Kendrick Lamar just dropped his fourth studio album, DAMN., which is essentially 14 reasons why he’s one of the greatest rappers of this generation.
DAMN. comes two years after Lamar’s Grammy Award-winning opus To Pimp a Butterfly, and what he’s proven yet again is his ability to construct impeccably crafted narratives. Themes of police brutality and social injustices intersect with tracks laying Lamar’s vulnerabilities and insecurities bare. Lamar has long been in the exclusive class of hip-hop artists who aren’t just technically gifted rappers, but who are nuanced storytellers. DAMN., much like To Pimp a Butterfly and 2012’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, isn’t just an album, it’s a statement.
Although DAMN. should be played from start to finish, there are a few tracks in particular that deserve some shine.
Of the three tracks with features, “Love” is by far the sleeper hit. Up-and-comer Zacari definitely sticks out among DAMN.’s other featured artists Rihanna and U2, yet it’s only a testament to Lamar’s good ear. However, what truly sets “Love” apart from the rest of the album is the song’s sound. A large portion of DAMN. bumps with deafening bass or hits with Lamar’s machine-gun rhymes. “Love” is something of a palate cleanser. The synth-trap slow-jam beat mixed with Zacari’s airy vocals is a welcome breather from DAMN.’s weightier subject matter.
Some of Lamar’s best work comes out of what, at times, feels like him working through his own deep-seeded issues out loud. (“So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street when gang banging make me kill a nigga blacker than me? Hypocrite!”—“Blacker the Berry,” To Pimp A Butterfly.) “Fear” is split between Lamar’s adolescence and adulthood. The concept of fear shifts from that of a child under the stern eye of a mother to being a young adult worrying about getting screwed over financially and losing the creativity that got him where he is. “Fear” is bookended by a voicemail message from Lamar’s cousin Carl quoting Deuteronomy 28, which basically lays out the glories and punishments for obeying and disobeying God.
It’s worth mentioning once again that Lamar is hands-down one of the best storytellers in music. “Duckworth” is the condensed life story of Anthony Tiffith, founder and CEO of Top Dawg Entertainment, where Lamar is signed. Tiffith’s life of dealing drugs and gang banging brought him back to the brink of robbing the same Kentucky Fried Chicken he knocked over years prior. It just so happened that Lamar’s father, Kenny “Ducky” Duckworth, was working at that KFC and knew Tiffith’s history, leading him to curry favor with the man by offering free chicken and extra biscuits. Ducky’s plan apparently worked and through a butterfly-effect rationale, contributed to DAMN.’s very existence:
Whoever thought the greatest rapper
Would be from coincidence
Because if Anthony killed Ducky
Top Dawg could be servin’ life
While I grew up without a father and die in a gunfight.
What makes this track even better is the fact that it loops directly back to the start of the album where Lamar is trying to help a blind woman (presumably Lady Justice) and he gets shot in the process.