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Kendrick Lamar – Damn. Review 

I have repeated myself many times like many others about the extent of Kendrick Lamar’s talent, skill and commercial weight. No more has this been proved then the last couple of weeks from releasing the first single from Damn., announcing the release of the album and it’s release today. He generates his own excitement and his own speculation and where others need a drawn out schedule, constantly reminding people of their album date months in advance, releasing several singles before the release date; Kendrick can practically drop the album out of the blue. It has still garnered more attention that other this year and he more than a simple Hip Hop act, rapping about materialistic things and their rich life. Kendrick Lamar is newsworthy. His lyrics are his reports on the world as he sees it and with that you’ll find musical quality and awareness to go with it. Could this be the biggest album of 2017?

‘Humble.’ takes on issues of image and greed in modern America like he took on his contemporaries and political scandal in ‘The Heart Part 4’. This track has caused well documented controversy with people equally supporting and opposing his lyrics related to photoshop and how people appear in the media. Musically, it is rather simple with plunging piano chords and steady clap beats, but with this he generates a pulsating and charged sound from which he can deal out his rapid lyrics. This song is more punchy and biting and that is true of the music as it is the lyrics. A bold first single. ‘Pride’ is masterfully delivered and produced track as bending, loose riffs and resonant sounds drape themselves over a waiting low bass line. Musically it has echoes of Conan Mockasin or Mac DeMarco and the hazy tones are met with warped falsettos and pitch shifting deliveries from Kendrick. It couldn’t be any more different from the first single and he tells of the damage of too much pride and how he’d trade everything for faith and work. As this goes on, the song takes small pauses to lift the next set of chords seamlessly. ‘Lust’ is another example of Lamar trialling experimentation with distorted, drawn out riffs and stabbing effects of rewound sounds still generate an smooth, yet tense sound. It includes a great set of lyrics of going from bewilderment at the state of the nation to going back into the daily routine. 

‘XXX.’ is a song that tells the tale of murder in the United States from the Blud and Crips in Compton and to the selfish and doomed to collapse dealings on Wall Street. He questions what his country has become “if we’re honest or basked in sin?”. He swipes at those such as Fox News who try to whip up fears about Lamar. This song mirrors his response to their claims that he’s promoting gang violence and incitement of black violence; that is the reality around him. He is not the writer in this sense, but the narrator. He makes clear again his aversion to gang violence, gun violence, Wall Street greed and Police brutality in equal measure. Bono is featured on the track bridging each verse in the final section of the track. ‘Love’ features Zacari and is a gently lapping track with crisp beats emerging from hazy synths and Zacari’s soft toned lyrics and easy falsettos. Kendrick groups his lines around each synth chord. With ‘Blood’ the album opens with a soulful track with walking bass lines and quivering, muted strings as Lamar talks of good deeds in a distant, wistful fashion. With rich vocal harmonies on either side, it is a dramatic and theatrical statement to open the album with. 

The album ends with a telling narrative of Lamar’s father and manager with ‘Duckworth’. With wonderfully and continuously executed samples, he tells the story of how easily his father could have been killed in another KFC robbery led by his now manager Top Dawg. He decided to “let him slide” with Kendrick pondering how it might have played out. “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 gunfight.” It is a mark of Lamar’s talent to end the album like this. It is an album that has a different sound to Pimp A Butterfly but is more varied and experimental in this case. His lyrics are more consistently pointed and abrupt, but this doesn’t stop him from releasing an album of various tones and textures. There’s almost no weak link present here and to produce an album like this with all the attention and pressure upon him this time around, is truly a mark of a great artist. Kendrick Lamar is certainly one of those. 

Kendrick Lamar – Damn. = 10/10

Owen Riddle 

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