Few artists have had as much impact as Kendrick Lamar in recent years and his fourth studio album DAMN. feels like yet another showcase of a genius at work.
The Compton born rapper has blended the technical superiority of Section.80 with the charm of good kid, m.A.A.d city and the political power of To Pimp a Butterfly to create an incredibly dense, powerful and provocative 14 track album.
It opens with ‘BLOOD.’, an opening monologue delivered with a composure which draws you in, and ending with a clip of journalists condemning Kenny’s attitude towards the police, the second track then kicks in with power and a booming bassline. Aptly named ‘DNA.’, it sets the tone for what is a reflective album, where Kendrick seems to be looking at himself more than the world around him. He transitions perfectly to the mellow ‘YAH.’ and continues to analyse himself by claiming “I’m an Israelite. Don’t call me black no more, that word is only a colour”.
“Each new song feels like a completely different formula cooked up by Kendrick.”
Soon enough you realise that this man transcends genre. Hip hop, soul, jazz… he throws it all into a blender and out comes a delicious sound unlike anything else you’ll hear. In fact, each new song feels like a completely different formula cooked up by Kendrick. It speaks volumes when one of the album’s weakest songs is ‘LOYALTY.’ which features Rihanna – a collaboration of superstars.
Not only are his lyrics powerful but his flow is a joy to behold. Whatever the beat, whatever the rhythm, Lamar adapts with ease. No more is this on show than in the hard hitting ‘HUMBLE.’
“He uses sirens and car revs more effectively than most musicians can use an actual instrument.”
It’s impossible to predict his next step, and most bizarre is his stunning collaboration with U2. Perhaps it shows that he’s at his best when political, but musically it’s masterful. He uses sirens and car revs more effectively than most musicians can use an actual instrument. U2 don’t feel out of place either, if anything they complement each other. It even features a reference to Donald Trump, as if we needed reminding how contemporary an artist Kendrick is.
The ponderous ‘FEAR.’ reminds us that this is a man less sure of who he was than in his previous work. Tangling with religion and death, it’s the longest track on the album, and probably the most profound. This is captured perfectly with the piercing and surreal line: “If I could smoke away fear I’d roll that motherfucker up”.
As the album comes to an end with ‘DUCKWORTH.’, Lamar leaves us with 10 seconds of silence, like he knows that we need a moment to recover and gather our thoughts before we can come anywhere near contemplating what we just listened to.
If I wanted to break down exactly what this album is about I’d have to write a dissertation not a review. That’s one of its many graces, it’s so difficult to decipher that it really does reward repeat listens.
Often a sign of an icon is the ability to identify them with only one name. Bowie, Prince, Tupac. How about Kendrick?
Album on Spotify.