Scene reviews “DAMN.”
Well, “DAMN.” Kendrick Lamar’s newest album has the Scene department buzzing for a whole variety of reasons — so much so that we couldn’t limit ourselves to just one article. Today, four of our writers give their short and sweet takes on various aspects of this multifaceted and undeniably important new project. If you still can’t get enough, look for a longer review of “DAMN.” and an in-depth exploration of its musical and cultural significance in Monday’s paper.
Nora McGreevy, Scene Editor
“I got so many theories and suspicions,” Kendrick croons on “YAH.,” the fourth song on “DAMN.” and my personal favorite. Well, Kendrick, so do we all — lots of them specifically related to the timing of your album release, which spawned a whole internet storm of predictions and speculation about the possibility of a second album. “DAMN.” leaked on Friday, April 14, and was officially released later that evening. This was also Good Friday, aka the day commemorating Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. The coincidental timing of the leak — coupled with a few mysterious tweets from his producer — led some people to believe that a second album might be coming on Easter Sunday, mimicking the Biblical resurrection narrative. On “The Heart Part 4,” the single released earlier this month, Kendrick referred to himself as the “hip-hop rhyme savior,” and he’s encouraged long-standing comparisons between himself and Jesus Christ, so his “resurrection” through a second album might make sense. To a large sect of enthusiastic conspiracy theorists, this was the ultimate sign. Kendrick was also slotted to perform at Coachella on Easter Sunday evening. Cue the digital drumroll, please.
As of right now, there’s no additional album in sight. The Coachella performance did not usher in a whole new set of songs like some had hoped. While the excitement around its release certainly lent “DAMN.” an added layer of mystery, however, it’s not unfounded speculation to say that this album will go down in history as yet another essential addition to the hip-hop genre — with or without all that Jesus stuff.
Trevor Canty, Scene Writer
Bill O’Reilly is not the only loss Fox News has suffered recently; Kendrick Lamar put Fox News six feet under on “DAMN.,” “BLOOD.,” “DNA.” and “YAH.,” all of which sample Fox News’s predictably negative review of Lamar’s “Alright” video from 2015 in which Lamar raps on top of a vandalized cop car. The video is 94 percent disliked, largely due to increased exposure from Kendrick’s sampling, not to mention Fox News’s obtuse floundering in their attempt to demonize the rapper.
While intensely personal (listen to “BLOOD.” for a short narrative reminiscent of “How Much a Dollar Cost” from previous album “To Pimp a Butterfly”), “DAMN.” is noticeably political. Despite claiming “I’m not a politician” on “YAH.,” Lamar cuts to the heart of present issues with incisive lyrics and more provocative music videos: the “HUMBLE.” music video continues Lamar’s streak of political and religious symbolism and his unorthodox habit of rapping on top of cars. Whether Fox News will stay humble and resist offering their views is another story.
Oh, and see “XXX FEAT. U2” for an impromptu sampling of a crooning Bono. In fact, stop reading this — just go listen right now.
Owen Lane, Scene Writer
Simply put, Kendrick Lamar wants every project he makes to captivate the listener from start to finish. He opens “DAMN.” by teasing loyal fans with a mysterious anecdote and then boiling their blood with Eric Bolling’s voice. And then Lamar makes the talking heads roll. “DNA” begins with “I got, I got, I got, I got,” and Kendrick makes sure to call back this stutter right before the end of album as he rewinds the entire tracklist. K-Dot has an unmatched self-awareness that allows him to carefully pick moments on the album that will ring out in listeners’ heads for years to come. Also, Kendrick doesn’t have the heart to let an album preoccupied with doubt and death have a grim ending. Instead, he gives his fans a glimpse at the faith and hope that his unlikely success has planted in his heart. Kung Fu Kenny gives the people what they want.
Alvaro Del Campo, Scene Writer
Throughout his discography, Kendrick Lamar has carefully woven his music with the themes he raps about. “Good Kid, M.a.a.d City” was a dark yet somber portrait of Kendrick’s experiences, and the production embodied that by incorporating styles that ranged from trap music to ’90s West Coast hip-hop, while the instrumentals on “To Pimp A Butterfly” added jazz and funk to the mix in order to paint a more diverse and abstract theme. With “DAMN.,” Kendrick’s beats have become vehicles for the major themes he addresses in his lyrics.
“DNA.,” the first full-length track on “DAMN.,” has an aggressive and double-edged statement, with Kendrick addressing the contents of his DNA and comparing them to someone else, followed by a short interlude leading into a beat change that is ignited by some lyrical fisticuffs between Kendrick and FOX News’s Geraldo Rivera. Kendrick makes his flow more aggressive in the second half of the song, and the lyrics at the beat change become more explicitly directed at external places.
Immediately after “DNA.” is “YAH.,” which is an atmospheric boom-bap where Kendrick raps about his interactions with those close to him, with some more thoughts on FOX News and Geraldo Rivera’s statements regarding his performance at the 2015 BET Awards. Unlike “DNA.,” “YAH.” has a more introspective focus regarding these experiences. Kendrick’s choice to rap it over a slower, more ambient beat reflects the way that he differentiates his thoughts through the song order of his album, as well as the musical styles that make up the production of the album itself.
The musical, tonal and mood shifts on “DAMN.” change with the themes in Kendrick’s lyrics. More introspective raps are on more laid-back instrumentals. In “HUMBLE.,” Kendrick is explicitly rapping at the outside world, and Mike Will Made It’s aggressive beat complements Kendrick’s attitude and exterior projection. “PRIDE.” is the track before “HUMBLE.” on “DAMN.,” and pride is an antonym for humility. The musical styles on the two tracks’ instrumentals vary starkly, with “PRIDE.” having a much slower and subtle groove through lower drum sounds and warm synths on which Kendrick sings about his pride and internal experiences with it.
This dichotomy between Kendrick’s lyrical and musical content is present throughout “DAMN.,” and the opposite song titles reflect the larger structure of the album in both of these respects. Overall, “DAMN.” is less musically diverse than Kendrick’s last album, but the music connects with the lyrics in a new way and adds another classic to Kendrick’s library.