Review: Kendrick Lamar's "DAMN."

Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, the Compton based rapper responsible for “Section.80”, “Good Kid, Maad City” and the Barack Obama approved “To Pimp A Butterfly” has released his much anticipated album “Damn.”.  Once again Kung Fu Kenny has distinguished himself among his peers with his latest project.  I like mumble rap.  I like Little Yachty. I like Lil Uzi Vert. I listen to Future’s “Mask Off” at least once a day.  Rick Ross’s “Rather You Than Me” was one of his best. “More Life” was another good album, but let’s be honest as much as a pop powerhouse that Aubrey Drake Graham is, that album could be classified as R&B.  (I mean Kanye sung on it for God sakes).  There is something about audio craftsmanship that never gets old.  A concept, a message, expert beat smiths with years of experience in their craft, and of course Quality BARS will always stand the test of time.  The creativity of A Tribe Called Quest’s virtual tour guide in “Midnight Marauders.” The nineties defining wordplay of Sean Corey Carter’s “Reasonable Doubt.” DMX’s praise and worship on “Its Dark And Hell Is Hot.”  The code like jargon and slang of Raekwon and Ghostface Killa on “Only Built for Cubans Linx.”  The self-therapy and healing of J.Cole’s “2014 Forest Hill Drive.”  Artists that appreciate the process and method quickly separate themselves from the industry standard of a group of A&R check listed songs designed and marketed to get product sponsorship or ring tone buys.  “Damn.” is Kendrick Lamar’s sonic protest to the majority of hip-hop being produced today.  

The prevailing theme of “Damn.” is a familiar one to the rap community. How do I deal with success and why isn’t this more enjoyable? The assassinated legend Notorious B.I.G said it best “More money, More problems.” On Coldplay’s “Lost" Jay-Z rhymes “See Martin, see Malcom/see Biggie, see Pac/ See success and it outcome/ see Jesus, see Judas/see Caesar, see Brutus/see success is like suicide.  Kendrick is no stranger to this feeling and makes it known on this album.  The song “DNA” and its East Indian influenced sample is a testament to the duality of Kendrick Lamar.  The MC speaks of power, pain, poison and joy in his D.N.A. while still stating that he has evil that rots in his genetic code also.  The most striking moment in this song is a sound bite from Geraldo Rivera stating that Hip-hop has done more to harm African Americans than racism to which Kendrick shouts this back buy yelling the chorus ”I got royalty and loyalty inside my D.N.A.”  In the song “Elements” over a subtle piano sample K.Dot pays homage to Cash Money Records Juvenile and the Houston influenced Chopped and Screwed sound while informing us that he is never going back to his former lifestyle.  The rapper has paid his dues in the game and is proud to have turned his daddy’s commissary to commas.  Mr. Duckworth rambles on the song “Fear” that he has been put in a position to bless others but receives no blessing in return.  Over a relaxing piano and a chopping rim shot snare he constantly reiterates that no one is praying for him. “I feel like I’m boxin demons/monsters/false prophets/scheming sponsors/industry promises.”  The Top Dawg Entertainment Artist even mentions Tupac on the song which makes sense with the “Me Against The World” theme which was prevalent in most of Shakur’s work.  On the radio ready “Loyalty” Kendrick explores and asks the listener, groupie, old friend, and record exec what do I control or possess that makes you loyal to me.  On a side note I understand why Chris and Drake were throwing bottles in the club. Ms. Robyn Rihanna Fenty who is featured on this song is amazing. The songstresses voice rhyming feels like warm blankets on a snow day that requires no make-up or change on the exam schedule. Also you can’t go wrong using a Jay-Z lyric from his song “Get your mind right mami” on the hook.  On the soul sampled track “Fear” Lamar lists the many things his parents will corporal punish him for, and then goes on to list the many ways he could die in his neighborhood. He also illustrates his fear of failure, judgement, and being impoverished and rhymes one of the more poignant lines on this album. “I’ll prolly die/cause that’s what you do when you’re seventeen.”  The art of storytelling is most prevalent on the track “Duckworth.”  Over 9th Wonder production (Carolina Stand Up) utilizing the “Butterfly Effect” Mr. Duckworth explains how a chance meeting between his father and label head could have seriously altered his life.  The production changes beat and sample three times.  If you’re a hip-hop head like I am go to Ninth Wonders Instagram site and see him chop the samples on his workstation. It’s masterful. Be careful.  I own a Maschine Groove Studio the same sampler Mr. Douthit owns. When I witnessed him in three posts chopping those samples it took all of God and creation not to take my sampler outside and sacrifice it to the memory of J.Dilla. (R.I.P)

Great albums and artists like “Damn.” and Kendrick Lamar succeed by doing the opposite of what their counterparts do. Instead of spoon feeding a watered downed, sterilized view of the culture to the mainstream; Kendrick pied pipers with skill and execution the masses down to the culture.