Does he really need an introduction? Look, I love EVERY Kendrick Lamar album, my personal favorite being To Pimp A Butterfly, which in 2017 isn’t an uncommon option. People have high expectations for this man, and rightfully so. He’s, in my opinion, the greatest Hip-Hop artist of our generation. Didn’t say he’s the best… just the greatest. Overall. But maybe he is the overall best too. Definitely the best concept rapper we have right now. Debate me another time. What I’m here to give you right now is my current thoughts on his latest work, DAMN.

I’m here to tell you whether or not this album is the greatest thing since sliced bread, or trash, because on the internet music can only be one or the other. Whenever Kendrick drops, people get anxious. People get worried. They fear that the man will slip, because he’s just been on a streak of greatness that he just has to fall at least once right? Maybe not. Did he this time? Well, let’s dig into the album and see.

K DOT. KING KUNTA. CORNROW KENNY. KUNG FU KENNY. KENDRICK LAMAR. GODDAMN. 14 TRACKS.

Just remember what happens on earth stays on earth!

1. BLOOD.
Produced by Bēkon & Top Dawg

So I was taking a walk the other day

Pretty chilling and interesting introduction. Seems like Kendrick goes to lend a helping hand to a blind woman and ends up getting shot. Who’s the blind woman? Honestly not sure. You could argue that it’s Lucy, of To Pimp A Butterfly fame, or even Kendrick himself. Honestly, I’m still not too sure myself. I believe it’s better off left for personal interpretation.

The track closes off with a snippet from a Fox News segment criticizing Kendrick’s “Alright” performance at the 2015 BET Awards. Fuck Fox News though, amirite?

2. DNA.
Produced by Mike WiLL Made-It
A true banger. This track could truly give you a heatstroke. You hear that beat switch? I drown in my own sweat each time.

I got, I got, I got, I got
Loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA
Cocaine quarter piece, got war and peace inside my DNA
I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA
I got hustle though, ambition, flow, inside my DNA

Heavy bass and aggressive bars. This is track is pure insanity! There’s honestly not much I can say from it outside of that. If you’ve heard it, you know how powerful it is.

Watchin’ all the snakes, curvin’ all the fakes
Phone never on, I don’t conversate
I don’t compromise, I just penetrate
Sex, money, murder-these are the breaks
These are the times, level number 9
Look up in the sky, 10 is on the way
Sentence on the way, killings on the way
Motherfucker, I got winners on the way
You ain’t shit without a body on your belt
You ain’t shit without a ticket on your plate
You ain’t sick enough to pull it on yourself
You ain’t rich enough to hit the lot and skate
Tell me when destruction gonna be my fate
Gonna be your fate, gonna be our faith
Peace to the world, let it rotate
Sex, money, murder-our DNA

I also recommend checking out the music video for the track if you haven’t already, because even the music video is crazy. Shoutout to Don Cheadle.

3. YAH.
Produced by Sounwave, DJ Dahi, Top Dawg, & Bēkon
I love the dark production on this track. Reminds of something I might hear Earl Sweatshirt on.

My mama told me that I’ma work myself to death
My girl told me don’t let these hoes get in my head
My world been ecstatic, I checked the signal that read-

Here, we have Kendrick touching on topics such as his fame and Deuteronomy. I’m pretty sure the track title is a reference to “Yahweh”, which I believe is the Hebrew name of God. Kendrick even makes the claim that he’s an Israelite.

I’m not a politician, I’m not ’bout a religion
I’m a Israelite, don’t call me Black no mo’
That word is only a color, it ain’t facts no mo’

Overall, it’s a petty short track and it sort of goes as quick as it comes, but I definitely feel that it delivers on being a pretty dark and moody track. Kendrick’s sorta sluggish delivery helps add to that as well. I’m digging this track. Fuck Geraldo Rivera.

4. ELEMENT.
Produced by Sounwave, James Blake, Ricci Riera, Tae Beast, & Bēkon
I know someone’s going to get on my ass for saying it, but when the bass dropped on this track I instantly thought of “0 To 100” by Drake. It’s okay though, because that’s a nice Drake banger and this is a dope Kendrick banger. The hook on this track is pretty silly and amusing, but I love it. Kendrick is braggadocios as hell here, and hold nothing back.

Mister one through five that’s the only logic
Fake my death, go to Cuba, that’s the only option

Nice to see Kendrick being aggressive and cocky again. I love it. And he did it over some fairly trendy production. Kudos. A success indeed. (James Blake helped produce this joint too? Crazy.)

Niggas thought they wasn’t gonna see me, huh?
Niggas thought that K-Dot real life was the same life they see on TV, huh?
Niggas wanna flex on me and be in LA for free, huh?
Next time they hit the 10 freeway, we need receipt, huh?
‘Cause most of y’all ain’t real
Most of y’all gon’ squeal
Most of y’all just envy, but jealousy get you killed
Most of y’all throw rocks and try to hide your hand
Just say his name and I promise that you’ll see Candyman
Because it’s all in your eyes
Most of y’all tell lies
Most of y’all don’t fade
Most of y’all been advised
Last LP I tried to lift the black artists
But it’s a difference between black artists and wack artists

5. FEEL.
Produced by Sounwave
This track might be my personal favorite on the album. Very relatable in certain areas, Kendrick basically states that he feels he gives more than he receives. That the world is expecting so much from him, but aren’t willing to give the same amount back in return. You really get a sense that Kendrick might seriously be depressed here.

I feel like it’s just me
Look, I feel like I can’t breathe
Look, I feel like I can’t sleep
Look, I feel heartless, often off this
Feelin’ of fallin’, of fallin’ apart with
Darkest hours, lost it

It’s such a lowkey track, and of course the great Thundercat is doing the bass on here. Definitely a highlight for me.

I feel like the whole world want me to pray for ’em
But who the fuck praying for me?

6. LOYALTY.
Featuring Rihanna; Produced by DJ Dahi, Sounwave, Terrace Martin, & Top Dawg
This track is still growing on me. The track isn’t bad, but it’s not something I’d personally like to hear Kendrick do. As a trendy and commercial track…it’s not bad. Rihanna is pretty solid on this track, and Kendrick is alright. The hook is nothing to die for, and the production here throws off the vibe of the album a bit for me. I don’t think this is a track I’ll be returning to all too much, but if it comes on I won’t be upset or feel the need to rush to skip it.

Kung Fu Kenny now
My resume is real enough for two millenniums
A better way to make a wave, stop defendin’ them

7. PRIDE.
Produced by Steve Lacy, Top Dawg, & Bēkon
This is a really interesting track. The shifting pitch of the vocals throughout here is really dope. Production wise (shoutout to Steve Lacey) this sounds like something I could hear Frank Ocean croon over. I would’ve loved to hear him giving some nasally vocal contributions on the hook here. That aside, this track is definitely a highlight. We have Kendrick discussing the contrast between his ideologies and literal actions.

Hell-raising, wheel-chasing, new worldy possessions
Flesh-making, spirit-breaking, which one would you lessen?
The better part, the human heart
You love ’em or dissect ’em
Happiness or flashiness? How do you serve the question?
See, in the perfect world, I would be perfect, world
I don’t trust people enough beyond they surface, world
I don’t love people enough to put my faith in men
I put my faith in these lyrics, hoping I make amend
I understand I ain’t perfect
I probably won’t come around
This time, I might put you down
Last time, I ain’t give a fuck, I still feel the same now
Steve Lacy crafted a gem. Check him out immediately if you’re sleeping.
Love’s gonna get you killed
But pride’s gonna be the death of you and you and me
And you and you and you and me
And you and you and you and me
And you and you and you and me and-

It’s also worth noting that, Pride is one the seven deadly sins and quite possibly the worst, or rather the one that keeps you the furthest from being God-like.

See, in a perfect world, I’ll choose faith over riches
I’ll choose work over bitches, I’ll make schools out of prison
I’ll take all the religions and put ’em all in one service
Just to tell ’em we ain’t shit, but he’s been perfect, world

8. HUMBLE.
Produced by Mike WiLL Made-It
I think this track goes a lot better with the video as a companion personally, but I still think this is a really great track. It goes further to prove that when desired, Kendrick can make a track that can bump in the club and get massive radio play. As far as other singles he’s released, I don’t think this connects deeply to the theme as much as “Backseat Freestyle” and “Swimming Pools” did with Good Kid M.a.a.d City, or “The Blacker The Berry” and “i” with To Pimp A Butterfly.

Girl, I can buy your ass the world with my paystub
Ooh that pussy good, won’t you sit it on my taste bloods
I get way too petty once you let me do the extras
Pull up on your block, then break it down we playing Tetris

I’d say that the most it does is adds a further contrasts to the hectic mind of Kendrick, but I don’t think it really builds upon any idea or anything. I feel like this track is more so meant to be enjoyed as a trunk knocking banger though, rather than some additional think-piece for the album. Certainly a favorite.

9. LUST.
Produced by DJ Dahi, Sounwave, & BADBADNOTGOOD
The production here reminds me of something. I’m not too sure. The entire beat sounds like it’s in reverse, even the drums. That’s sick.

Conceptually this track is about, well, LUST.

On the surface this may seem like its just about sexual desires, but I think it’s more so about the way people get addicted to a certain lifestyle and end up trapped in this everyday cycle of repeating the same activities day in and out.

I need some water
Something came over me
Way too hot to simmer down
Might as well overheat
Too close to comfort
As blood rush my favorite vein
Heartbeat racing like a junkie’s
I just need you to want me
Am I asking too much?
Let me put the head in
Ooh, I don’t want more than that
Girl, I respect the cat
I promise just a touch
Let me put the head in
If it’s okay
She said, “It’s okay.”

Pretty creepy track with a lot to unpack. Definitely one of Kendrick’s most Andre 3000-esque songs.

10. LOVE.
Featuring Zacari; Produced by Teddy Walton, Sounwave, Greg Kurstin, & Top Dawg

I WANNA BE WIT YOU, AYE I WANNA BE WIT YOU.

Really? Well okay then Kendrick. I can see why so many people could despise this track, but I can also see this appealing to so many who just want a pop flavored track.

I’m pretty mixed about it myself. Most of the time this track is pretty much just background noise for me. Zacari has some nice vocal range. Hearing his vocals on the Isaiah Rashad project, over to the Soul, and now to this…he’s switched it up. Gotta check up on his solo work in my free time. Overall, I’m pretty indifferent towards the track. The production is okay, Zacari sounds fine, and Kendrick’s delivery here is honestly either little cringeworthy or….cute? Never thought I’d say that about a Kendrick track ever. Moving on.

11. XXX.
Featuring U2; Produced by Mike WiLL Made-It, DJ Dahi, Sounwave, Top Dawg, & Bēkon
This is the track I was worried about the most. The track that could potentially hack into all of our phones and terrorize our music libraries against our will no matter how many times we delete it. Truthfully, I’m still not over U2 putting their last album into my phone against my will. I actually had to take the time to delete an album I never asked for in the first place. Even then it would just keep coming back. Fucking hacks, but I digress.

This was one of the biggest surprises on the album. It’s actually GREAT!

The first part of the track is pretty minimalistic, with this bass booming in the background accompanied by some drums, record scratches and later piano keys.

Throw a steak off the ark
To a pool full of sharks, he’ll take it
Leave him in the wilderness
With a sworn nemesis, he’ll make it
Take the gratitude from him
I bet he’ll show you something, whoa
I’ll chip a nigga little bit of nothing

I feel like on the first verse he’s taking on the “survival of the fittest” ideology, or rather he’s taking pride in his strengths as a black man. Could be both.

The second part of this track is INSANE. We have what sounds like sirens in the background and this bass that sounds a lot like the engine of a car. It goes perfectly with the topic Kendrick is tackling here.

Yesterday I got a call like from my dog like 101
Said they killed his only son because of insufficient funds
He was sobbing, he was mobbing, way belligerent and drunk
Talkin’ out his head, philosphing on what the Lord had done
He said: “K-Dot, can you pray for me?
It’s been a fucked up day for me
I know that you anointed, show me how to overcome.”
He was looking for some closure
Hoping I could bring him closer
To the spiritual, my spirit do no better, but I told him
“I can’t sugarcoat the answer for you, this is how I feel:
If somebody kill my son, that mean somebody getting killed.”

Seems that Kendrick’s friend called him for advice after the murder of his only son, and believing that Kendrick is in God’s favor he expects maybe a pretty enlightened response. Well, Kung Fu Kenny has something else in mind. It’s a humorously dark and ironic moment where we have Kendrick basically saying he would shoot and kill the men responsible if he were in his friends shoes, and then goes to end off the verse basically saying he has to end the call, because he’s about to speak at a convention to children bout gun control. It’s some really fucked up stuff.

The last switch on the track is carried by these beautiful piano keys, which I hear are played by Kendrick himself, and we also have some chill, a nice bass guitar, the sound of seagulls in the background. Bono of U2 actually gives a performance that shits on my negative expectations, and I am very grateful for that. Kendrick delivers yet another great verse to close off the track, marking this as a contender for my favorites on this project.

Hail Mary, Jesus and Joseph
The great American flag
Is wrapped and dragged with explosives
Compulsive disorder, sons and daughters
Barricaded blocks and borders
Look what you taught us!

12. FEAR.
Produced by The Alchemist & Bēkon
Roc Marciano said that this track was some of the realest shit he ever heard. I resonate with that statement.

Firs off, I am so happy that Kendrick had this beat on the album, because I remember a good 15 seconds of it on “The Heart Part 4” and being so mad that it wasn’t used just a bit longer. Now we have it here in all it’s glory, and I couldn’t be more satisfied. Thank you Alchemist.

He track starts off with a voicemail from his cousin Carl referencing Deuteronomy, and following that we are presented with the question of:

Why God, why God do I gotta suffer?
Pain in my heart carry burdens full of struggle
Why God, why God do I gotta bleed?
Every stone thrown at you restin’ at my feet
Why God, why God do I gotta suffer?
Earth is no more, won’t you burn this muh’fucka?

Right after, we get the same lyrics, but in reverse. Meaning? I’m not too sure still, but it’s definitely interesting and adds a darker vibe to this already track dark track. Kendrick here describes his different experiences with fear from age 7 (his mother), age 17 (death), and age 27 (judgement). We have some masterful lyricism here, as Kendrick paints such a bleak picture, and it could honestly go down as one of his best tracks to date.

Seven years old, think you run this house by yourself?
Nigga, you gon’ fear me if you don’t fear no one else

I’ll prolly die ’cause that’s what you do when you’re 17
All worries in a hurry, I wish I controlled things

At 27 years old, my biggest fear was bein’ judged
How they look at me reflect on myself, my family, my city
What they say ’bout me reveal
If my reputation would miss me
What they see from me
Would trickle down generations in time
What they hear from me
Would make ’em highlight my simplest lines

The voicemail at the end from his cousin Carl is interesting, though I don’t necessarily agree with what’s said, he speaks on basically how Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans are the true Israelites and that we are struggling people attempting to help struggling people, so maybe we are the cause of problem that we’re so eager to fix? I’m not too sure on it, but it’s definitely something I’ll be looking further into for better understanding.

If I could smoke fear away, I’d roll that mothafucka up
And then I’d take two puffs
Goddamn you. Goddamn me. Goddamn us. Goddamn we. Goddamn us all.

13. GOD.
Produced by Ricci Riera, Sounwave, DJ Dahi, Cardo, & Top Dawg
Honestly. I’m not feeling it. The production is dope, but I’m not feeling his vocal delivery here. I get the concept and all and how it ties into the theme a bit, but musically it’s not something I can see myself returning to. That second beat switch is cold though.

14. DUCKWORTH.
Produced by 9th Wonder & Bēkon
This is a masterpiece. Masterclass storytelling. Perfect production. I could go on and on about this track here. 9th Wonder crafted a true gem. Three beats all within one track. I feel sorry for whoever the rappers were who turned these beats down, but it was for the best, because they were truly made for Kendrick to tell this story over them.

Oh Lamar, hail Mary a marijuana, times is hard
Pray with the hooligans, shadows all in the dark
Fellowship with demons and relatives, I’m a star

Kendrick delivers the story of how Top Dawg spared his father’s life long ago, and how it more or less saved everyone’s life and presented a greater fate in their hands. Was it wickedness or weakness? It really ties in with the theme of this album in an interesting way, depending on how you’re choosing to interpret it. This album almost seems like it’s Kendrick questioning his purpose a bit, or rather questioning if he even has one. I think that his father being sparred by his future mentor really serves to him in his mind, that maybe there truly is a purpose to this all. That everything transpired the way it did for a reason? Maybe.

Pay attention, that one decision changed both of they lives
One curse at a time, reverse the manifest and good karma and I’ll tell you why
You take two strangers and put ’em in random predicaments
Give ’em a soul so they can make their own choices and live with it
Twenty years later them same strangers might make a meet again
Inside recording studios where they reaping the benefits
Then they start reminding ’bout that chicken incident
Whoever thought the greatest rapper would be from coincidence
Because if Anthony killed Ducky, Top Dawg could be servin’ life
While I grew up without a father and die in a gun fight

This is truly one of Kendrick Lamar’s best tracks in his catalog in my opinion, and the perfect closure for this album. The ending of the track is eerily creepy as it replays the entire album back to the start of Kendrick’s first lines in “BLOOD.”, the opening track.

So I was taking a walk the other day.

BOTTOM LINE:

I got so many theories and suspicions

I think this is a great album, a solid addition to Kendrick Lamar’s discography. Do I enjoy it as much as To Pimp A Butterfly? Definitely not. Good Kid M.a.a.d City? Not really. Section.80? Not even that one. But, that’s not say that this album is a letdown by ANY MEANS. There’s certainly highlights here such “DNA,.” “FEEL.”, “DUCKWORTH.”, and “FEAR.”, among many others that could easily be ranked among some of my favorite tracks by Kendrick. I would also argue that this is his most personal album so far. Sure, Good Kid M.a.a.d City tackled his adolescence and his perception of his surroundings, as did Section.80 a bit, and To Pimp A Butterfly I would say is less personal and more of a universal statement in comparison to this album here, if that makes any sense. With DAMN. we have Kendrick walking us into his mind and painting a really dark and sometimes inconsistent picture, that reflects his ideologies.

The album doesn’t require a direct answer, because it doesn’t pose a specific question. And that’s not a bad thing. There were, and still are, many theories flying around about what the albums concept is and what the message is behind the all the reversed lyrics, but I personally feel like it’s an album made for pure interpretation, with no specific and sole meaning like To Pimp A Butterfly. What’s my interpretation? Kendrick is in purgatory. Or Kendrick is stuck in an endless cycle that begins with his death. Maybe both in some sort of way. Who knows.

My biggest issue with the album is the production at times. It’s not badly produced, but I find myself wishing that the production popped out a little more. And I’m sure that Kendrick intentionally went for a more minimalistic sound on a lot of tracks, as well as intentionally going for more trendy sounds on others, but I’m not fully pulled in by it by it from a production standpoint. That being said though, I do find it growing on me more with each listen. Definitely still carries that 3 Stacks influence.

At this point Kendrick doesn’t necessarily have to top his previous work, he just needs to stay consistent and evolve his sound. I feel that if he keeps evolving his sound then his wok can’t really be compared on the same level as each other. It’s a great album. My only real throwaway track would have to be “GOD.”. I’m a bit mixed on “LOYALTY.” and “LOVE.”, but outside of that everything else is a bouquet of fire emojis.

I had a friend (@illohim) mention to me about the interesting fascination Kendrick has with the numbers 9 and 10 and the relation is might have to Ecclesiastes 9:10. I’m not too familiar with it myself, but a few lines do come to mind. On this album Kendrick has the line “Level number 9, look up in the sky 10 is on the way”. In Ecclesiastes 9:10 it reads:

Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.

That nearly sums up this whole albums ideals and pretty much Kendrick as an artist. Definitely something to think about and keep n eye out for in the future. I also recall an earlier Kendrick Lamar track titled “Cloud 10”, which is obviously a reference to the phrase “cloud 9”, but when I just read the lyrics to that track without actually listening to the song itself, there’s an odd feeling as if there’s some sort of correlation to this big theme that’s going on within Kendrick’s music presently.

I wonder what correlation there is to Kendrick helping the old blind woman and getting “murdered” to Kendrick not helping the homeless man and losing his spot in heaven on “How Much A Dollar Cost” off the last album. We may never know.

Over the weekend I was listening to my physicals copies of Kendrick’s projects, and on the disc and within the booklet of To Pimp A Butterfly there’s words written in braille. Does that have something to do with the blind woman? We truly may never fully understand this album.