Photo courtesy of Rolling Stone
The release of a Kendrick Lamar album is truly a monumental moment in the music world. Over multiple albums, Kendrick Lamar has defined himself as the greatest rapper of his generation, and potentially his generation’s greatest artist. He broke onto the mainstream with 2012’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, a concept album about his childhood, with an overarching theme of his home town, Compton. His next album was To Pimp a Butterfly, a sprawling, jazz influenced masterpiece centered around race and politics in America. In 2016, he released Untitled Unmastered, a demos collection from the To Pimp a Butterfly recordings. All of these albums, as well as the independent releases that preceded them, are considered magnificent works of art from a musician who is light years ahead of much of the modern hip-hop scene. DAMN, released on April 14, further solidifies Kendrick Lamar’s place in the canon of greatest rappers to ever live.
Upon first listen, DAMN immediately strikes the listener as a change of pace of Lamar’s style. The jazz influences that dominated To Pimp A Butterfly are largely gone. The production on this album is varied, with songs like “DNA” and “HUMBLE” that have these hulking, booming beats, while songs like “YAH” and “PRIDE” that are more instrumentally subtle than anything he has released up to this point. On first listen, what really floored me the most on the album was the flowing guitars and background harmonies on “PRIDE”. However, the jazz samples were not completely abandoned on DAMN. “XXX”, one of the most memorable tracks on DAMN, features a complete halt in motion for the beat, while Bono(!) and a smooth bass and keys part come in, creating a soundscape that feels completely foreign to the beat that was in place only seconds beforehand.
A major facet of this album is its lyrical themes. Each song has a flip side in terms of fundamental philosophy or the track, for example, “PRIDE” and “HUMBLE” are about modesty and arrogance, and how to approach the two. On “PRIDE”, Lamar raps that “I can’t fake humble because your ass is insecure,” while on “HUMBLE” the chorus is literally “Be humble, sit down.” He is directing messages at himself, in an introspective manner that he has specialized in over his last few albums.
A lot has been said about Kendrick Lamar’s status among the greatest rappers of all time. Whether one believes he’s the single greatest rapper of all time, one of the greats, or even just one of the better rappers of his generation is beside the point. However, what cannot be ignored is his unbelievable streak of high quality, thought provoking albums. As a music fan, and especially as a Kendrick Lamar fan, in the years to come I will undoubtedly still be listening to his music. His music has a special power to keep the listener intrigued on multiple listens. This key element of what makes a musician great is not lost on DAMN. I have listened to it almost dozens of times since its release, not only to write a review but because I wanted to listen to every note on that album again and again. I may sound like I am speaking in hyperbole, but that is because Kendrick Lamar’s music can only be described in such a fashion. I truly do not think there has been many artists to walk the earth that can be as consistently brilliant on each album as Kendrick Lamar.
By Sebastian De Lasa