By Josh St. Hill
They say that once in every person’s lifetime they will witness something spectacular, something so extraordinary that there’s no possibility of it ever occurring again. Kendrick Lamar has granted us this blessing with the release of DAMN, a 55 minute long sermon of holy scripture given to us in only a Kendrick Lamar way. Already projected to sell 400k plus in the first week, the talk of platinum is already in conversation. As far as Album of the Year, Top Dawg’s premonition was very accurate.
The album starts with a very eerie story of his encounter with a blind woman. Kendrick is shot and killed, leaving us all in shock wondering what could possibly happen next; this is when we are automatically pulled into “DNA,” his newest single/music video. Adopting multiple viewpoints about his black heritage and culture, Kendrick pulls no punches, giving listeners a powerful message over a trap-like beat. This method alone gives Kendrick a lot of power in the hip-hop game. Not only can he speak a powerful message to inspire and educate listeners, but can also do it over a club like beat, surpassing rappers who are stuck in one category or the other.
In the next track, “Yah”, he goes back to the Fox news sample used previously in the album and actually calls out reporter Geraldo Rivera by name. Rivera criticized Lamar for using his art in a negative way for pitting the youth against the law enforcement sworn to protect them. This song is also another reference to religion, as Kendrick states that he should no longer be labeled black, but as an Israelite. This song topped the Billboard 100 at 32, along with every other song on this top selling project.
With “Element,” fans hear the full track that famous NBA superstar, Lebron James, played on his Instagram story. Eager to see what Kendrick had to offer, he boasts himself as the greatest rapper in the game, spinning the tale of his own personal journey and tribulations that have accumulated in his life. This pattern of boasting on every track so far brings most fans to the assumption that this is the bad side of Kendrick. With DAMN resembling a movie, we see Kendrick’s sins firsthand after he is shot and sent to a purgatory-like state between Heaven and Hell. It isn’t until the middle track, “Humble,” where we see the viewpoints switch up, and Kendrick goes from wicked to good.
Being the first rap single to top the charts in years, “Humble” was already cemented in DAMN as a top track, but the full story of the album gives the song an even greater meaning. At first, it seemed like a shot to other rappers alone, telling them to humble themselves, and that they’re not as good as they believe. But seeing this as the middle track between good and evil, fans see that Kendrick is also talking to himself. Acting as almost an intermission in the drama called DAMN, the next track, “Lust” plays into Kendrick’s weaknesses.
In this track, Kendrick speaks about how we all engage in repetitive and often meaningless lifestyles and how he has allowed lust to consume his life in ways. With the production very reminiscent of Andre 3000’s “Vibrate”, produced by BADBADNOTGOOD, Sounwave, and DJ Dahi, the drum beat is played and then reversed through out the song, giving off a very euphoric vibe.
Not only is this the first track on Kendrick’s weaknesses, but it plays as a prequel to it’s counterpart, “Love.” In a ballad to his high school sweetheart, and now fiancee, Kendrick questions what love is and how it plays into his relationship. With vocals from Zacari, this single is a standout, also topping the Billboard charts.
The next tracks show off the old Kendrick, giving off more of an old-school feel as he spins stories of his fears and relationship with God. Finally we get to the last track, “Duckworth”, which deserves it’s own article itself.
Produced by the legendary 9th Wonder, Kendrick wraps the album up with one of the greatest stories he’s told in his career. Taking the light off himself, he talks about a series of coincidences that led to his career, and saved him from the life he could’ve lived. Kendrick’s manager Top Dawg, who was then deep in the gang life, was planning to rob a KFC where Kendrick’s father, Ducky, worked. Ducky was from Chicago and knew all about gangs, and decided to treat Anthony with respect, which ultimately ended up saving his life.The two meet again nearly 20 years later in a recording studio, introducing Kendrick to the rap world. The song then closes with a reverse of the whole album and then replaying, “So I was taking a walk the other day.” Not only does this give a beautiful finale, but puts a twist on the whole entire outlook.
Instead of this album ending in one particular way, it shows two sides, when the album is played from the first song to the end we see Kendrick in wicked state, but eventually finding the light, avoiding the gang life around him and making something of himself. If the album is played from Duckworth to the beginning, it shows a good Kendrick becoming wicked, a hustler with no intentions of doing the right thing, and eventually comes to an end by being killed in the streets which have consumed him. Kendrick again shocks the world by combining two styles and topping the charts, not only does he give in to the trendy appeal, but keeps his story telling and messages. So circling back to Top Dawg’s claim of Album of The Year, Kendrick has earned the title.