Recess reviews: Kendrick Lamar's "DAMN."
After teasing on "The Heart Part 4" that his new album would be released April 7, hip-hop fans were especially attentive to any clues that could unlock Kendrick Lamar’s musical treasure. Instead, Lamar’s followers soon realized that his album release would be delayed. This did not stop a selective few who apparently had access to a leak of the album. While loyal fans gladly waited an additional week, tracks like "DNA." and "ELEMENT." were emerging as crowd favorites. On Good Friday, a collective "damn" was exhaled as the world realized that Lamar had risen as a rapper ranking with the likes of Tupac and Nas.
Though "DAMN." is less political than Lamar’s "To Pimp a Butterfly," the eerie opening "BLOOD." still casts a shadow of Lamar’s conscious rap roots. With a gunshot, the listener is left in shock amid the transition to "DNA.," a high-energy song that takes stabs at cultural appropriation and other societal issues. A beat change compels the audience into awe as Lamar’s voice travels only to be punctuated by the booming bass. Lamar’s flow shreds doubts of his rapping ability. Coming off the bang of "DNA.," "ELEMENT." speaks to an effortless cool that will integrate itself into summer road trip playlists. Radio listeners should also expect "LOYALTY." to dominate the airwaves. The track features Rihanna’s voice cascading over a sample from Bruno Mars’ "24k Magic"―the king and queen of radio play. As radio personality Charlamagne tha God has said, "It sounds like it was made for radio." Aside from "DNA." and "HUMBLE.," "DAMN." is rather mellow. Tracks like "LOVE." featuring Zacari and “PRIDE.” are easy on the ears and draw the listener into classic hallucinogenic sounds reminiscent of the 1970s. A guest appearance from U2 on "XXX." indicates the ambitiousness of the Compton rapper as a musical artist distinctly only about the music.
In his fourth studio album, Lamar convincingly attempts to defend his claim to being the greatest rapper alive. His attentiveness to social issues, ties to Christian themes and yet an ever-presentness of Compton’s grit in his music sustains the lyrical complexity in all five of his major projects. “DAMN.” is the moment that he solidifies this reality in the collective conscious of the hip-hop community. For this reason, one could venture that Lamar’s “DAMN.” could stand as the best rap album of the year.