Album Review: DAMN
Album by Kendrick Lamar released on April 14th, 2017
"I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA!"
Track 1: BLOOD. (Rating (9.5/10)
Is it wickedness...is it weakness? You decide. Kendrick begins this album with a story...he tells us how he dies. K. Dot sees a blind woman who looks like she's lost something, so he goes to give her a helping hand. When Kendrick asks her if he can help the woman find what she seems to have lost, she says "Oh yes, you have lost something...you've lost...your life." and shoots him. You're then asked the same question again: Is it wickedness...is it weakness? A flawless introduction, and I'm loving the PERFECT sample of Fox News' ridiculous take on Kendrick Lamar's performance at the 2015 BET Awards as the track ends. This track is just short of two minutes, and on first listen you can tell that the entire album will a good one.
Track 2: DNA. (Rating:10/10)
Kendrick explains exactly who he is through his genetic makeup, his DNA. He mentions how the streets of Compton, California helped sculpt him into the man he is, with the lines "I got realness, I just kill shit, 'cause it's in my DNA", and "Shit I've been through prolly offend you, this is Paula's oldest son. I know murder, conviction, burners, boosters, burglars...". He doesn't just speak on the harsh sides of himself, he also shows the honorable aspects of his life, by beginning the track with the line, "I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA!" paying homage to ancestors in Africa that not only Kendrick has, but all African-Americans have in their family tree. A great track to make you feel empowered as a black man, embracing all sides of the life we live in the United States.
Kendrick takes another shot at Fox News during this track, specifically Geraldo Rivera, for his ignorant comments on not only him, but hip-hop as a whole. The beat the switches beautifully to a sample of Rick James repeating "Gimme some ganja!" and then Kendrick starts flowing again, echoing a huge part of the black community that is tired of having ideas or styles taken and claimed by others as their own with the line "...my DNA not for imitation".
As far as disses on this track , there seems to be shots fired at someone (Big Sean?) with the bars, "You's a bitch, your hormones prolly switch inside your DNA, problem is, all that sucka shit inside your DNA, daddy prolly snitched..." and "Backbone don't exist, born onside a jellyfish I gauge...". Time will tell on whether these were disses, pending responses from any of Kendrick's peers.
Track 3: YAH. (Rating: 9/10)
This track seems really soft, especially being preceded by "DNA", however, this is a strong track when you look at it individually. The "yah yah" lyrics of the track, obviously giving it its title, give me flashbacks to "The Art of Peer Pressure", due to him saying on that track, "Smokin' on the finest dope, ah yah yah yah, drinkin' til I cant no mo, ah yah yah yah..."
Fox News is a target again in this song, specifically Geraldo Rivera, for his ignorant comments about Kendrick Lamar and hip-hop in general when he spoke of K. Dot's 2015 BET Awards performance. Kendrick says, "Fox News wanna use my name for percentage..." and later says, "Somebody tell Geraldo this nigga got some ambition...". Rivera's ignorance of the real message seemed to really irritate Kendrick, and rightfully so.
This track is full of religious themes, beginning with the title of the track. "YAH" refers to the name "Yahweh", יהוה in Hebrew, which is God's name. Not only is the track dedicated to Yahweh, but Kendrick also has a line that is missed by many listeners, when he says, "I'm an Israelite, don't call me black no mo', that word is only a color, it ain't facts no mo'.". Here we see Kendrick identifying with many other people of color who see themselves as descendants of the lost tribes of Israel, and as far as Africans, the tribe of Judah, one of Jacob's sons. Kendrick is also told by his cousin Carl that "Deuteronomy say that we all been cursed...", which references Deuteronomy 28:45, which says, "Moreover all these curses shall come upon thee, and shall pursue thee, and overtake thee, till thou be destroyed; because thou hearkened not unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which he commanded thee". This Bible verse is basically saying that those who don't keep God's commandments will be cursed for not following His path of righteousness. A great track with a great message.
Track 4: ELEMENT. (Rating: 10/10)
This is my favorite track on the album. Kendrick talks about how hard he's worked to get where he is, and nothing or nobody is going to stop him from continuing. The song begins with Kid Capri shouting out, 90's DJ style, that is "New Kung Fu Kenny!" one of Kendrick's most recent nicknames. One reason this track is a favorite is because of Kendrick's word selection. He says, "We ain't goin' back to broke, family sellin' dope, that's why you mainey ass rap niggas better know...". The term "mainey" is from the Bay Area, and not many people have even heard of it, so for Kendrick to use a word that I grew up with and still use, it felt like a personal shout out to the Bay Area.
Kendrick begins the track by spitting bars explaining what he'd put on the line for the life he lives now, delivering lines like, "I'm willin' to die for this shit, I done cried for this shit, might take a life for this shit...". Clearly Kendrick isn't going to allow anyone to interfere with his success. In the soon to be classic chorus, K. Dot uses the line, "If I gotta slap a pussy ass nigga, I'ma make it look sexy...If I gotta go hard on a bitch, I'ma make it look sexy..." These lines are directed toward anyone who thinks that they're going to stand in Kendrick's way, as far as being successful in life and in the hip-hop industry.
Although Kendrick is now successful and wealthy due to his very successful rap career, he lets the listeners understand that he's still the same kid from Compton with the lines, "Niggas thought they wasn't gonna see me huh? Niggas thought that K. Dot real life was the same life they see on TV, huh? Niggas wanna flex on me and be in LA for free, huh?". He then puts his peers on notice that this album isn't like his previous masterpiece To Pimp a Butterfly with this powerful statement: "Last LP I tried to lift the black artists, but it's a difference between black artists and wack artists." A truly powerful track, Kendrick let's the industry know exactly where his head is.
Track 5: FEEL. (9.5/10)
This track is Kendrick taking a look within himself. Kendrick is essentially speaking on how he feels, hence the title of the track. Here, K. Dot rhymes while using anaphora, which is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses. Kendrick used the phrase "I feel like" on this track, giving it a nostalgic feeling, reminding listeners of "Why?" by Jadakiss or "If I Had" by Eminem. During the chorus of the song, Kendrick explains why he feels alone with the repetition of the phrase "Ain't nobody prayin' for me...". He also speaks on the burden of being a leader, with people asking for constant guidance and advice, while no one has anything for him, with the lines "I feel like the whole world want me to pray for 'em...but who the fuck prayin' for me?". Sounwave's production is smooth on this track, giving another layer to the already deep message that Kendrick brings.
Track 6: LOYALTY. (feat. Rihanna) (Rating: 9/10)
Kendrick starts this track off by truly introducing his new nickname to the world by stating, "Kung Fu Kenny now...". This nickname pays homage to the character of "Kenny" that Don Cheadle played in Rush Hour 2. In the very next line, Kendrick briefly boasts about his growing legacy in hip-hop, saying "My resume is real enough for two milleniums", knowing that he has two classic albums already, which he also said on "The Heart Part 4".
Rihanna enters on the track after Kendrick flows flawlessly over the beat, not singing, but rapping. This is anything corny either, Rih really has bars on this one, better than a few female rappers out right now. After Rihanna's rap verse, Kendrick reenters the track and the two pay homage to Ol' Dirty Bastard's 1995 track "Shimmy Shimmy Ya".
Now to the parts of the track that relate to the title, during which K. Dot and Rih exchange verses asking the listener about who or what they're loyal to, ending it all off with another religiously related line, saying, "Anybody you would die for? That's what God for.". This line is in reference to Jesus dying for the sins of the world, which is explained in John 3:16 in the New Testament of the Bible.
Track 7: PRIDE. (Rating: 8.5/10)
This track starts off deep, opening with the statement, "Love's gonna get you killed...but pride’s gonna be the death of you and you and me..." meaning that putting your faith in people will lead to death of the body. Kendrick also alludes to Matthew 6:19-20, which speaks on not laying up material treasures, but focusing on your spiritual wealth, which has much more value and can never be taken away.
This track was produced by Top Dawg and Steve Lacy, a somewhat unknown producer, however, Lacy is one of the founding members of The Internet and has relatively large production credits, including "Foldin Clothes" by J. Cole and "Selfish" by Twenty88. A familiar voice is also on this Kendrick track, Anna Wise, who has worked with K. Dot countless times, from "Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe" on Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, to "These Walls" on To Pimp a Butterfly.
Track 8: HUMBLE. (Rating: 10/10)
This track released as a single before the album dropped, and it set the internet on fire. Kendrick flows viciously over the Mike WILL Made-It produced track, a beat that was actually created originally for Gucci Mane. Kendrick speaks about how he used to struggle financially in life and had to go about things illegally to survive sometimes, but now he's so rich he can basically do whatever he wants.
Kendrick's wordplay and double meanings are immaculate on this track, and on first listen you may not catch everything that he says. K. Dot brags about his success and skill as a rapper and as a man, then the chorus comes in and pulls it all together, repeating "Bitch be humble, bitch sit down.". The chorus also features background vocals, repeating "Hol' up bitch, hol' up lil', hol' up lil' bitch". These adlibs are used by Big Sean frequently, and Sean spoke about discarding his humble attitude on his song "No Favors", so this could very well be a diss. Big Sean also seemed to have dissed Kendrick on his single "No More Interviews", so K. Dot may be responding to all of Sean's big talk on this track. As a single, this song seems like a diss, but on the album, you can see that in a way, Kendrick is speaking to himself as well. As far as religious ties to this track, a well known Bible verse comes to mind, James 4:7, which says, "So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.".
Track 9: LUST. (Rating: 9/10)
This track is Kendrick exposing the meaningless lifestyles that some people lead, centering it around being lustful, hence his clever use of the phrase "Let me put the head in...". K. Dot goes on to describe an "ideal day" for the arrogant man, beginning his verse , "Wake up in the mornin', thinkin' 'bout money, kick your feet up. Watch you a comedy, take a shit, then roll some weed up...". This "ideal day" is also told from a female perspective, and is nothing but satire making fun of the trivial things that people put their energy towards. The track also alludes to James 4:4, which says, "You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”.
Track 10: LOVE. (feat. Zacari) (Rating: 9/10)
This is a complete contrast to its preceding track. While "LUST." is about the meaningless things that people put value in, this track is Kendrick speaking to a woman that he loves, seemingly Whitney Alford, his fiancé. He asks her the "hard questions", saying, "If I didn't ride blade on curb, would you still love me? If I minimized my net worth, would you still love me?". This part of the track, which is repeated throughout, is reminiscent of 50 Cent's hit song "21 Questions". Kendrick also brags about his sex game jokingly on this song, and he also pays homage to Cash Money Records legend Juvenile with the line, "Curves and your hips from yo' mammy...". This is a phrase that Juvenile used on his hit song, "Mamma Got Ass", during which he says "Where she get them hips from? She get it from her mamma". This track is a cool and funny song to listen to with a significant other, or a smooth song to just vibe to.
Track 11: XXX. (feat. U2) (Rating: 9/10)
This was a track that people were very wary of when they seen that U2 was featured, however, its one of the best tracks on the album. The beginning of the track has a deep meaning behind it, with the lyrics, "America, God bless you if it's good to ya...America, please take my hand....can you help me underst—" and then the words stop and the track begins. This was a reference to all of the issues within the United States, and the word "understand" is cut to show that there is a huge absence of understanding of the issues within the country.
Kendrick tells a pretty good story on this track as well. A father calls Kendrick and tells him that his son was murdered, and asks Kendrick to give him advice to help him find closure. Kendrick tells him that if he were in the situation, someone would die, and explains exactly how he'd do it, by any means necessary. K. Dot then ends the phone call and speaks to a group of children about gun control...a complete divergence to the way he was just talking. It's even a little funny after listening a few times and understanding what's going on in the track, because after he speaks to the children, you hear Kendrick say, to the listener, "Pray for me." and a voice say, "Damn!".
Bono provides a smooth chorus that is both in the middle and the end of the track. The chorus at the end of the track has more significance, saying, "It's not a place...This country is to me a sound of drum and bass...You close your eyes to look ar—". The chorus is exactly the same as the one in the middle of the track, however, the word "around" is cut this time, just like the word "understand" was cut in the beginning, wrapping the track up well.
Track 12: FEAR. (Rating:9.5/10)
This is the longest track on the entire album, but for a good reason. K. Dot talks about what he feared in three different parts of his life, age 7, 17, and 27. At age 7, Kendrick feared what any child would fear: his mother. He repeated bar after bar about things he would get whooped for, for example, "I beat yo ass, keep talkin' back, I beat yo ass, who bought you that? You stole it, I beat yo ass if you say that game is broken, I beat yo ass if you jump on my couch". Kendrick's mother used a strategy of putting fear into him to keep him from acting up or getting into trouble as a child.
At age 17, Kendrick fears death. Growing up in Compton, people are killed for a variety of reasons, and Kendrick fears becoming a part of those statistics. He raps, "I'll prolly die from one of these bats and blue badges. Body slammed on black and white paint, my bones snappin', or maybe die from panic or die from bein' too lax, or die from waitin' on it, die 'cause I'm movin' too fast".
At age 27, Kendrick speaks from the perspective of being successful. He now fears losing it all and going back to struggling in life life he did before. K. Dot even speaks on how he can't trust people because he doesn't know what their intent is, "Scared to spend money, had me sleepin' from hall to hall, scared to go back to Section 8 with my mama stressin', 30 shows a month and I still won't buy me no Lexus. What is an advisor? Somebody that's holdin' my checks, just to fuck me over and put my finances in debt?". He even speaks on Rihanna's accountant and how she lost money with them. The track ends with his cousin Carl Duckworth speaking about the children of Israel being punished, a strong ending to a deep track.
Track 13: GOD. (Rating: 9.5/10)
This track is a conversation between Kendrick and God. In the first verse, Kendrick explains al the things that he's doing, and tells God to not judge him. In the second verse, God responds and feels disrespected by the fact that Kendrick told Him not to judge, because He is over everything, and goes on to explain that during the verse. A smooth track with a great message.
Track 14: DUCKWORTH. (Rating:10/10)
This is arguably the album's strongest track. Kendrick not only tells a story, but he paints a picture of how a decision that his father made not only saved his life, but changed the fortunes of Top Dawg, Anthony in this story, his real name, and saved Kendrick from becoming just another kid from Compton. Flawless delivery, beautiful production, you'll love every minute of it, if you haven't listened to this one yet, I won't ruin it for you. just go listen to this track. This was the perfect way to wrap up the album.
This is going to be considered another classic album by Kendrick Lamar when it's all said and done. If anyone believed that he hadn't cemented himself in the industry yet, this project just did it. The entire project flows together as a whole, and each track can stand strongly on its own. I look forward to what Kendrick has in store for his fans, including myself, in the future.
Album Rating: (9.9/10)