Kendrick Lamar - DAMN. (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope) 2017
There is an intimidating aura surrounding Kendrick Lamar – the erstwhile Kung Fu Kenny; his last album To Pimp A Butterfly succeeded in not only capturing a weird and conscientious zeitgeist, it also became the defining soundtrack of a particularly ugly period in America’s history. Along the same lines as Bob Dylan during L B Johnsons reign, Lamar became the voice of the Black Lives Matter generation, the disassociated African American population – both the layman and the celebrities of colour, all grasped and held it in stupefying and lofty heights of praise. It wasn’tjust an album anymore, it became a slice of history. So, with whispers coming fast and furious about his new release being ready to drop – both the music industry and fans who had followed his every move since good kid, m.A.A.d city held their breath eagerly awaiting to find out what new cut would be. I confess, I was one of them and I was not disappointed, however I was surprised by it. Very, very surprised.
DAMN. is a very different beast compared to To Pimp A Butterfly. Butterfly… was a jazz infused, poetic album of tactical lyrical precision, while DAMN. is a lot more scattershot, a lot more organic, a rougher, rawer release. Don’t think for a second though that Kung Fu Kenny has lost his edge, his razorsharp delivery is still there – in fact – it’s clearer than ever, it’s more versatile, it’s more contemplative, more thoughtful but no less abrasive and penetrating. This is a man who isn’t scared of any topic, any subject matter. A man not scared to turn his magnifying glass from the outside inward and explore his own demons and struggles.
DAMN. is a revelation of ideas, function and form. This is an album of a man who has been turned into this messianic figure by his fanbase and followers and now has no idea who or what he is supposed to be, an intricate, explorative and forensic disassembling of the man, by the man, to find out what kind of man he really is. It’s fascinating, daunting and bleak – in the most extraordinarily optimistic ways – an album of songs, rather than singles. An album of ideas and introspective thoughts rather than retrospective views. The tracks in bold capitals as statements of his point by point manifesto – his treatise on who Kendrick Lamar is, was and will be from this point forward.
After he systematically kills his ego with opening track “BLOOD” – any ideas of who Kendrick was before this album is dead with the solitary gunshot that follows his good deed – the album cascades into the first track proper – “DNA” – which is a recipe of what makes him who he is – “I got, I got, I got… Loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA… I got millions, I got riches buildin’ in my DNA… I got dark, I got evil, that rot inside my DNA…” he gives a roll out of facts of his idealistic view of what makes a king, not just a celebrity. Much like his poem “NEGUS” at the end of “i” on To Pimp A Butterfly, this is his examination of the heritage of his colour, and a bold statement to an entire population to rise above and to remember they are better than the treatment they have survived.
He never tries to inflame the feeling of disassociation, of detachment and of solitude. He tries to positively highlight the importance of ownership of the idea of self, and self-awareness, of taking responsibility for an idea, thought and action.
DAMN. is great. A solid, near perfect album. It challenges, it questions and it pushes boundaries. Where Butterfly… was a bold musical and lyrical exploration, DAMN. is a reaction to the former, and a treatise on letting your reputation run away with itself. His tongue is firmly in his cheek in “HUMBLE.”, but don’t think for a second he doesn’t know how important he is right now.
King Kendrick is back, and he is as bold, brilliant and effective as ever. This is an album to pour over for months – if not years – to come, and it is a touch paper lit under the ass of hip hop by the master and commander. Long live King Kunta.