Album Review: “Damn” from Kendrick Lamar

New Release Satisfies Expectations

Jason Ercolano, Contributor

Kendrick Lamar Duckworth is an African-American, Compton born rapper, also known as K-Dot, King Kendrick and Kung-Fu Kenny, but best known as Kendrick Lamar. He released “Damn,” his fourth album, in April. Based upon the success and reputation of his previous albums, the hype for “Damn” was astronomical. But, Lamar is known for exceeding expectations, and so far, the album has done very well, topping the Billboard Top 200 charts for sales for its first three weeks.

“Damn” has a 14 songs, two fewer tracks than his previous release, “To Pimp a Butterfly.”  Lamar takes a different approach on this album, without as much jazz influence as he did previously. Let’s look at it track by track.

“Blood” is not really a rap song. It’s more of a short story with a musical background that introduces the album. In the story, Lamar helps and has a conversation with a blind woman who says, “You’ve lost your life.” There is a gunshot where it sounds like Lamar is killed, with a bridge to a sampled news report about Lamar.

As soon as “Blood” ends we hear “DNA,” which is one of the strongest tracks on the album, with a very strong and loud beat. When the beat changes, it he is telling someone that they will never be as good as him.

It shows how much rap means to Lamar, and that he does not care what other rap artists think about him. He believes he is the best.

— Jason Ercolano

After the loud bass driven “DNA,” the much slower paced “Yah” begins. Yah refers to Yahweh, which means god, and the song centers on religion. Unfortunately, it’s one of the weaker tracks on the album.

“Element” is one of the most pop-driven tracks. It is also one of his best tracks. It shows how much rap means to Lamar, and that he does not care what other rap artists think about him. He believes he is the best.

“Feel” makes it feel like he is in a state of depression as the intro, chorus and outro include the line “Ain’t Nobody Prayin’ For Me,” which seems to express that Lamar feels like he is by himself in the rap business, which is a scary place.

“Loyalty” (featuring Rhianna) is Lamar and Rihanna’s first collaboration, and it is a tremendous success. It skillfully samples Bruno Mar’s “24k Magic” throughout. The message is that loyalty and honesty are key factors in a relationship.

“Pride” has a gloomy feel, but it is amazing. It shows religious themes and shows everything that is wrong with the world. The vocal pitch ranges from high to low throughout. The meaningful recurring line  is “Maybe I Wasn’t There.”

“Humble,” was released before the album with a music video that shows a lot of religious imagery. But, the song is not about religion. It focuses on Lamar telling other rappers to be humble, because they are as great as him.

“Lust” depicts the life of a famous person like himself, and how they can do almost anything they want. It captures how romance might go for a celebrity.

“Love” (featuring Safari) shows Lamar’s how he feels about his fiancé Whitney Alford, and how much he wants to be with her. It features strong vocals.

“XXX,” featuring U2, Lamar touches on sensitive topics such as politics and religion. It also shows how even the good in the world can be evil.

At nearly eight minutes, “Fear” is the longest song.  There are four verses. The first three show  times Lamar has faced fear – at childhood, adolescence and adulthood. The fourth explains what fear means to him.

In the very distinctive “God,” Lamar shows off his fame and how good being rich and famous feels, even with all the downsides. It shows how hard he works, so he can continue to feel this way. In the chorus, Lamar compares the feeling of being rich and famous to feeling like a god, saying, “this what god feel like.”

“Duckworth,” is the final track. It tells the story of how Anthony Tiffith, the CEO of Top Dawg Entertainment, Lamar’s label, almost killed his father when he was younger.

“Damn” is one of the strongest rap albums of 2017 so far, and deserves recognition for how well it lives up to its pre-release hype.