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Saturday, December 09, 2023

Kendrick Lamar’s new album ‘DAMN.’ expresses the frustrations of fame

Kendrick Lamar’s discography is nothing short of extraordinary. Section.80 told the story of a generation that grew up in a crack era. Good Kid, m.A.A.d city was a fascinating case study of a young man’s shenanigans in Compton. To Pimp a Butterfly exposed the world’s exploitation of black artists in American society.

DAMN. is the culmination of all the negative side effects that come as a result of the stories told in those albums. Through his abstract approach at dissecting sins and virtues, Kendrick redefines himself once again. He’s proven that his vision has been infallible as an artist. DAMN. answers the question, “Who is the best rapper alive?”

Released on Good Friday, religion is omnipresent both in Lamar's life and on DAMN. As Lamar tells the stories of his flaws (and some virtues), God seems to sit above patiently analyzing every minor detail to determine Lamar's fate. God’s presence is felt in the background of each story as if the song couldn’t exist without intervention from a higher power.

Bible verses are scattered throughout Lamar's thoughts. Lamar wonders if his success actually means anything in the end. “What happens on Earth, stays on Earth” is a common sentiment across the album. Lamar begins to question why.

On “FEAR.” he raps, “How many accolades do I need to block denial? / The shock value of my success put bolts in me / All this money, is God playin' a joke on me? / Is it for the moment and will he see me and show up? / Take it from me and leave me worse than I was before? / At 27, my biggest fear was losin' it all.”

Lamar sounds utterly hopeless and distraught about his place in the world. He sounds beaten down. He lashes out in anger and frustration. He sounds apathetic and confused across a bulk of the opening tracks. Worn out by the pressure his success has forced on him, Lamar seems disconnected from himself—deep down, he’s terrified of the consequences of his success.

It’s an effortless series of songs that highlight what Lamar does best as an artist. DAMN. is a bleak, depressing introspective look at his fame and what it means for him to be the king of hip-hop. He knows he’s the best, and it’s taking a toll on his conscience.

When he isn’t taking time to reflect on his moral obligations as the so-called “savior of rap,” he lashes out at his environment and anyone who has ever talked against him.

“Tell me somethin’ / You mothaf---as can't tell me nothin’ / I’d rather die than to listen to you / My DNA not for imitation / Your DNA an abomination,” he raps furiously on “DNA.”

From “PRIDE.” to “HUMBLE.” and from “LUST.” to “LOVE.,” he plunges into the complex duality of his life as a public figure and what it means for his life and whatever may come after death.

He addresses questions of what it means to be an inherently flawed human being, but there’s no obvious resolution to the questions that he raises. Lamar's flaws are launched to the forefront, directly contradicting his savior persona that he and countless others have bestowed upon him.

On “LUST.,” his fall from grace is more clear than ever. He’s been sucked into a monotonous, self-indulgent, care-free life.

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“Wake up in the mornin’ /  Thinkin’ 'bout money, kick your feet up / Watch you a comedy, take a shit, then roll some weed up / Go hit you a lick, go f--k on a b---h / Don’t go to work today, cop you a fit / Or maybe some kicks and make you—,” Lamar repeats three times on the first verse.

The inflection in his voice on each track speaks volumes about his mental and spiritual relationships with himself and God.

DAMN. is an emotional trip from start to finish. Sonically, it’s his most ambitious album to date. It’s other-worldly and unlike any of his previous projects. The instrumentals are ethereal, complex and textured beyond belief.

Production comes from a slew of different artists. Classic Lamar collaborators Sounwave, DJ Dahi and Terrace Martin all have their influence on the album while big names like Mike Will Made-It, James Blake and 9th Wonder claimed tracks to give the album a unique feel. Each song uses its diverse production to set up a new perspective dedicated to gazing into Lamar's mind and into what it actually means to try to be a good person.

With features on only three songs, Lamar is left to do the bulk of both singing and rapping. His singing feels passionate and carries a tremendous amount of weight.

As damnation looms over Lamar, he hopes to find his way out of the dark crevices of his consciousness that he’s invited us to explore. Call it a cry to God for help and forgiveness or call it an admission of moral corruption; either way, Lamar is stuck in a state of confusion that he wholeheartedly fears. DAMN. is Kendrick’s most vulnerable project to date. No one knows where his moral uncertainty will lead him as time goes on—not even the God he cries out to.

Grade: A

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