A&E — 28 April 2017

COMMENTARY

By Brianna Ross @ITS BRIROSS

Kendrick Lamar has become a household name over the past few years for good reason. A tour through his musical catalog reveals his verbal dexterity, capacity for reflection and his ability to fuse black music’s past with its next generation.

And even with that resume, competing against his own standard of excellence under the weight of the self-imposed pressure put on this release, K-Dot’s new album still leaves you shaking your head like “daaaaamn.”

Perhaps that’s why he named his staggering fourth studio album, “DAMN.”

It dropped on April 14, a week later than anticipated. Fans and critics had high expectations for this album – he didn’t disappoint.

Kendrick brings together tightly wound beats, hard-hitting lyrics, political and personal reckonings, and even a melodic feature from Bono to create a fully extensive album.

“DAMN.” is a series of meditations of Kendrick’s technical and emotional capabilities.

Those meditations on subjects explicitly named in songs like “PRIDE.,” “LUST.,” and “FEAR.” are bound together as an examination of Kendrick’s own existence. An existence that encompasses his past, his present, his future, his disciples, his enemies and his worldview.

Two short years ago, when his album “To Pimp a Butterfly” came out, Kendrick was deemed hip-hop’s king and savior. Turning himself into a messiah, he fully embraces that image on this album.

On “DNA.,” he is “Yeshua’s new weapon,” born of Immaculate Conception and eager to lead his people. But Kendrick Lamar is not Jesus.

He can’t help being human, and like most people, he is capable of dark thoughts clouding his judgment. Kendrick forces his listeners to second guess their own weaknesses by highlighting the struggles inherent in his morality.

The track “FEAR.” embodies the fears that have altered his perception of the world around him. While the songs “PRIDE.” and “LUST.” encompass the deadly sins he finds himself consumed by.

All of this self-examination is used to fuel an album that essentially marks Kendrick’s return to the world of rap music.

This album is more commercialized than Kendrick’s past albums, but even when he takes the commercial route, he remains on a higher level of creativity than anyone else in the industry today.

He collaborates with U2, something that shouldn’t work, and turns it into, arguably, one of the best songs on the album.

On “DNA.,” he takes a relatively average hip-hop beat and uses it to deliver eviscerating lyrics.

Songs like “ELEMENT.” and “GOD.,” show that he can do moody R&B rap well enough to make even a chart-topping artist like Drake nervous.

Following his legendary “To Pimp a Butterfly” release, the expectations for this album were set so high that Kendrick easily, and forgivably, could have fallen short on “DAMN.”

He hasn’t though.

“DAMN.” doesn’t feel like the earthquake he produced in 2015. However, it does prove that the millions of fans who have recognized him as an unstoppable creative force, once again, weren’t let down.

With “DAMN.,” Kendrick Lamar plays by the rules and then sets the rulebook on fire as he continues one of the most impressive album runs in recent memory.

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