With our trusty headphones and an ice pack ready, Kendrick Lamar’s current studio album, DAMN., sent VIBE’s staff for an emotional yet introspective ride. The soundscape, which debuted on April 14, swiftly prompted our editors to analyze Lamar’s lyrics and absorb his passionate delivery.
Dive in below.
Marjua Estevez, Senior Editor:
Kendrick Lamar enters his latest opus speaking softly and carrying a big stick. Without properly digesting the 14-track album and still chewing over its many themes, DAMN. I think is perhaps K. Dot’s greatest visceral body of work—a most necessary compilation flung from the depths of Compton, USA during a social climate still perpetuating global violence against the black body. Apart from the very purposeful subject matters concerning love, spirituality, growth, human error and heritage, among many others, Kung Fu Kenny – having battled depression and suicidal thoughts throughout much of his youth – soon emerges a prophet of sorts, assuming his regal place in the world: a black Israelite – both savage and king – bearing a machete in his mouth and his greatest truths inside his ribs.
Stacy-Ann Ellis, Assistant Editor:
For as long as the masses have heard him bless the mic, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth has always seemed like a humble cat, one with his head down in prayer, fist raised in protest and feet firmly planted in the Compton community. TDE’s frontrunner has become the symbolic face of “doing right,” and because of it—paired with his undeniable pen and delivery of prose—he’s earned the respect of the rap game and the world. But now, refreshingly, DAMN. has become the album to reveal the snarl beneath his boy-next-door smile, and that swagger and slickness of a millennial influencer.
Let’s be clear: this sorta-surprise album is a standard Cornrow Kenny production in the sense that, lyrically and thematically, there is a lot to bite off, chew and digest. If you’re one-and-done-ing a K.Dot album in the 2017th year of our Lord and savior, get it together. The storytelling is still as potent as ever, but what sticks out this project is the attitude behind it all. When you hear him on “DNA,” “LOVE,” “XXX” and “DUCKWORTH,” he knows he’s the sh*t and he knows that you know it, too. As he said on “ELEMENT” (something he’s very much in), he finally makes it look sexy. He feels like he’s actually playing in the hip-pop space the same way Drake would. But better (sorry, Drizzy. I still like More Life).
The production (I’m tipping this hat all the way down the tracklist) breathes new life into Kendrick’s flows and the cocky way he’s delivering them. They’ve all got some bounce and stunt to ’em. More thoughts and feels to come, but pardon me while I blast “HUMBLE.” and twist my face up as I bop and rap into the mirror.
J’na Jefferson, Contributing Writer:
Kendrick has always been candid about the issues he suffers with when it comes to his spiritual and emotional well-being. I’m sure that being able to open up to millions of people is cathartic for him, especially since people can take the album in several different ways depending on how the lyrics touch them. With that being said, DAMN. made me feel a sense of relief of my own, in the sense that we’re not alone when it comes to certain struggles. There’s not many rap albums nowadays that speak to me on a personal level, so when one body of work has tracks that evoke emotions through lyrics that mirror a current situation or my life as a whole, I have to give props.
On “DNA.,” Kendrick takes ownership of the strengths and scars that he was inherently born with. I won’t dive too far into it, but this song, especially lines from the first verse, inspire me to keep pushing regardless of how I may feel from time to time.
“I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA/ I got hustle though, ambition, flow, inside my DNA.” The juxtaposition of the lines are effective. For every “negative,” there’s definitely a positive that makes you feel like you can push through.
Desire Thompson, Associate News Editor:
Webster defines perspective as the following, “the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance.” What’s true is surely up to your worldview, but with Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., the musician’s truth is laid out over 14 tracks that tug at our senses.
You’re bound to see black pride permeating through hip-hop mosh pits thanks to the Mike Will Made It-produced track, “DNA.,” smell new cars and riches on “HUMBLE.,” taste the poisonous temptations on “LUST.,” recollect the touchings of your soulmate on “LOVE.” (featuring Zacari) and hear the brilliant 9th Wonder on “DUCKWORTH.” In between the lyrical madness DAMN. shelves out, we discover Kendrick embarking on a journey that has him caught in the past and his future. Hailed as one of the most creative and important rappers in recent years, he’s not without sins. “With fourteen tracks, carried out over wax, wondering if I’m livin’ through fear or livin’ through rap,” he ponders on “FEAR.” He also acknowledges his relationship with faith on “FEEL.” and the importance of family on the rowdy “XXX.” with U2.
Mortality and love go hand in hand throughout DAMN., especially on the album’s closer which exposes the king of all origin stories and possibly hints that DAMN. could be a prequel of sorts to Kendrick’s debut, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. The rapper’s perspective is one we can relate to. Criticism, financial loss and gain, religion and happiness are experiences everyone has encountered. Through his poignant storytelling, I’m only left with one reaction –damn.
Camille Augustin, Assistant Editor:
Listener, please meet Kendrick Lamar’s soul. Kendrick Lamar’s soul, please meet listener. Straight from the album’s opener “BLOOD.,” you’re introduced to the acclaimed storyteller’s afterlife once a blind woman takes his life. Although it’s not a track you’ll hear blaring out of a club’s speakers, it’s definitely one song that should warrant all of your attention while pressing forward with the remaining melodies on DAMN.
One line from K. Dot’s influencer, Tupac, rings true with his delivery on his fourth studio album. On “Ghetto Gospel,” the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee said, “When I write rhymes I go blind and let the Lord do his thang.” Given Lamar’s importance on religion and spirituality, that line is fitting for his travels to the past, present and future through an otherworldly form of existing. On DAMN., Lamar managed to possess all of the elements of his cherished hip-hop from a subtle head-nod to N.W.A on “XXX” to promoting his lyrical messages through gatekeepers like 9th Wonder and The Alchemist.
Boasting the same amount of importance as the opener is the finale titled “DUCKWORTH.” With intricate production from 9th Wonder, Lamar redefines what it means to be “in pocket” while reconnecting with his fate that played out on “BLOOD.” From top to bottom, the revered wordsmith reeled you in with every revelation, leaving you to wonder how Lamar stepped out of his body to see the world from up top.
Mikey Fresh, Music Editor:
There are a handful of young rappers claiming king in this rap thing, but Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. album just helped him fly past his colleagues. From the intro, K. Dot sets the album off like a feature film, complete with cinematic cues and narration. Without overly preachy vibes, the Compton native builds the storyline with descriptive moods and scenarios that all tie back to his own personal struggles with life, love and spirituality. Specifically, he speaks like a prophet for every kid raised with the odds against them.
Whether it be the struggles African-Americans have no choice but to deal with everyday or the overlooked issues with the youth who attempt to survive in pockets of poverty without the proper guidance, DAMN. is a clear picture of how it really feels to want everything in the world with only your dreams and visions as tools to accomplish the impossible.