Kendrick Lamar: DAMN – Review |Cross Examinations

Release Date: April 14, 2017
Labels: Top Dawg Entertainment / Aftermath / Interscope
Genres: Alternative Hip Hop / Conscious Hip Hop / Trap

I know this is very late, but I wanted to listen to it as many times as I felt appropriate, because it’s a Kendrick album. You really have to delve in deep with a Kendrick album; otherwise, you’re not really getting the full scope that comes with listening to one.

When the leadoff single “Humble” dropped at the end of March and I heard the significant change in genre, I wondered how Kendrick was going to go from there. I was a little bit worried about what direction he was going in. The track, while very headnodic in instrumentation and production and meaningful in overall message, gets a little bit too played out after a few listens. When I realized he was going to be releasing the album in April, I was really excited to hear it, because it wass Kendrick. At the same time, however, there was a thought etching it’s way into my mind: Maybe this album won’t be as good as the last two.

And now that it’s been out for a couple of months, I can finally say, to the best of my ability, what I really think about this album. I feel all these high marks for Kendrick Lamar’s fourth studio album DAMN are a bit unwarranted. This album is not as good as so many critics and other fans are saying it is. Don’t get me wrong, though. There are many instances on this album that would make me say that this is one of the better albums of this year, but this is not the best work that Kendrick Lamar has put out during his highly-acclaimed musical career.

This album shows a significant departure from the jazzy and experimental hip hop vibe that Kendrick has been acquainted with since his 2015 release To Pimp a Butterfly that continued into his 2016 compilation EP Untitled Unmastered. This album instead features a more trap-heavy sound that still keeps the overall conscious aspect that many of Kendrick’s releases have had in the past. This change in the overall genre might make past listeners shy away, but it could also bring in new listeners, which is what I think that Kendrick was trying to do here. It also has some elements of Contemporary R&B in tracks like the Rhianna featured “Loyalty” and “Love,” which is one of my favorites from the album.

Like many of Kendrick’s albums, this album has an overall theme that can be heard throughout. This theme is basically Kendrick questioning himself and his influence on the hip hop game and whether it is a good thing or a bad thing. It’s not as hard-hitting as the themes from his last two albums, but it certainly does enough to keep me listening to the whole album. He also deals with topics of religion, God, violence, love, media, and the hip hop game itself. It begins on the first track “Blood” where Kendrick encounters a blind woman who shoots him, a very strong opening track if you ask me.

Throughout the fourteen tracks on this album, there are five or six of them that I do not really listen to when I feel the need to listen to the entire album. That is a big letdown for me, especially with a Kendrick album. Tracks like “Feel,” “Loyalty,” “Pride,” “Fear,” and “God” are among these tracks. There is nothing entirely bad about them, but they just didn’t have the amount of appeal to me that many of the other tracks did.

I feel that “DNA” is one of the hardest tracks released this year, and the music video was shot very well. “Yah” is a very trippy tracks that deals with Kendrick’s religion and his beef with Fox News. The track “Element” basically narrates how Kendrick feels as though he is the most dominant rapper in the game right now, and based on his past credits, I would agree with him. “Humble,” while very mainstream and commercial, is another good song that I feel deserves a lot of recognition.

Kendrick comments on the aggressive and repetitive lifestyles that many of us live on “Lust.” “Love” is basically an ode to his fiancee Whitney Alford and is a track that I consider perhaps my most favorite on the album. The feature by Zacari really escalates the awesomeness of the track. “XXX” features popular Irish rock band U2. While I am very on the fence about this track, the feature by U2 is actually utilized very well and the use of the police siren that is used throughout the track is sonically pleasing. And finally, “Duckworth” narrates how his and label-owner Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith’s lives are actually much closer than the listener thinks. The way everything is executed on the album’s final track really showcases Kendrick’s ability as a storyteller as well as how strange and connected life can really be.

Overall, the new album by Kung-Fu Kenny is quite enjoyable and can be considered one of the best this year. It is, however, not Kendrick’s best album. Honestly, I would put it a notch above Section.80, but several notches below Good Kid, Maad City and To Pimp a Butterfly. This album is definitely worth a listen.

Favorite tracks: “DNA,” “Yah,” “Element,” “Humble,” “Lust,” “Love,” “XXX” (to a degree), and “Duckworth.”

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