Kendrick Lamar has bestowed among us, DAMN. It is an album that separates him from the prophet he has been regarded as for the past few years. Kendrick has proven his talents and given himself the title of “best rapper alive,” stating he was a god-like force in the rap world. DAMN. brings out the human side, the part of Kendrick that no longer wants to be the answer to everyone’s prayers, the voice of reason, or some all mighty unreachable mastermind. DAMN. is a look at his consciousness and inner plaguing thoughts.
Aside from his mixtape (O)verly (D)edicated and debut album Section.80, Kendrick really hit his stride with Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, with stories of him growing up. He used To Pimp a Butterfly, as an anthem for the protests going on in Chicago, Cleveland, Oakland, and New York. During a time of bleakness, Kendrick established himself as a political charge. But DANM. is different, it’s contradicting and plays with the idea of ego and id.
Throughout mixtapes and albums, Kendrick has explored different facets of his life and situations surrounding him. With Section.80 we meet a man who is rapping about where he comes from through observation. It was here that Kendrick became comfortable with himself, not perfect, but it was the body of work that solidified him as a story teller.
Next came Good Kid, (the album cover pictured below), which takes us through Kendrick’s childhood life in Compton through trials he had to overcome and decisions he had to make. And then came To Pimp a Butterfly, described as an album the people needed, an anthem of sorts for the political atmosphere at the time.
Now, Kendrick is taking a deeper look at himself in ways different from before. He is no longer observing his environment, looking into his past, or acting as the voice of a generation and movement. DAMN. is the mind, it is an audible exploration of Kendrick’s inner thoughts, his progress as an artist and the conflicting factors of how he feels being here. There are still some political musings which can be heard on the opening track “BLOOD.,” which samples audio from Fox News discussing problems with Lamar’s 2016 Grammy performance, as well as in the two songs that follow, “DNA.” and “YAH.” The difference politically from TPAB, is defined in a bar on “YAH.” where he raps, “I’m not a politician, I’m not ’bout a religion/I’m a Israelite, don’t call me black no more/that word is only a color, it ain’t facts no more.” He is effectively separating himself from the socially conscious voice he was before.
More importantly, this album is journey through Lamar’s psyche and the way he thinks of himself. With “DNA.” we hear lines like, “I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA,” and “I’m gon’ shine like I’m supposed to/antisocial, extrovert.” He’s peering deeper into the distinctions of good and bad, freedom and confinement. Similar in “ELEMENT.,” Kendrick ends his refrain with, “I don’t give a, I don’t give a, I don’t give a fuck,” while simultaneously having the first line of verse one being, “I’m willing to die for this shit.” So is it that Lamar has 0 fucks to give or that he is willing to die in order to carry on the legacy of rap greats before him?
Towards the middle of the album, this theme becomes established through the tracks, “LOYALTY.,” “PRIDE.,” and “HUMBLE.” Rihanna is heard singing on “LOYALTY.” that, “it’s so hard to be humble,” when just a few verses ago in the same song Kendrick is proclaiming that, “I’m a savage, I’m an asshole, I’m a king.” This contradiction follows him into “PRIDE.” as well, opening with a line about how pride’s going to be the death of us. And just when you think Kendrick is leaning more towards his modest feelings, “HUMBLE.” arrives with bars telling other rappers to, “hol’ up, bitch sit down/hol’ up lil’ bitch, be humble.” Here, we hear the transition from uncertainty to confidence.
He closes the album with similar unsure ideas, using tracks “LUST.” and “LOVE.” to mirror the opposite feelings that come from both. Then he uses the song “FEAR.” to take us through his journey as man; going from fearing a beating from his mom for disobeying her, a fear of his surroundings, to the fear of not being good enough to succeed. He fears both losing his creativity and humbleness, two factors that are consequences of one another. His creativity brought him success, but without being humble, will Lamar be able to recognize if he is no longer the best? This idea of consequence and fate concludes the album through “DUCKWORTH.,” the story of how Lamar’s father, Duckworth, was almost killed by the man, “Top Dawg,” who later signed Lamar to a record label. Like Tupac, Kendrick is able to transfix audiences through storytelling and “DUCKWORTH.” is a story that sounds more like one of divine intervention or fate as opposed to coincidence.
DAMN. examines the complex workings of Kendrick Lamar’s inner most thoughts. He is consciously spitting contradictions about himself in order to escape labels that were put upon him. It’s selfish and indulging, confident yet unsure, it is Kendrick Lamar telling us who he is.