Release Date: Apr 14, 2017
Record label: Aftermath
“I feel like the whole world want me to pray for ‘em / But who the fuck prayin’ for me?” Kendrick Lamar spits during ‘FEEL.’ from his new record ‘DAMN.’. With 2015’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’, the rapper opened himself up to the world, acting as a mouthpiece for a viciously angry generation and becoming a figurehead for millions. On ‘DAMN.’ he turns the camera inwards, coming to terms with his new position and how it affects the rapper himself.
F or all Kendrick Lamar's supernatural prowess as a rapper, he did not rise again last Sunday. Rumours had been circulating that Damn, the Compton lyricist's fourth album, was only the first half of an Easter two-parter, with the second half following the Good Friday release - an Ascension, of sorts. As it is, we just have Damn - 14 Bible-referencing stations of the cross, in which the jazz leanings of Lamar's career-defining To Pimp a Butterfly album (2015) give way to yet another dial-shifting record.
Throughout Kendrick Lamar's fourth full-length, he can be heard lamenting that there is no one left to pray for him. But if he's beyond redemption, it's not his burden alone. Over 14 tracks, Lamar spins his Section 8 childhood, current status as rap royalty and the ensuing contradictions that plague his personality into a grand and complex narrative.
I n the weeks before the release of Kendrick Lamar's fourth album, rumours circulated about its contents. Sources clearly blessed with assorted degrees of reliability informed the world that To Pimp a Butterfly's follow-up proper would be more commercial than its predecessor, involve "African tribal elements and sounds" and be an album based not around the funk and jazz influences in which To Pimp a Butterfly and the subsequent outtakes collection, untitled unmastered, were rooted, but the harsh, sparse sound of trap. But the most intriguing suggestion came from Lamar himself, who told the New York Times it wasn't going to be another sprawling state-of-the-nation address: "To Pimp a Butterfly was addressing the problem.
If one were to pinpoint the mission statement of Kendrick Lamar's impassioned manifestos throughout his career, an accurate place to land would be Section. 80‘s "Ab-Soul's Outro" where he quips, "I'm not the next pop star, I'm not the next socially aware rapper, I am a human muthafucking being over dope ass instrumentation. " Initially seen as a refuge from the external forces of peer pressure and street gang warfare, Kendrick's dedicated work ethic has steered his own fate toward becoming the most compelling, acclaimed and widely debated MC of modern times.
There are no precedents for Kendrick Lamar. Delivering a masterpiece with To Pimp a Butterfly, by turns deeply thoughtful and musically ambitious, the question lingered: how could he follow it up? In short, he didn't. Expectations comfortably lounged and awaited another sprawling, experimental mass. Naturally, Kendrick sidestepped these entirely, and did the one thing no one anticipated: buckled down and made a damn rap album.
“The world is endin’, I’m done pretendin’, and f— you if you get offended,” Kendrick Lamar proclaims on “FEEL.,” one of the most arresting songs on his solemn fourth album DAMN. It’s a surprising change in tone for the 29-year-old Compton, California, rapper who, just two years ago, reassured listeners “we gon’ be alright” on To Pimp a Butterfly, his star-making 2015 opus about race in modern America. Of course, the world has changed markedly since then.
Life is one funny motherfucker, it's true. "DUCKWORTH.," the last song on Kendrick Lamar's fourth studio album DAMN., tells a winding story about Anthony from Compton and Ducky from Chicago, whose paths cross first over KFC biscuits, and again, 20 years later, when Ducky's son records a song about the encounter for Anthony's record label. It's a precious origin story, the stuff of rock docs and hood DVDs, and it's delivered with such precision, vivid detail, and masterful pacing that it can't possibly be true.
DAMN. isn't the personal journey that To Pimp a Butterfly was and it doesn't try to be. DAMN. is Kendrick Lamar dead and Kendrick Lamar alive. It is Kendrick Lamar condemned and Kendrick Lamar redeemed. It is a meditation--or rather, a series of meditations--of Kendrick's technical and emotional ….
So how does the hottest, most talented hip hop artist of his generation follow up his era-defining, genre-redefining third album? Expectations were undoubtedly, and wholly justifiably, running at the highest level imaginable for Kendrick Lamar's latest release, after 2015's startling masterwork To Pimp a Butterfly. So does DAMN. meet those expectations? Well yes - but by taking a surprising side-step rather than a pace forward in its artistic development.
"Children, listen, it gets deep…" That's Kendrick Lamar, on the final track of his new album DAMN.. He's setting up a surprise ending for the album: a flashback origin story, a straightforward narrative coming after 13 mostly non-narrative explorations of inner turmoil. "DUCKWORTH", the song is called, not after himself (Kendrick Lamar Duckworth) but after his father, Kenneth Duckworth.
To Pimp a Butterfly's proper and oft-biblical follow-up arrived on Good Friday, 13 months after untitled unmastered. , an intermediary release that eclipsed the best work of most contemporary artists. If Kendrick Lamar felt pressure to continue living up to his previous output, there's no evidence on DAMN.
Kendrick Lamar has already taken hip-hop to the outer galaxies of style, sound and resonance. Protesters in Chicago, Cleveland, Oakland and New York took to the streets singing his 2015 single "Alright" like it was the new "We Shall Overcome." His last album, To Pimp a Butterfly, will likely go down as the defining reflection of the America that spawned #BlackLivesMatter, in the same way Pablo Picasso's Guernica stands as the defining reflection of the Spanish Civil War. But two years later, the perils of fame and the exhaustion of fighting for social justice seem to weigh on Lamar.
If the chief criterion for entry into the hip-hop canon were a high ratio of instantly memorable one-liners, then Kendrick Lamar's Damn would be shut out of that topmost tier where his first two major-label masterpieces so comfortably sit. Having long ago proven his gift for diamond-cut epigrams (from the schoolboy wisecrack “It go Halle Berry or hallelujah” to the defiantly optimistic Black Lives Matter rallying cry “We gon' be all right”), the most urgent rapper in the game seems ever more emboldened to let his words overflow in spiraling digressions, quotability be damned. It's fitting that the album's most haunting refrain first issues not from K-dot's own lips, but from the voice of a hype man, Kid Capri, who intones with cosmic foreboding: “Whatever happens on Earth stays on Earth.
"Whoever thought the greatest rapper would be from coincidence/ Because if Anthony killed Ducky/ Top Dawg could be servin' life/ While I grew up without a father and die in a gunfight. " For the first time ever, we are forced to grapple with the idea of life on Earth without Kendrick Lamar. Over bullets and extra biscuits, we become acquainted with a previously elusive Top Dawg, Ducky, and his son, "Kung-Fu Kenny" — the Kendrick Lamar with the itchy trigger finger, razor-sharp tongue, and quiet reluctance to touch his hard-earned riches.
don't ask for your favourite rapper, he dead The first apparent thing about DAMN. is, unlike this review, it's lean and mean. That's compared to To Pimp a Butterfly's interminable runtime, anyway - for reference, at 55 minutes this is the shortest Kendrick album, but it's still a fair bit longer than classics like The Low End Theory and Illmatic. More accurate to say that, in an era where hip-hop feels defined by absurdly long durations and scores of filler, songs on DAMN.
On "PRIDE. ," Kendrick Lamar declares: "I can't fake humble just because your ass is insecure," his vocals subtly but unmistakably distorted into haunting whisper gusts and booming echoes over tightly looped funk grooves. The song's effortless catchiness, coupled with its boldly offbeat creativity, prove that lyric positive— indeed, why would he feign humility on such an excellent song? It's the sound of a master at the top of his game, a feat that Lamar achieves again and again on his fourth full-length studio release, DAMN.
Faith, p***y and politics - the mind of Kendrick Lamar is a hectic, action-packed place. The triumphant Compton MC might have cut down the number of tracks on his fourth studio album - 'DAMN.' is by far his shortest release to date - but the ideas, thoughts and feelings it contains are massive, weighty things, from sexual tension to deep, dark depression. Also jostling for attention is the eternal battle between good and evil, with some chart-friendly rap bangers thrown in just because he can.
IF FOLLOWING 2015’S OBAMA-APPROVED, sprawling jazz odyssey To Pimp A Butterfly was always going to be a hard ask, Lamar makes light of it. Replacing its organic, live feel for tauter traditional beat-making ideally suited for booming car stereos, his confidence positively gleams across dexterous modern-day parables whose fierce reflections, anxieties and grievances jab but never jar and rarely miss their targets. As soon as momentum is sparked by the invigorating DNA Lamar is in authoritative command, whether putting a personal spin on America's woes alongside a crooning Bono (XXX), summer jamming with Rihanna (Loyalty) or spinning a masterly closing fable about rare coincidence and chance (Duckworth).
At some point, every great artist hits a turbulent patch in their career. Call it the Kingdom Come moment, dubbed after Jay-Z's flaccid 2006 comeback album. While DAMN. isn't nearly as gross an error as that, it is nonetheless a weak moment for Kendrick Lamar. It's by no means a bad effort: standouts like "ELEMENT."; the raw and introspective "FEEL."; and the album's vulnerable centrepiece "FEAR." keep it from being that.
For a word with a multiplicity of meanings and connotations, there aren't many layers to the title of Kendrick Lamar's fourth album. It's not a curse; nothing here is a mistake. The religious overtones are probably intended, but it's not an album about damnation either. Instead, it's the coolly raised but no less impressed eyebrow when someone hits it out of the park, smacks a winner down the line, is the best version of themselves they can possibly be under the most pressure.
It needs to be stated up top that just because Kendrick Lamar has brought Mike Will Made It and U2 and Rihanna and Greg Kurstin (of Adele fame) into the fold doesn’t automatically make his music any less worthy than it did on To Pimp a Butterfly. It just means it should be approached differently is all. Or, put another way: instead of asking yourself if oranges are worse than apples, ask yourself if DAMN.
Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly was a huge, lush, intricate production with a smooth funk feel that told a story about Lamar's relationship with fame and fortune. Following the groundbreaking success of the album, including being one of the first three albums to be chosen in a new Harvard project to archive the 200 best hip-hop albums of all time, what does Kendrick Lamar follow it with? An album that goes out of its way to try to be a very different album than Butterfly. I've been listening to DAMN. for about two weeks now, and it's taken me a long time to figure out if I like this album or not.
What happens on Earth, stays on Earth, and our hero finds his home planet an almighty mess: sex, money and murder have wriggled their way into the DNA of its inhabitants, leading them astray toward the path of damnation. Kung Fu Kenny is just trying to find a way to live through it, but nobody is praying for him. Like a choose your own adventure novel, Kendrick Lamar sets the scene for his third official LP, 'DAMN.' with a set of questions.
The salvation of the New Testament is preceded by the judicious wrath of the Old--the stories of genocidal floods, generational curses, violent plagues, and God's righteous judgment. Kendrick Lamar has never shied away from fire and brimstone, but he's now particularly fixated. On his new album DAMN. , he agonizes over losing his fortunes like a modern-day Job , and declares himself an Israelite, doomed to wander the earth.
The constant push and pull in Christianity — especially the black church — is the one between praise and worship and suffering and obedience. The praise and worship are always the draws. The joy of the exultant choir, the release of hands stretched high and mouths calling his name all offer a spiritual high. The suffering and obedience — the reminders that pain is an inextricable part of life but blessings come through faith and commitment — are the tougher sell.
In the video for Kendrick Lamar's recent single "Humble.," his hair bursts into flame. Lamar makes music like an artist running out of time. Just about everyone on the planet eventually feels their mortality, but for Lamar, the urgency translates into works of art that burn with purpose, that take the measure of the times and then zoom back to give a broader picture.
After the stunning one-two punch of "good kid, m. A. A.
When will Kendrick Lamar make his return? That’s the question rap fans and critics alike asked throughout the early part of 2017 , until the rapper finally answered with a declaration on March 23 in the form of “The Heart Part 4,” the first song he dropped to break his silence before his fourth album, DAMN., arrived: “Y’all got til April the 7th to get your shit together.” While it took another week for DAMN. to officially debut, the album solidified his welcomed return. DAMN.