It’s the first album in Kendrick Lamar’s discography where tracks can more readily be taken individually. And yet, given the talent of the artist in question, and the producers he’s pulled in, this one is no less ambitious and rewarding than some of his previous entries.
Countless rappers claim to have transcended the game. Kendrick Lamar actually does. There’s the sense his ambitions on DAMN. are even larger, reaching toward something more universal, fateful even spiritual in its reach to find the link tying all contradictions together.
As on its predecessors, Damn. is packed tight with thoughts, anxieties, and anecdotes, but this time Lamar doesn’t even try to shape them into a big picture ... Lamar trusts every idea to stand on its own. When you’re making art this substantial, vital, and virtuosic, there’s no need to wrap a tidy bow around it.
After delving into the personal on 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city and going broader on Butterfly, Lamar has found a middle ground on DAMN. that yields some of his most emotionally resonant music yet.
Three months in, DAMN. feels like our first Trump-era classic. It’s as bold and as hard and as hopeful as it is bursting with vitriol. It’s as distracting as it is inciting. It’s as cohesive as it is dense.
In all, DAMN. makes baseless any claims that Kendrick Lamar isn’t an all-time great.
It may not be nearly as overtly political a record as his last entry, but the state of things seeps into every crisis-in-song-form to be found here. The confidence displayed is easily misleading; more than anything, this is a breakdown in the form of an album.
DAMN. is a widescreen masterpiece of rap, full of expensive beats, furious rhymes, and peerless storytelling about Kendrick’s destiny in America.
With DAMN., Kendrick Lamar plays by the rules and then sets the rule book on fire, and continues one of the most impressive run of albums of any artist in recent memory.
A sonic departure from the jazz inflected funk of To Pimp a Butterfly and the hyper-melodic, west coast revival feel of good kid, m.A.A.d city, DAMN. is much more concerned with trading groove for thump and concept for straight spitting.
If To Pimp a Butterfly was the best rap album in 2015, Damn. is the platonic ideal of the best rap album of 1995, a dazzling display of showy rhyme skills, consciousness-raising political screeds, self-examination and bass-crazy-kicking.
If his expansive, epic 2015 album To Pimp A Butterfly was Kendrick’s grand statement, the realisation of iconic status and a comment on US racial tensions in the final days of Obama’s presidency, then DAMN. sees a continuation of the rapper’s politicised vision, as he stares down FOX News and the Trump administration with strength.
Kendrick Lamar is at his most belligerent, confident, strident on DAMN.. But also his most tender, hurt, thoughtful. He switches tone within songs, and from song to song.
’DAMN.’ does at times feel contradictory and the ideas he’s transmitting at times don’t feel fully formed, but this is where its genius lies. Kendrick offers a true snapshot of the eternal debates that we host inside our heads, and there is immense bravery and artistry in his depiction.
Expectations were undoubtedly, and wholly justifiably, running at the highest level imaginable for Kendrick Lamar’s latest release ... So does DAMN. meet those expectations? Well yes – but by taking a surprising side-step rather than a pace forward in its artistic development.
DAMN. is a special piece of work. Although Good Kid, M.A.A.D City and To Pimp a Butterfly set Kendrick up as a sharp, sincere storyteller, it wasn’t until DAMN. that we were able to hear what happens when the lens was turned fully inward and onto himself.
More accurate to say that, in an era where hip-hop feels defined by absurdly long durations and scores of filler, songs on DAMN. arrive, say what needs be said, and rarely ever let the beat ride out
His confidence positively gleams across dexterous modern-day parables whose fierce reflections, anxieties and grievances jab but never jar and rarely miss their targets.
The triumphant Compton MC might have cut down the number of tracks on his fourth studio album ... but the ideas, thoughts and feelings it contains are massive, weighty things, from sexual tension to deep, dark depression.