Review: Kendrick Lamar – Damn.


Clyde Raible, Cub Writer

Whether it’s the dark messages about race, inequality, and religion, or the simplistic yet powerful beats, or even just Kendrick’s astounding verbal ability, almost everyone can find someone can find something to like about this album.

There’s a good reason that so many people have been saying that Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper of all time. He manages to fit some of his greatest bangers yet, the most relaxing beats, and the most incredibly deep lyrics he’s ever written all into the same album.

To really show just how this album progresses, it’d be best to walk through every track and analyze them all individually.

The first track of the album, BLOOD is the story of a blind woman who kills Kendrick after he tries to help her. It’s spoken, more like poetry rather than lyrics, and quickly ends and transitions to the next song. This sets a dark cloud in place over the rest of the album.

Many people have different interpretations of this track, and why Kendrick created it and started his album with it. Some say that it’s a poetic expression of life. No matter how hard you try, you will still die. Others believe that it represents betrayal, and the loss of friends and family.

The track that follows BLOOD is DNA. DNA is one of the most popular singles off of the album, and is a great example of how Kendrick can fit some of the most incredibly deep bars in one of the most exciting songs on the album.

It touches on many troubling topics in Kendrick’s life, from his self worth, or lack thereof, to his sketchy past. Kendrick genuinely seems bothered by his past on this track, and he questions himself on a level that we haven’t really seen on many other tracks Kendrick has made.

After DNA is YAH, a harsh change from the hard and quick tempo of DNA. It’s far more relaxed, more likened to stoner rap, rather than the trap influence of the previous song. The lyrics analyze his relationship with his family, friends, and, much like the rest of the album, god. The production on this track is incredibly interesting using inverted drums to create the beat, making a very dissonant and echoey beat.

Some of the topics covered in this song are controversial. The track references a voicemail from his cousin on the track FEAR later on in the album from Kendrick’s cousin. This voicemail claims that minorities are the true descendants of the Israelites, and they are being punished for their sins, “I’m a Israelite, don’t call me Black no mo’ — that word is only a color, it ain’t facts no mo’”. Clearly these lines have sparked intense debate among religious scholars and Kendrick fans alike.

Next up is ELEMENT, another very exciting track on the album, and also one of the most popular on the album. It turns the previously very dark, and self conscious themes of the album on their heads, and shows Kendrick’s cockier side. He makes numerous references to other artists who have wronged him or dissed him and goes out of his way to mock them.

Some see this as a low point on the album, a self-indulgent pointless song, others would argue that it’s a mockery of similar songs released by other artists. Not even to mention that it’s got an unbelievably memorable hook.

The next song FEEL is a sharp emotional change from the cockiness of ELEMENT. These two songs are polar opposites. Where ELEMENT was a cocky expression of pride and self-confidence, FEEL expresses every insecurity and fear that Kendrick has felt about himself, his life, and his music.

He questions himself on every level on this track. He wonders whether he’s good enough, whether he’s made enough, done enough, or if he’ll ever be satisfied with himself. These are feelings that many other workaholics may be able to relate, and empathize with.

LOYALTY, the track following FEEL features Rihanna and is a beautiful, mellow track following such a powerfully emotional track.

While it’s still a good track musically, many have complained that the lyrics are quite lackluster. It’s called Loyalty, but the lyrics say nothing interesting about loyalty, or anything at all really.

After LOYALTY comes PRIDE, another introspective track about Kendrick’s own personal experiences. Quite obviously, the track is about his pridefulness. So often he is called the greatest rapper of all time, he is praised from all sides, and this will obviously have a profound effect on his self image.

This song shows how he attempts to avoid having his self worth inflated, and how he maintains a humble outlook on himself and the world. He’s not always successful in keeping himself in line, but the point of the song is that he’s making an effort.

The song immediately following this is, once again, the exact opposite of the previous song. Where PRIDE was about trying to stay humble, HUMBLE is all about Kendrick’s pride. The song is one of the most popular off the whole album, and with good reason because it’s one of the most exciting and unique tracks on the whole album.

Following that combination is the song LUST, which is a direct comment on the pointlessness of most people’s lives. So many people live for drugs, alcohol and sex, and this song is the way that Kendrick shows his views of the lives so many people live.

After LUST comes LOVE, which features Zacari Nicasio, one of the most controversial people of the year, given his actions at the people’s choice awards, but he’s still able to make some amazing music, especially while working with Kendrick..

This song, just like the rest of them, is another look into Kendrick’s mind and his views on love and life itself. He greatly clarifies how he sees his relationships with others, and with his family especially.

Following that is XXX, a song featuring a very strange artist for Kendrick to collaborate with, U2. They pull it off perfectly though, creating an atmospheric ballad and a powerful rap song all in one.

This song takes a critical view on the “gangster” lifestyle idealized by mass media and other artists. It shows all the death and danger that comes along with the gangster lifestyle, where other songs would speak of the greatness of this lifestyle, this song attempts to show its true nature, and how the idealization is wrong, and extremely dangerous.

FEAR. No track on the album has a more fitting name than this one, which delves into the deepest, darkest insecurities and horrors of Kendrick’s mind. This song is doubly powerful, because not only does it explain Kendrick’s fears, but it also analyzes the position of minorities in the US, and very controversially justifies it with religion.

There are three distinct levels of fear in this song, split into three different verses, the first being the childish fear. Over and over, Kendrick is threatened by his mother, creating a deep fear of her. Next comes the fear of death. Kendrick expresses just how deeply he fears dying, and especially his fear of dying because of his race. The final level of fear is the internal fears that Kendrick holds, and expresses several times through this album. He fears losing creativity, losing his family and friends, losing his life to his work.

The next song GOD, is a bit like a palate cleanser after such an extremely deep, dark, and powerful song. It’s by no means a weak song, it’s still quite and interesting, and definitely pleasant song, but the message sent by the song is just one of self confidence, and cockiness, as he constantly compares himself to god.

The final song on the album DUCKWORTH, is tale of how Kendrick’s father could’ve been killed, but was saved because of his generosity. The man who could’ve killed him was Anthony Tiffith, the man who would later sign a fifteen year old Kendrick Lamar to his label.

This song is a pleasant way to close out the album, still a very dark song, much like the rest of them, but it’s far more optimistic. It shows how sometimes pleasant coincidences can make the world a better place, even if disaster was only narrowly avoided.

The songs aren’t the only thing that this album has to offer, two music videos for the album have been released so far, DNA, and HUMBLE. HUMBLE has reached over 150 million views, and DNA has gained over 50 million views.

The videos for each of these songs continue Kendrick’s trend for unique and interesting visuals with extremely creative and technical camerawork. They have been widely praised for their ability to combine biblical and modern thug imagery into something more interesting than either one alone.