“DAMN.” is Kendrick Lamar’s first album in two years, the follow up to 2015’s “To Pimp a Butterfly.” Keeping consistent with Lamar’s tendency to not dig himself into a style rut, “DAMN.” is sonically unlike anything he’s released before.
The four albums Lamar has released so far all differ from each other immensely, giving credit to his talent as an artist and the wide range of styles that he can adapt to. You can hear his development as an artist over the years, and how the work he put into one album influences the work he puts into the next one.
Over the course of this 14-track album, elements from “good kid m.a.a.d city” and “To Pimp a Butterfly” resonate, as well as elements from his 2016 EP release “untitled unmastered.” Certain flows, cadences, and instrumentals are reminiscent of the work he put into the unmastered tracks off that EP.
“DAMN.” is a bit of a mixed bag on the surface, with the album swapping back and forth between pseudo-cookie cutter commercialism and more creative unconventional production. For example, the singles from the album, “HUMBLE.,” “LOVE.” and “GOD.,” are the most radio-friendly tracks on the album, but that doesn’t take away from their quality.
Gone are the soulful and funky productions of his previous album, and the hardcore gangsta rap productions inspired by Compton from “m.a.a.d city.” The production on “DAMN.” feels like a clear attempt to appeal to the widest audience possible, but not for profit. It feels as though Lamar wanted to make his album inviting enough for the masses to hear what he has to say.
No track on the album is less than great, but the strongest and most memorable songs are the more unconventional ones. “LUST.,” “XXX.” and “FEAR.” are the most standout tracks, due to both the lyrics and the production. “LUST.” features a deep, groovy drum beat that switches between played forward and reverse, with Kendrick singing high and quiet during the chorus.
A lot of the album follows suit with Lamar’s usual subject matter: his youth, race issues and the state of the country. Kendrick Lamar is known for his self-reflection, and “DAMN.” doesn’t stray from that. On what is possibly the album’s best track, “FEAR.,” Lamar reflects in present tense on the things he was afraid of growing up, specifically at 17 in Compton.
After an aggressive first verse told from the point of view of his mother, the second verse completely changes tone and cadence, with Lamar delivering his lines like poetry. “I’ll prolly die walking home from the candy-house/ I’ll prolly die because these colors are standing out.” The verse closes with “I’ll prolly die ‘cause that’s what you do when you’re 17/ All worries in a hurry, I wish I controlled things.”
The start of “DAMN.” focuses on race issues in the United States from the lead-up to Trump’s election, to afterward, as well as Fox News and other sources of controversy. As the album progresses, it moves more to focus on Lamar’s self-reflection, his youth leading into adulthood growing up in Compton and where his life went after he made it in the music industry.
“DAMN.” is inarguably one of the most important albums of 2017, and so far nothing else surpasses it. Kendrick Lamar’s newest album is an absolute must-listen. Over and over again.