick with some colossal company at the very top of the rap pile.