Culture, Music

Kendrick Lamar tackles dualistic ideas, political issues with ‘DAMN.’

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Photo courtesy Interscope / Top Dawg Entertainment

“DAMN.” is the most important album since “To Pimp a Butterfly.” We all know the importance of Kendrick Lamar. His music is ubiquitous. His message is sanguine. His art is pure. He’s the kind of artist that can perform in the same style of Jimi Hendrix performing the National Anthem. And he is human, like us all.

His music articulates every emotion. During my best and worst times, I have turned to Lamar’s music for answers. His music’s universality is unparalleled by anyone in hip-hop. This power and popularity comes with high expectations, but he is not worried about that.

“DAMN.” is bold and angry. It’s vulnerable and honest. By listening to “DAMN.,” you understand Kendrick Lamar. The 14-track album is fluid. The beats are eclectic and exciting. In every song, the beat drastically switches. Lamar does the same with his rapping. Between each verse, he changes his flow and style.

The mysterious Bēkon starts the album by asking, “Is it wickedness? Is it weakness?” Wickedness versus weakness is a central theme. Lamar presents several dualities in “DAMN.” From “LUST.” versus “LOVE.” to “GOD.” versus “DUCKWORTH.,” Lamar explores a multi-faceted mix of feelings toward life and death. Kendrick Lamar fights Fox News, public opinion, his insecurities and fame in “DAMN.” Each song mirrors an aspect of his own identity.

“HUMBLE.” reveals Lamar as a chameleon and is the best music video of 2017. Both the beat and raps in “DNA.” are abrasive. “LOVE.” has R&B appeal, and “FEAR.” delivers three anecdotes that create one of his best songs.

“FEEL.” is the most reflective song on the album. The many frustrated voices inside Lamar’s head are vented in this soliloquy of a song. The chorus of “Ain’t nobody prayin’ for me” reminds me of my favorite Kendrick Lamar song, “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst,” in which he sings, “Promise that you will sing about me.”

“DAMN.” is like literature. Lamar’s character and ego develop throughout the album. There are several motifs like humility and anxiety that develop the narrative. The first song, “BLOOD.,” foreshadows the entire album, and the opening verse is a symbol for justice – not just in law and everyday life but inside ourselves, too.

The album will grow on you like other Kendrick Lamar albums. “DAMN.” is not “To Pimp a Butterfly” or “good kid, m.A.A.d city.” “DAMN.” is its own album. If you haven’t heard it yet, listen to the album straight through. I promise you won’t regret it. A Kendrick Lamar album experience is special. “DAMN.” is cohesive and circular. By the time you reach “DUCKWORTH.,” it may seem like the whole album could have been a dream.

Stars: 5/5

See Kendrick Lamar live May 6-7 at Rolling Loud at Bayfront Park in Miami.

April 21, 2017


Tristan Niskanen

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