Following up a Grammy-winning, critically-acclaimed rap album with another classic is an extremely tough task, but with the release of his fourth album, DAMN, Kendrick Lamar did just that.
After breaking ground with his first album, Section 8.0, Kendrick cemented his place as an elite rapper with the legendary album Good Kid, M.A.A.D City in late 2012. In early 2015, he released To Pimp a Butterfly – an album that many people consider one of the best in rap history, and critics thought there was no way he could bounce back with an album nearly as good.
After Kendrick released the loose track “The Heart Part IV” to generate some hype, he released a single from the album, “HUMBLE”, through an incredible video that stacked the excitement for his new album. “HUMBLE” quickly found its way to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 charts, and it left Kendrick’s fans starving for more.
On Thursday, April 13, at the late hour of 10:00 p.m. CST, Kendrick released DAMN across all streaming platforms for the world to hear. Not only did this tape live up to the hype – it blew away my expectations.
The intro track, “BLOOD”, begins with a skit where Kendrick encounters a blind woman, and when asking her what she has lost, she tells Kendrick that he has lost his life. This is an eerie intro that leaves you wondering what’s to come. At the conclusion of the intro, a Fox News clip plays where the panelists criticize Kendrick for his popular song “Alright.”
Immediately after the intro, the second track, “DNA,” kicks off with an upbeat banger of an instrumental where Kendrick conveys raw emotion in his lyrics over the top of it. This song switches up with about a minute left, and Kendrick goes absolutely nuts with his lyrics and beat – perhaps the best minute stretch I’ve ever heard out of Kendrick.
The rest of the album keeps up, as well. What I thoroughly enjoyed and was surprised about was the range Kendrick showed, singing on several of the tracks. The sonically ranging “YAH” let Kendrick show off his ability in a beautiful way, with one of the slower songs he has released. On the track “LOVE”, Kendrick sings alongside frequent feature artist Zacari, creating another slow-moving jam that exemplifies his singing craft. Best of all, he sings the chorus on “LUST,” and comes in with a hook that is so different but manages to pull it off, and excels at it too.
To no surprise, Kendrick showed off his incredible lyricism on this album. On “FEAR,” he spoke through the words of a parent during his rough upbringing in Compton, California. Nothing beats the elite lyrics Kendrick spit out on the track “DUCKWORTH.” For a while, you hear a story about one man named Anthony who hustles and is planning to rob a KFC, and another man who works at said KFC named Ducky who gives Anthony extra food so that he wouldn’t kill Ducky, which ended up working. This all doesn’t seem like anything outside of a normal rap ballad – until Kendrick reveals that “Anthony” in this story was Anthony “Top Dawg” Kiffith, Kendrick Lamar’s current manager, and “Ducky” was Kendrick’s father.
“If Anthony killed Ducky, Top Dawg could be serving life, while I grow up without a father and died in a gunfight,” Kendrick emphatically rhymes on “DUCKWORTH” to conclude the album. I can’t remember a moment on an album in recent memory that made me sit back and just say, “holy s***.” That line did just that. The realization of who Kendrick was talking about on this song made me freak out internally.
This album’s got bangers (ELEMENT, HUMBLE, DNA), it’s got slow jams (YAH, LOVE, FEAR, PRIDE), and lyrical masterpieces (XXX, DUCKWORTH, PRIDE). It’s the type of album with such a variety that almost everyone I talk to has a different song they call their favorite, and one where every track is spun without dismay. To me, that’s the earmark of a classic – and DAMN lives up to that status. This album will be talked about for years to come.