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 

EP Review – Pussy Riot – xxx

Pussy Riot – xxx Review

Pussy Riot have returned with new EP, ‘xxx’. Normally a collaborative group, this release could be considered a solo effort from one of Pussy Riot’s three founding members, Nadya Tolokonnikova. Using pop music as a vehicle for her inflammatory, feminist views has created something that is both melodic and important listening.

The three song EP opens with post-Trump anthem ‘Make America Great Again’- perhaps one of the most direct musical attacks on Trump we’ve heard yet. This track denounces the President-elect and his treatment of women and minorities, while actively supporting the BLM movement by urging Americans to “stop killing black children”. In addressing these issues, this song questions its own title by denying the notion that America ever was “great”, and suggesting that the only way in which greatness could be achieved is by people standing up, taking action and fighting against Trump and his views.

This is followed by the contrastingly upbeat ‘Straight Outta Vagina’, an ode to the female anatomy which features lyrics such as “don’t play stupid, don’t play dumb, vagina’s where you’re really from” and is accompanied by a video celebrating women and vaginas of all shapes and sizes. An obvious play on the N.W.A. track, this track features two guest verses from rappers Desi Mo and Leikali47 that further celebrate the role of women in art, popular culture and the everyday lives of everyone- a role that is often forgotten or overlooked. The track also references the time Pussy Riot spent imprisoned, with the lyric ‘if your vagina lands itself in prison, then the world is gonna listen’ offering a reminder of the reason Pussy Riot are so influential, and of the sacrifices they made for their freedom of speech. This is a song to inspire women, and to remind everyone that, without women, they wouldn’t be here. While the focus on the sexual organs of women over the women themselves may be seen as objectifying by some, the message is clear- women are a force to be reckoned with.

The EP closes with ‘Organs’, a potent Russian-language track that can be translated via the YouTube closed captions feature. ‘Organs’ speaks on the obstacles faced by women, voices the outrage felt over the power governing bodies have over women’s own bodies and the imprisonment of innocent people under Putin’s regime. A direct, unsubtle criticism of the system responsible for their imprisonment, Pussy Riot’s ‘Organs’ is as powerful as it is moving. Unlike the rest of the EP, the tone of this track is dark, representing the oppression felt by Russian people and urging them to take action against their oppressors.

It’s clear that Pussy Riot have a lot to say, and ‘xxx’ gets these views across perfectly. While the EP has an almost novelty feel in places on the first listen, with time it becomes clear that the use of catchy pop melodies merely acts as a device to get people listening to what they have to say. It’s an angry, defiant collection of songs that manage to tackle a wide range of issues in a surprisingly short amount of time. Pussy Riot make pop music with a message, and that message can be heard loud and clear on ‘xxx’.

Katie Hayes