Kendrick Lamar is an otherworldly being, in my humble opinion. (pun intended) I knew the album was coming, I should have been ready. I definitely was not ready. Lamar released his sixth full length project, DAMN., on April 14, 2017. Prior to the album’s official release, K. Dot dropped “The Heart Part IV” and “HUMBLE“, the latter acting as DAMN.‘s first single.
First things first, you know I have to give a shout out to “The Heart Part IV“. This is one of my favorite tracks by King Kunta in a hot minute. WOW. Just listened to it for the 720th time in preparation to write and it baffles me more and more every listen. I physically cannot get into the references/disses/insanity of this track because it makes my head pulsate and my body shake in sheer hysteria at the craftsmanship and genius of it all. From the constant heartbeat throughout to that Russell Westbrook line… TELL ME Kendrick is not the king of the game. That is all I will say about that.
” Tables turned, lesson learned, my best look
You jumped sides on me, now you ’bout to meet Westbrook
Go celebrate with your team and let victory vouch you
Just know the next game played I might slap the shit out you “
Although the single does not have a music video to match just yet, this choreography and freestyle by dancer Mikey DellaVella does the song justice, with the creative interpretations and mind-blowing hype Kendrick deserves.
The following accounts are my first reactions to each track on DAMN. Here we go:
- Track 1: BLOOD.
Woah. He’s really doing this ya’ll. The conversation with the listener on this track atop a theatrical 1960s vibe instrumental ropes the audience in from the jump. In this conversation I feel, as I oftentimes do when listening to Kendrick’s wise views, like a kid on the ground looking up as a teacher tells a story. Gunshot at 1:39 followed by a real soundbite of ignorant newscaster calling Kendrick out. HE’S ABOUT TO GO IN WITH NO MERCY. The time is now.
- Track 2: DNA.
WHAT. If this is how the whole album is gonna be then I might as well quit now. How can you put such feelings into coherent sentences. Off with people’s heads, “backbone don’t exist, born outside a jellyfish”, Kendrick really did that over this infectious beat that puts me inside a video game. (It really sounds like the most intense murder mystery game) Kendrick exposes unintelligent, joke journalists for the second time so far on the album by included a clip of one saying, “This is why I say that hip hop has done more damage to young African Americans than racism in recent years.” The bars are the only response this naive community needs, trust me.
And the video? Don Cheadle? Priest outfit/kimono with black toms? Who would have thought these things would marry so flawlessly.
- Track 3: YAH.
The religious references continue in this vibey track, with “YAH.” referring to Yahweh. Immediately, this song is reminiscent for me of the good kid, m.A.A.d city era with a similar feel to songs like “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” and “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst“. The syntax in the first verse with the consistent breath and structure is so soothing, while also putting me on edge because it’s impossible to anticipate Kendrick’s next move.
- Track 4: ELEMENT.
Kendrick’s poetic recount of his childhood and family life paired with his proclamation as the game’s most dominant rapper is a flawless transition. The subtle disses don’t stop on this track, and I am not mad at it. He has never stopped improving and innovating, and he made it look sexy.
- Track 5: FEEL.
The heartbeat returns in this sulky, textured track. He employs something I learned is called “anaphora”, when he repeats “I feel like” with each new phrase. This tool is most famously utilized by Dr. MLK in his “I Have A Dream” speech, and I see many similarities between the powerful proclamations of two men. This repetition makes his intent of the track, proving himself while describing the toxic nature of the rap game, very clear. “Fillin’ the void of bein’ employed with ballin’, Streets is talkin’, fill in the blanks with coffins, Fill up the banks with dollars, Fill up the graves with fathers” is gold, too.
- Track 6: LOYALTY. FEAT. RIHANNA.
This pairing is blissful. Kendrick and Rihanna compliment one another and their respective styles so well. The track is produced by Kendrick’s longtime collaborator DJ Dahi. Kendrick’s style with a female vocal in this track reminds me of the legendary “Babylon”, also produced by Dahi, where he was paired with his fellow TDE artist SZA (one of the most underrated in the game may I add). I also very much appreciate the Rihanna line “It’s hard to be humble,” that closes out the track. I see the correlation. I see you.
- Track 7: PRIDE.
The “Awaken, My Love!” vibes are HERE. That lo-fi sounding guitar strumming that leads the track is quite Gambino, and, with Kendrick’s monotone bars, it sounds so meant to be. I also am tearing up at the thought of that collab in 2017. This introspective track continues the religious themes, with the difference in traits between being prideful and humble dissected by Kung Fu Kenny. I read somewhere that the transition from Kendrick’s high tone of voice to the dismal deep sound is representative of his contrasting positive ideals versus negative actions. The beat is also very intentional, as is everything Kendrick executes. The soft-spoken percussions are meant to symbolize the characteristic of a truly humble nature.
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.”
- Track 8: HUMBLE.
Of course this track has already been listened to over and over again since it’s drop. I think this was the perfect single for this album because of its aggressive and bombastic nature, almost waking listeners up and warning them to prepare for DAMN. in its entirety. When the video dropped, it immediately became my favorite video to date. Aside from the song itself, the cinematography and faint symbols throughout had me MAD hyped. I think 2017 has been an impressive year for visuals as a whole, but the videos off of DAMN. thus far are redefining traditional hip hop videography.
- Track 9: LUST.
The top of the song makes me feel as though I’m driving past the sounds extremely quickly, as they make those prominent slurping noises. Maybe that’s just me. The persistent qualities within each song are continuing to all form the perfect puzzle. Not only within each track’s story, but the order and track placement is masterful as well. K. Dot touches on the all-to common tendency to indulge in meaningless, routine “pleasures”. In the second verse, Kendrick turns self-reflective, questioning his own weaknesses and habits.
- Track 10: LOVE. FEAT. ZACARI.
Mmmmmm I like I like. Props to Zacari. His songwriting skills are impressive, and Kendrick’s ability to find a sound he likes and build an illustrative story around it is thrilling. During the chorus and verses, Kendrick is asking, presumably to his fiancé, questions to affirm and solidify their relationship. This is the perfect example of the timeless breed that is Kendrick’s music.
- Track 11: XXX. FEAT. U2.
This BEAT. Who would have thought Kendrick and U2 would go this hard. And Mike WiLL?!?! Wowza. The political and religious themes are as prominent as every, and the violent side of Kendrick is coming through as he recounts his accomplishments on the streets. The intense, high energy beat converts to a mellow, classic drum kit, taking me back to my middle school drum lessons, and I love it so much.
- Track 12: FEAR.
Reversing the bridge. Genius. Tell me the last time you’ve heard a reversed audio byte in a track. Kendrick again employs an anaphora in the second verse, as he predicts ways in which he might die. Beanie Sigel’s classic track, “Die”, one of the many samples on DAMN., perfectly compliments Kendrick’s memories from childhood. The orchestral melody near the track’s close is extremely similar to the end of “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe“, subtly connecting projects and stories.
- Track 13: GOD.
This beat and melody pairing reminds me of Chance and Kanye, and Kendrick gave it an unexpected twist I did not know I needed. He compares the sensation of success to “what God feels like”. After openly relishing in his own accomplishments in the first verse, Kendrick touches on his mortal qualities in the second verse; a pattern that has been repeated throughout the album.
- Track 14: DUCKWORTH.
No track on this album is a better epitome of Kendrick as a storyteller. His ability to clearly relay messages in prolific phrases is what has set him apart from industry rappers for years. This chicken story, something so comical and simple, blooms into the perfect closing hymn for DAMN. The reversed audio is again used in the song’s outro, revisiting clips from throughout the album, ending with the very first phrase on the album’s opening track BLOOD. Kendrick just took us through the most incredible journey, flipped it, reversed it, and we end staring at what we just endured.