Written by Ibrahim Ajaib
In my opinion, Kendrick Lamar is one of the best artists I have listened to in recent years. Kendrick has released 3 classic albums so far comprising of Section .80, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City and To Pimp A Butterfly. So why is Kendrick still left out of the conversation of greatest of all time?
The biggest counter arguments are either that he hasn’t been rapping long enough or that he hasn’t released enough albums, however Biggie only released 2 albums before his death and Big L only one and they are still included in the conversation. Kendrick now being 29 (5 years older than Biggie and Big L at their deaths) surely if his 4th and latest studio album DAMN. is a success surely he should be considered heavily in the conversation?
Ever since the release of “The Heart Part 4” and the first single “HUMBLE.”, every hip hop and Kendrick fan has been anticipating this album. Initially expected on April 7th but this was in fact meant to be the release date for the single “HUMBLE.”, making us wait another week. However, in my opinion this was definitely worth the wait.
Firstly, I think I should start off with that I was a bit sceptical about this album thinking that surely he couldn’t have 4 great albums in a row and the reveal of the album art and features further increased my scepticism. However, that being said, I really enjoyed this album with the right combination of hard hitting production and great storytelling.
The first track “BLOOD.” catches my attention straight away, the beat kicks in consisting of some nice strings, and Kendrick comes in with a soft voice describing him seeing a blind woman acting as if she had lost something so Kendrick goes to help her asking if she’s lost something and her replying with a huge plot twist ‘yes you’ve lost something, your life!’.
“I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA.” The second track DNA. comes in and is one of the hardest tracks I’ve heard in a while a complete contrast to the opening track. This a far stretch from TPAB having more of a GKMC feel. This beat is so good and the beat switch further adds to the intricacy of this track. Kendrick flow is on point as usual.
This then leads into YAH., the third track. I personally tell myself that Lil Uzi Vert’s feature on Bad and Boujee inspired this track even though that is likely as far from the truth as you can get. This is again a complete switch up from the previous track, using a more sombre tone and I can’t help myself from just swaying to this smooth and breezy beat. Kendrick’s on point as usual flowing over this beat effortlessly leaving me feeling that this track is too short.
‘New Kung Fu Kenny!’. The 4th track “ELEMENT.” starts off with an intro from Kid Capri leading into the beat which keeps changing tempo, first it’s hard hitting, slows down for the hook and then even cuts out saying that he tried to motivate and empower artists however there is still no competition for him and then completely slows down for the outro. ‘I’ma make it look sexy’- the hook so minimalistic but so infectious. With all the beat and pitch changes this really made me feel sorry for the producer who had to provide all this.
The next track, “FEEL.” has a slow echoing beat and as the title implies Kendrick venting talking about his feelings with such a good flow. This song really makes you feel for Kendrick as he talks about issues including his family and the industry. It has so many quotables that I’m sure I am going to be seeing on Facebook and Instagram. ‘I feel like the whole world wants me to pray for them but who’s going to pray for me’.
The 6th track “LOYALTY.” contains the first credited feature with Rihanna and Kendrick’s first ever track with Rihanna. Whenever Rihanna is credited as a feature on a hip hop album I’m always cautious but this definitely works. I feel this will be the most radio friendly track off this album. Kendrick brings it as always and Rihanna seems to rap more than sing which is a sound I enjoy on this track. Jay Z fans would note the nod to Hov in the first hook. ‘It’s a secret society, All we ask is trust, All we got is us, Loyalty, loyalty, loyalty.’
“PRIDE.” comes in after “LOYALTY.” which is fitting as Rihanna ended the previous track with ‘It’s so hard to be humble, It’s so hard to be, Lord knows I’m tryin’, Lord knows I’m dyin’, baby’. This track features a nice smooth hook and intro by Steve Lacy and refrain with Anna Wise. This track is so smooth with a simple beat and Kendrick showing his poetic skill whilst the voice changing pitch constantly.
‘My left stroke just went viral!’. This then goes straight into the first single off the album “HUMBLE.” containing a brilliantly simplistic but hard hitting beat by Mike WiLL Made-It who is one of my favourite producers currently. Kendrick takes the chance on this track to talk about a variety of issues including telling listeners and other rappers to be humbled by this track and saying he’s had enough of photoshop. This is a definite club hit whilst providing the intricacy Kendrick always does.
Then there’s yet another slow down in “LUST.” with Kendrick rapping about his perspective of being rapper. He emphasises on the lust people have towards fame and the things it brings whilst also showcasing one of his many flows. This features a nice pitched up sample from Rat Boy’s Knock Knock Knock.
“LOVE.” is a completely different style than what I ever expected from Kendrick. This is probably my least favourite track on this album. To me personally it seems out of place on the album in terms of style however the lyrics are still relevant.
The 11th track, “XXX.” was the track I was most sceptical about going into this album mostly due to the U2 feature. However, I was pleasantly surprised with this track, so much so that it is probably one of my favourites. The U2 feature is used in minimalistic way and effectively. There’s a few beat switches on this track which all add to the track. The first switch was a calm intro which then goes into a hard hitting NWA-esque beat and Kendrick flowing over this so well and aggressively. The final beat switch is another slow down, showcasing the U2 feature yet again and Kendrick slows down his flow with some great wordplay.
This then leads into the 12th track, “FEAR.”, featuring a smooth Alchemist beat. Kendrick describes in his three verses, 3 times when he was 7, 17 and 27 where he experienced as the title suggests fear. In this track Kendrick is brutally honest with a lot of religious themes which leads well into the penultimate track GOD.
“GOD.” is a complete change of style again by Kendrick with a trap beat and Kendrick comparing his successes and praise he receives to the feeling of being god and humbling rappers who use this same comparison and putting them in their place.
The final track “DUCKWORTH.” is a perfect finish to an almost perfect album. Comprising of a variety of beat switches with Kendrick’s impeccable storytelling this song is flawless. Kendrick hits us with a surprise ending telling us the story of how his father worked at KFC and TDE boss (Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith) used to rob the KFC his father (Ducky) worked at. So to get on their good side Ducky gave him free chicken and Anthony didn’t kill him ‘let him slide’. The ending being ‘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’.
Telling us that the only reason is Kendrick is alive and where he is right now is because his father gave Anthony free KFC and that Anthony decided not to kill him. The outro is a rewind to the start of the album taking us full circle.
With DAMN. Kendrick gives us yet another solid album with again a different style. Kendrick’s story telling and concepts for his albums make them seem so much more having more of an experience or story/film feeling than an actual album. This is the 4th straight solid album from Kendrick which means surely he must be considered as one of the greats at this point.