Album of the Week: Kendrick Lamar, 'DAMN.'

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Kendrick Lamar, 'DAMN.'
Kendrick Lamar, 'DAMN.' (Aftermath Entertainment)
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Since 2012's Good Kid M.a.a.d City, Kendrick Lamar has been in the conversation as the greatest rapper alive, and as opposed to a lot of his contemporaries, it's not K Dot himself who's bestowing that label. With 2015's To Pimp A Butterfly, the chorus of Kendrick supporters became deafening, largely because Kendrick checks off so many boxes. He's the only rapper in his generation to command the difficult trinity of getting respect in the streets, garnering co-signs from older hip-hop legends, and pulling in streams and sales by the boatload.

Before DAMN., Kendrick had been on his own island compared to the other top rappers in the game. At a time when deep 808s plus soaring, screeching synths partnered with boozy, woozy lyric delivery function as the current hip-hop blueprint, Kendrick has been mining the future-minded, saxophone-tinged sound of the Los Angeles underground led by Flying Lotus and Thundercat. These fruitful collaborations have brought about some of the most successful and adventurous hip-hop sounds to ever top the charts. But a lot of fans who fell in love with Kendrick during Good Kid M.a.a.d City era have been jonesing for more tracks that sound best in a car with too many subs. If that's you, I've got good news and I've got better news: The wait is over, and it's nothing you expected.

United by hosted transitions from the legendary DJ Kid Capri, Kendrick has created a cyclical album full of jarring beats and tempo switches that prove he hasn't given up on his adventurous side. And sonically, Kendrick is going places he hasn't gone for years and mining the brand-new territory of the starkly simplistic and hypnotic work of one of the top producers in the game, Mike Will Made-It.

DAMN. is the sound of Kendrick having his cake and eating it, too. He wants the room to make his rivals Drake and Big Sean wet the bed in a matter of bars on his inter-album single, "The Heart Part IV." He wants the room to create the novelistic 9th Wonder-produced closing track "DUCKWORTH." and to create a hypnotic club jam like "LOYALTY.", which would slide in nicely between Migos and Fetty Wap at Magic City. The most beautiful part of the sonic breadth of DAMN. is that Kendrick doesn't sound like a natural on every one of these beats. DAMN. is not the sound of a victory lap; it's the sound of a world-class athlete suiting up for a workout schedule not even he's sure he can survive.

And lyrically, Kendrick doesn't even survive the first two minutes of the record. By bookending DAMN. with a depiction of Kendrick's death on the first track and the near death of Kendrick's father on the last, Kendrick frames the struggle of creating art within a world full of generational violence. He isn't pulling any punches on how bad things are in America in general, and for young black men in particular. The counterweight, however, is that he isn't pulling any punches about the joys in life and how intermixed the pleasure and the pain are, particularly in the song "LUST." It's not easy listening, but the best listening never is.

DAMN. is the sound of a rapper at the top of the hill who seems to be dispensing quickly with his former rivals and focusing more on his next climb.

Listen to The Current all week for Tracks from Kendrick lamar's DAMN., our album of the week.

Resources


Kendrick Lamar - official site

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