“I said it’s like that, dropped one classic, came right back / ‘Nother classic, right back / My next album, the whole industry on a ice pack”. And it was with those words (and a few others) delivered in ‘The Heart Part 4’ that the palpable anticipation for Kendrick Lamar’s next body of work became apparent. Less than a month later, he had released DAMN., which arguably completes his hat-trick of classic albums.
And much like Kendrick’s other album’s that have been considered as classics, DAMN. begins with an intricate introduction (‘BLOOD.’), before dropping into the heavy-hitting and aggressive ‘DNA.’. The main reason for this aggression is that the opening two tracks are linked together by audio snippets from a Fox News broadcast where multiple anchors discuss Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 BET Awards performance of his song ‘Alright’, and Kendrick uses ‘DNA.’ to get a few thoughts off his mind.
The next few tracks illustrate an idea of turbulence within the mind-set of Kendrick Lamar, as the pace of the project contrasts with each song. The tranquillity of ‘YAH.’ is juxtaposed with the hostility of ‘ELEMENT.’, where the first real instances of shots at other emcees (supposedly Drake or Big Sean, depending on what theories you believe) can be heard. Kendrick communicates a lot more animosity toward his competitors when compared to previous albums, with such content usually kept for featured verses or promotional singles.
For long time listeners of Kendrick Lamar, ‘FEEL.’ may recall memories of an earlier embodiment of the Compton emcee, as he spills all his emotions throughout the breathless three and a half minute tune. This is followed by ‘LOYALTY.’, which features Rihanna, and although there could be reason for initial scepticism toward the collaboration, it actually does no harm to the album’s progression, despite being an obvious attempt at a commercial effort. Speaking of which, the album’s first single, the Mike Will-produced ‘HUMBLE.’, is simple in production and doesn’t sound like something you should like, especially from Kendrick Lamar, but it’s unavoidably infectious.
The album’s greatest moments appear toward the end, with ‘FEAR.’ and ‘DUCKWORTH.’ unquestionably detailing why Kendrick is held in the esteem that his within the Hip Hop culture. Listeners may recognize the Alchemist-produced ‘FEAR.’ from its instrumental cameo in ‘The Heart Part 4’, but on this occasion it’s given a seven minute appearance in order to allow Kendrick to illustrate what fear means to him from the perspective of a 7, 17 and 27-year-old. Meanwhile, ‘DUCKWORTH.’ has been discussed as some of the finest storytelling in Hip Hop, with Kendrick describing the sequence of events that led to Anthony ‘Top Dawg’ Tiffith – CEO of Top Dawg Entertainment – crossing paths with Kendrick’s father. In a remarkably intricate account, within which three separate 9th Wonder produced-tracks each take turns to accompany Kendrick’s tale, the rapper depicts how Anthony’s decision to “let [Dougy] slide” was a defining factor in what became TDE and Kendrick Lamar’s story.
Despite the overall success of DAMN., it would be dishonest to act as if the project is completely faultless, with tracks ‘LOVE.’, and the initial part of XXX (that doesn’t actually feature U2) could easily be forgotten among the other outstanding moments. Irrespective, Kendrick Lamar manages to reach levels that still astonishes listeners, further adding to the argument that he’s has made another classic album, even if it is to be considered a slight downgrade to To Pimp A Butterfly and/or good kid, m.a.a.d city. It’s difficult to imagine another Hip Hop album in 2017 earning the plaudits DAMN. will.