DAMN. Kendrick Lamar is cementing his place among rap music’s elite. Since his Overly Dedicated project back in 2010, his legend has grown. K. Dot’s ability to blend genres like jazz and blues that our grandparents grew up on, with his new age raps are impressive to say the least. Lyrically he is at the top of his game. His prowess to deliver storytelling, metaphors, whit and address the pulse of the nation is what the best MC’s are made of. With his fourth LP DAMN., he puts all of this on full display. Earlier this week radio personality Peter Rosenberg went on a living-in-the-moment rant and coined Kendrick “The Best Rapper of All-Time.” Now I wouldn’t go that far to say that, but he is making it arguably hard to not be placed in top five discussions.
Typically when rappers reach the success that Kendrick is reaching, they tend to get comfortable and fall off. Kendrick has chart topping singles with Beyoncé & Taylor Swift, Grammy awards, and is headlining festivals across the world. You’d think after all this success, he’d be satisfied with these achievements. But on DAMN., he makes it clear that he wants to be in that “Biggie, Jay Z & Nas,” conversation.
DAMN. opens like an old kung fu western, with the brooding track “BLOOD.” telling the story of K.Dot attempting to help a blind woman, but abruptly cuts the narration short with a gun shot. This fades into a fox news commentator speaking on his Black Lives Matter rally cry song “Alright,” from 2015’s To Pimp A Butterfly. The Mike Will Made-It produced track “DNA.” is up next, which finds Lamar tearing into Fox news personality Geraldo Rivera, who said, “This is why I say that hip-hop has done more damage to African Americans than racism in recent years.” The album has a pleasant surprise when we hear DJ Kid Capri on hosting duty. Now if TPAB wasn’t your cup of tea or too hard of a listen, then DAMN. is definitely what you wanted to hear from the Compton MC.
My personal favorite off the LP is “ELEMENT.” He raps like he is willing to die for this shit, giving rap fans a taste of one of his many mastered flows. In the third verse he lets it be known he tried to go the peaceful route on the last project but now he’s putting them all on notice again:
“Just say my name and I promise that you’ll see Candyman, because it’s all in your eyes, most of y’all tell lies, most of y’all don’t fade, most of y’all been advised, last LP I tried to lift the black artists, but it’s a difference between black artists and wack artists”
On the Rihanna-featured track “LOYALTY.” he goes the ballad route in the most Kendrick way, with his moody crooning, while Rihanna surprises listeners with a few bars. On “LOVE.” & “LUST.” he juggles the ills of the mental and physical attraction. Lamar takes the time to pray for America and his own life on “XXX.” while U2’s Bono softly croons in the background: “Is America honest, or do we bask in sin?” On “FEAR.” Lamar decides to portray different characters throughout the track using multiple flows to rap about each of them fearing for their life in their own way. Then he concludes the album with “DUCKWORTH.” where he goes onto tell a well-crafted story of his father “Ducky” and now label boss Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith. The story is a mixture of coincidence and chance, focusing on how the kind gestures of a KFC worker stopped a robbery and a possible murder.
“If Anthony killed Ducky, Top Dawg could be servin’ life/ While I grew up without a father and die in a gunfight,” he says, and immediately the gunshot that rings off at the end of “BLOOD.” is heard again, and then the album rewinds back to the beginning and to Lamar’s opening line: “So I was taking a walk the other day…”
DAMN. ties in karma, religion and politics with some of Lamar’s slickest most intricate rhymes to date. On his single “The Heart part 4,” Kendrick screams out “I am the greatest rapper Alive,” and by the end of listening to this album it will be hard to argue. He gave you everything a top tier MC can do on an album; Story telling, mind-bending rhymes, flawless flows, a ballad with a R&B/pop star, called out his peers to come test his rap skills, rapped about politics and shitted on Geraldo Rivera. Kung Fu Kenny might not be your favorite rapper but he for DAMN sure has your respect.
Cover Photo courtesy of: Greg Noire