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DAMN. album review

Antonio Pequeño IV, A&E Editor

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“Is it wickedness? Is it weakness?”

The chilling lines from the opening track of Kendrick Lamar’s fourth studio album, DAMN. As soon as I hear this I’m locked in and thinking to myself, can he do it again? Can he live up to the extreme expectations of his fans? His listeners? The rap game? After bathing in this album and listening to it several times front to back, I personally believe Kendrick Lamar has done it again.

“DNA.” is the second track in the album, and it’s explosive to say the least. I don’t even need to get into the technical parts of the track’s instrumentation to tell you that it’s a banger at heart.

Kendrick is in your face declaring he’s got loyalty, royalty, power and pain inside his DNA which plays into the album’s theme of wickedness.

The next track, “YAH.” brings down the amp from “DNA.” significantly with its dreary tone, slow drums and warped ambient sounds. This track is simple and mellow at its core and is a great song to vibe to amongst all else. “ELEMENT.” doesn’t ramp up in ferocity, but is a bit more lively. Lamar puts some umph in his cadence as he plays himself up as the rapper that takes every top five spot in the current rap game, “Mr. One through Five, that’s the only logic.”

“FEEL.” combines some of the wicked values from the prior three tracks with the value of weakness. Kendrick laments about his feelings that nobody is looking out for him or praying for him. His use of anaphora, a rhetorical device based off repeated words or phrases works. He’s feeling a lot of things, and listeners are going to know every detail about what those things are.

The following track, “PRIDE.” is unique. Kendrick’s vocals transpose (fluctuate between high and low keys) to a drugged out rhythm as he reinforces the album’s religious themes. “HUMBLE.” is anything but its title. The beat is braggadocious just like the accompanying lyrics from Kendrick. He’s going for the throats of his competition and flexing, but does so in necessity for the album’s overall message.

“LUST.” shines a light on the unproductive and lustful behavior of men, women and himself. Kendrick connects this fruitless behavior to his prediction that the current frequency of distaste for the Trump administration will eventually die down as he raps, “Time passin’, things change, revertin’ back to our daily programs, stuck in our ways; Lust.”

“LOVE.” is the lowpoint of the album for me. I can see the attraction to the pop melody but a few things irked me here. First, I feel like it takes a page from Drake’s style. If you listen to those subtle and watered down drums at the beginning of the song, it sounds too similar to the drums out of XDrake’s “Hotline Bling” and that lacks creativity to me. I feel as though Kendrick could have been a bit more ambitious with this track.

The Rihanna collaboration on “LOYALTY.” is something I’m indifferent to. It’s a fun song with a catchy chorus and animated rhythm, but I feel like the feature was forced.

The feature from U2 on “XXX.” was to my surprise, done  well. The middle of the song is a departure from Kendrick’s usual sound what with its blaring sirens and revving bass. That chaotic beat breaks down to a much more laxed style as U2’s lead singer Bono makes a short and sweet hook. Meanwhile Kendrick criticizes right-wing media outlets and the American government’s tendency to set up policies that target African-Americans in particular, such as privatization of the American prison system.

The album’s final three songs “FEAR.”, “GOD.” and “DUCKWORTH.” are all solid. Though I will say the sampling usage, production and beat changes in “FEAR.” and “DUCKWORTH.” are executed very well alongside their concentrated addition to the album’s message.

Overall, DAMN. weaves the themes of wickedness and weakness together and describes Kendrick’s struggle between the two. It’s an album of self-reflection and according to an interview between Kendrick and Zane Lowe on Apple Music/Beats 1, DAMN. is the concept of  “I can’t change the world until I change myself.”

Though not as ambitious as his previous project, To Pimp a Butterfly, DAMN is exceptionally crafted for the most part and the fact that Kendrick has released great consecutive albums, shows that he may arguably be “the greatest rapper alive.”

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