Kendrick Lamar’s latest album Damn. explores feelings of isolation, and his struggle with the negative side of fame and fortune. These are themes that were touched on heavily in his previous album, To Pimp a Butterfly, but this time around we hear them from a different perspective. On TPAB, Lamar was a bit younger and coming to terms with fame and fortune for the first time, but now almost 30, Lamar addresses this struggle from a more mature point of view.
Art by GoufyGoogs.
At this point in Lamar’s career he is well acquainted with the woes that wealth carries and the negativity that fame has brought out of people around him. He often feels as though he is alone in life and those that grow closer to him are just trying to get a cut of his paycheck. These feelings are heard with the recurring line “ain’t nobody praying for me,” heard on the tracks “ELEMENT.” and “FEEL.”. Amongst the artistry of his emotional struggle, Lamar also gets back to work shutting down his critics and other rappers who find themselves determined to bring him down. He addresses these subjects in songs such as “HUMBLE.” and “DNA.” Lamar further asserts his dominance on “GOD.” when he raps,”This what God feel like, huh, yeah.” Damn. also features a heavy arsenal of guest performers such as Rihanna (“LOYALTY.”) Kaytranada and BadBadNotGood (LUST.), as well as the legendary U2 (XXX.).
The thing that I find myself impressed with the most about Kendrick on this record is the way he articulates his verses, or even sections within a single verse. He raises and lowers his intensity or modifies his intonation in sync with the lyrics and the rhythmic structure the producer creates, whether it’s Sounwave, Bekon, 9th Wonder, or The Alchemist. Kendrick treats each producer as a member of his band and like a true musician he listens to their contribution and fits himself perfectly within that structure. This is what I believe really sets him apart from other hip-hop artists as well as why I think he works so well with jazz musicians (see To Pimp a Butterfly). It’s not just a sick beat with some flow thrown on top, Kendrick is out here composing honest and serious music and taking every aspect of the listening experience into account. Everything you hear on Damn., every musical motif, every vocal inflection and so on, is decision that was carefully made.