Kendrick Lamar is a force of nature. Be it hanging out with President Obama, or performing at Coachella with a wall of fire behind him, he treats his entire life with poetic integrity and what some people may call genius. His talent and strong will came together the best way possible on “To Pimp a Butterfly”, where post-apocalyptic funk and soul paint a picture of a world torn apart, where mothers lose sons and the police can’t even protect you. That is, if you happen to be African-American.
But in a Trump-fueled world filled with fake news and hate, America is more divided than ever, and maybe K. Dot is the key to bridging that gap.
DAMN. begins with a innocuous statement. “So I was taking a walk the other day”. After this, the listener is thrown headfirst into a world with full of bodies, murder and empty prayers. In Compton, wickedness and weakness rule the world, and on DAMN., Kendrick tries to find a way to balance these wildly different parts of himself. From the nothing-less-than-savage “HUMBLE.” to the timely reflection of “XXX”, DAMN. is as urgent as its all-caps titles, telling stories, mourning deaths, and most importantly of all, telling it like it is.
Many try to argue that Kendrick is a gangster who causes nothing but trouble. But the same was said about Jay-Z, who now holds a place in the songwriter’s hall of fame. Or look at Eminem, who I’ve covered before and who took away the power of those who critiqued him with his offensive brand of tongue in cheek humor. There’s no denying that Kendrick Lamar has talent. But with DAMN., Kendrick Lamar launches himself to legend-like heights where no Fox News anchors can touch him. But the haters will try, and as long as we have conflict, we will still have Kendrick Lamar’s music.
Highlights from the album are as plentiful as punchlines, but a few must be taken into consideration. For instance, the earlier mentioned “XXX.” which features U2, is a biting commentary on our time, referencing Donald Trump, Fox News and even the LA street gangs Kendrick grew up with.
One particularly great lyric is from the very end of the song, “America’s reflections of me, that’s what a mirror does”. This line cements everything Kendrick was talking about. Everything we needed to know about Compton and the outside world.
His power on “XXX.” shows no matter what, packed by sirens and thumping drums on the earlier part of the track, and switching back into neutral with the words “Okay kids, let’s talk about gun control”.
Another important song is “FEAR.”, which does more than an average rap song. It has the storytelling prowess of Eminem’s “Stan”, highlighting the times Kendrick has been most afraid, at 7, 17 and 27 (Sensing a theme?). Once upon a time he was only afraid of his mother, but now it’s fame, the police and even his own money.
On “FEAR.”, Kendrick asks us something very important. Is he “Living through fear or living through rap.” This line is though provoking in the best way, telling us about how rap saved Kendrick, and how rap might be the death of Kendrick.
DAMN. is a portrait of a man torn between wickness and weakness, who comes from losing his life to full-on screaming “Be humble!”. DAMN. has a song for everything, be it pride or passion, love or loss. Do yourself a favor and give it a listen. Kendrick may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he certainly is mine, and have I ever let you down?