One thing immediately apparent from listening to DAMN is that Kendrick Lamar has a chip on his shoulder. His demeanour on the album’s minimalistic cover and the anger in his voice on many of these tracks suggests that he has become tired and weary of the world. He may appear dejected on the cover but it sounds as if the troubles in his country and society have just added fuel to the fire. DAMN provides us with his perspective on what defines him as a person. Touching on subjects from politics to gangs to love, he was never one to pull any punches and on this album he is more defiant and confident than ever.
Sonically, he has shifted from the live instrumentation on his previous release To Pimp A Butterfly and back into the more electronically produced sounds of it’s predecessor good kid, m.A.A.d city. This might be a welcome return for the few who didn’t appreciate the more soulful approach to some of TPAB. However, the production as whole is much more minimal than good kid, m.A.A.d city, allowing his point of view to be communicated as effectively as possible over bare, yet immersive production.
Thematically Kendrick has brought something different on every release he’s had so far and this is no exception. Where his last two albums were led by narratives, DAMN is less focused on telling one story and more on individual incidents that helped define and shape him. Album closer, ‘DUCKWORTH’, is a display of storytelling at its finest over an immaculate soundscape by producer 9th Wonder. He details how the C.E.O of his record label, Anthony ‘Top Dawg’ Tiffith, almost shot his father during a robbery attempt decades before. He notes how the “greatest rapper” is here only by coincidence and reflects on the fragility of his own mortality on the album’s climax.
The reason Kendrick is so deserving of this self-appointed title is due to the density of his work. His verses are intricately written and delivered, sometimes with a touch humour, sometimes with sadness but always maintaining authenticity. His ability to use his voice as an instrument is unparalleled. He can craft enchanting hooks and then deliver the most visceral verse you’ve ever heard all on one track.
The tongue in cheek anthem, ‘HUMBLE’, stands out as the obvious lead single. He doesn’t adhere to what makes a commercial hit and still created tracks like this that transcend beyond even the Rihanna and U2 featured tracks in terms of accessibility. The latter, ‘XXX’, is unlike what you would expect from such a collaboration. Kendrick takes the helm over the album’s most abrasive beat, while Bono only appears to close the track on a smoother note, just briefly ‘gracing’ us with his presence. Unnecessary features of major artists could have been a slight detraction from the overall project, but both of these only elevate it to new heights. DAMN has Grammy’s written all over it and no doubt these two collaborators should give it the extra push it will need for the win.
This album is Kendrick’s call to arms. His way to assert his position over his peers and display his dominance in an effortless manner. He’s a master of his craft and makes each project unique and cohesive. There is no one that comes to mind that can achieve what Kendrick has. Some of the more brash lyrical content suggests that he knows this too. His call for everyone to be humble and sit down has to be obeyed when very few other rappers are capable of putting out bodies of work like this. Potential double album conspiracy theories be damned, we need nothing more than these 14 tracks to solidify that Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper of our generation.