Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

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PearShaped writers are in agreement that the hotly-anticipated DAMN. is good, but not Kendrick Lamar's best work.

Aagya Pradhan

In The Heart Part 4 Kendrick Lamar, rightfully, boasted of his track record of consecutively dropping classic albums. He further claimed his next one was going to put “the whole industry on a ice pack” which is what we undoubtedly see with DAMN.

Straight off the bat, this seems to be Lamar’s most straightforward record – for me, it lacks the explicit conceptual framework from To Pimp A Butterfly. Nonetheless, the album does seem to follow a narrative starting off with BLOOD. which recounts his murder. The succeeding tracks take place after Lamar’s death, providing him with several moments of self-reflection. The moody YAH. sees Lamar lament over religion and family; a theme that continues in the album’s stand-out track FEAR. Coming in at almost eight minutes long, it displays Lamar at his most vulnerable as he discusses the anxieties that have haunted him across his life. The track is bare aside from the singular beat which further emphasises the sense of dread.

The album’s pacing changes with the inclusion of, for lack of a better word, bangers like DNA., ELEMENT., and HUMBLE. Lamar wastes no time on DNA., spitting bars as quick as they come. ELEMENT. is reminiscent of current chart toppers but the sharp rhymes, showing a reclamation of his position as the best, make it a distinctively Kendrick Lamar track. The features are a mixed bag but strangely work – trap inspired LOYALTY. features Rihanna, the political XXX. features U2 (which I am still sceptical about) and, personal favourite, LOVE. which is a soothing, romantic track featuring Zacari whose vocals contrast beautifully with those of Lamar.

PicksDNA., XXX., LOVE.

Rating: 4/5

Rasagyna Gurung

The man, the myth, the legend, Kung Fu Kenny finally dropped his long anticipated album, DAMN. Kendrick Lamar has come a long way from Good Kid M.A.A.D City and I am thankful to have witnessed his evolution into one of hip-hop’s most respectable and influential artists. Naturally, I had high expectations from DAMN., especially after HUMBLE. (the first single off the album). HUMBLE. is perhaps Kendrick’s biggest radio hit since Alright and it truly is worthy of its title.

Just a glance at the track list hints at a shift in Kendrick’s state of mind and perhaps a sense of maturity in his music. His short and capitalised titles are a contrast to longer and more expressive titles akin to his debut album. Additionally, I couldn’t help but notice the allusions to religion made by PRIDE. and LUST. I concurred all this from the first single and the track list of the album, so naturally I was excited about diving into the album. However, after one listen of the whole album, I was left slightly disappointed by the album. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it and each song gave such me so much to think about, but it lacked the continuity that I enjoy in albums and the production was average.

Criticism aside, I applaud Kendrick’s wonderful selection of themes he has discussed in his songs. From self-reflection to religion, he manages to explore ideas that plague him and in that process, he infuses commentary about the political situation in America. Is this Kendrick’s best album? No. Would I still recommend it to everyone and play it on repeat for the next 6 months? Yes.

Picks: DNA., HUMBLE., LOVE., XXX., GOD.

Rating: 4/5

Finn Dickinson

“Damn” was the most mentally salient word after my first few listens of Kendrick Lamar’s new record. Damn, I thought. He’s finally missed the mark.

Rather like Deafheaven, Miles Davis and Radiohead, Lamar has realised the best way to follow a near-masterwork is to change tact. He’s stripped back the instrumentation and the lyrical scope, but the results still impress. The direct storytelling of XXX. and DUCKWORTH. is just as compelling as the highlights of Lamar’s previous albums, whilst DNA. presents the Frankenstein’s monster of beats – as beautiful and intricate as it is unnerving and twisted.

Nonetheless, DAMN. has its faults. Nobody expected Lamar to top To Pimp a Butterfly’s instrumentation, especially given that he didn’t write much of it himself, but Damn’s music still suffers comparatively. LOYALTY., PRIDE., LUST., and GOD. are characterised by vocal flourishes which are superfluous at best and downright bad at worst. Sometimes it’s like Lamar has just discovered singing for the first time, and wants to show off all 3 or 4 notes within his vocal repertoire (LOYALTY., LOVE.). Speaking of which, I’d like to know why the two catchiest tracks on the record suffer from its most vapid lyrics.

Admittedly, DAMN. explores topics of childhood, religion, personal struggles, cognitive dissonance, and love with lyrics that are still broadly incisive, if occasionally somewhat unfocussed and facile. DAMN. is a good effort. It was just inevitable that the world’s best rapper would eventually come up a little short.

Picks: DNA., XXX., DUCKWORTH.
Rating: 3/5

Olly Haynes

DAMN., Kendrick Lamar’s latest release is, if nothing else, something of a misnomer. It was not what I expected from one of the world’s most esteemed rappers. To Pimp A Butterfly was a highly nuanced, angry and thoughtful work that portrayed in gritty detail racial struggle and the darkness of the accompanying emotions. On The Blacker The Berry, moments like his defiant growl of “I’m a proud monkey” made Kendrick seem like a one-man-NWA, which is why it is so disappointing that DAMN. offers little beyond bland beats, ramblings about Christianity, and rap’s usual self-glorification.

For what it’s worth, HUMBLE. and ELEMENT. are decent, and DUCKWORTH. tells a good story. Even if about someone else, the idea of calling Drake a bitch, telling him to sit down and “be humble” is hilarious (he just released a playlist for God’s sake. How little does he value his fans that he’s willing to profit to that degree from their fandom?). The beat reminded me of Tyler’s Yonkers which in my book is always good. But, even so asking for “ass with some stretch marks” isn’t exactly the body positivity promotion it seems like it was intended to be. I found the line funny, but from someone whose past lyrics have been so sincere it appears like a botched attempt at being radical within rap.

The rest of the album kind of breezed by in a blur of boring, trap-influenced beats and generic, faux-deep lyrics. It isn’t terrible, but it is disappointing from someone as talented as Kendrick. But maybe I’m a philistine, who knows? Here’s to hoping for a better next release.

Rating: 2.5/5

Picks: HUMBLE, DNA, DUCKWORTH