"DAMN." Review: "Kendrick Raises the Bar, AGAIN"

BY: THERY SANON

In the weeks leading up to the release of his fourth studio album, Kendrick Lamar gave the fans a taste of what he’s been working on since last year’s “Untitled Unmastered” by dropping “The Heart Part IV”:

Within a span of five minutes, Kendrick had us go from “what is he up to?” to “STOP, WHERE’S HIS GRAMMY?”  - reminding everyone why he is “the greatest rapper alive.” Although he never actually announced anything regarding his plans for the album on this track, Kendrick managed to blow the internet up and get everyone hyped up about the possibility of something coming out soon.

That’s the thing about Kendrick Lamar, his reputation and star power in today’s rap game has grown to the point where he can build more hype than any other album planned to come out that year, all in a span of two weeks. I wish this was an exaggeration, but the numbers genuinely don’t lie. DAMN. is officially Kendrick’s third straight number one album, selling 603,000 units (almost 100,000 over "More Life") and becoming the top first week release of 2017. This number almost doubles what his 2015 album, “To Pimp A Butterfly” sold in its first week. On “The Heart Part IV”, he even called his shot:

“I said it's like that, Dropped one classic, came right back,' Nother classic, right back, My next album, the whole industry on the ice pack.”

I don’t think anybody was ready for this album. “To Pimp A Butterfly” was an instant classic that touched millions, from kids on the streets of Compton to the Obamas. Harvard University even picked it as one of the first four albums to be archived in the university’s library. While Kendrick has continuously built on his successes, the task of putting out an album better than “TPAB” seemed impossible. Where do you go next? How do you top the top?

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This is going to sound weird, but as a psychology major, I’m intrigued by music. Some people’s minds are just wired differently, and no two artists go about writing or producing a song in the same way. You can hand three different people the same words to the same song and get three completely different final products that all sound good. The creative thought process is crazy and everyone does it differently, so I am always curious as to what goes down in the studio when different artists and different views come together to create a hit song.

Everyone that works with Kendrick has a story about the way he makes music. His thought process just sounds wild, like it’s even weird to other musicians. We don’t know much about how this album came together right now, but if you ever want to hear something crazy, listen to how his collaborators talk about working with him.

Now back to “DAMN.”

I’m purely convinced that the only reason Kendrick named it “DAMN.” was because it was the only thing he was capable of saying after he played the final cut back. THIS ALBUM IS HEAT. KUNG FU KENNY HAS BEEN BUSY. DAMN. is easily one of the best albums of the year and Kendrick actually did his thing, topping his previous work. He just keeps getting better, but doesn’t ever try to change his sound. While other rappers occasionally try to experiment with new ideas, Kendrick Lamar just takes what he does very well and manages to do it better.

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After starting off this album with a well-spoken monologue and taking the time to shade Geraldo Rivera, Kendrick takes us on another 14-track journey into his world. A lot has changed since “TPAB” and it shows on tracks like “DNA,” “ELEMENT” and HUMBLE, the album’s first single. Kendrick has reached his full potential and has started the race for the title of “best rapper ever,” something he is 100 percent aware of. Throughout this album, Kendrick constantly reminds everyone that he is one of the best rappers in the game right now, noting how “it’s hard to be humble” nowadays. Fans will enjoy tracks like “YAH,” “FEEL” and “PRIDE” which provide a darker, more introspective tone that critics raved about on “TPAB.” Rihanna is one of only three features on DAMN., but her appearance on “LOYALTY” is easily one of the standout moments from the album. RiRi is just a flawless individual and her style complements Kendrick’s perfectly.

There are two tracks on DAMN. that deserve special attention, “XXX” and “DUCKWORTH.” When the tracklist for this album released, I called my shot with what “XXX” was going to be:

“XXX” starts out as a classic Kendrick Lamar track, very smooth and calm. It soon drastically shifts into a U2-produced power ballad about today’s America, as explained through the perspective of Kendrick’s  intoxicated, hurting friend. This rage then simmers down to a slower beat with a smoother, more jazzy tone as Kendrick explains how “the American Flag is dragged and wrapped with explosives,” hinting at the disconnect between  America and it’s people. It’s a very impressive track, showing not only the flexibility of Kendrick Lamar, but also the flexibility of an older group like U2 (I repeat, thought processes are CRAZY).

“DUCKWORTH” is the perfect close to “DAMN.,” as it’s just Kendrick doing what he does best: weaving his real life experiences into his music and painting vivid pictures of what he’s gone through. In this song, Kendrick tells the stories of Anthony and Duckie, two souls brought together by coincidence, as he describes a particular situation in which Anthony and Duckie being on opposite sides of a robbery. As the track winds down to the end, Kendrick explains why this story matters so much to his reality and how he truly is blessed to be where he is.

The bottom line is this, you need to go listen to “DAMN.” Seriously, if you haven’t heard it yet, you’re missing out on a generational piece of work. Whether you’re a diehard Kendrick stan, or a casual listener, you need to listen to this album for the sake of hip-hop. 2017 is on track to be one of the best years ever for hip-hop, but “DAMN.” is already on it’s way to being the standout album of the year. There’s no doubt that we’ll be talking about it decades from now.

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REMEMBER: WHAT HAPPENS ON EARTH STAYS ON EARTH.

Cover: Mohamed Abass via Flickr Creative Commons