By Karlton Tate and Isaac Rosso Klakovich
Over two years ago, Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar released his third studio album “To Pimp A Butterfly,” which would go on to be touted as one of the greatest rap albums of the century. Following the album’s release, many began to wonder how Lamar would follow this universally renowned album and if he could maintain a nearly flawless discography. With the release of his latest album “DAMN,” Lamar has once again emphatically launched himself into the spotlight as contemporary hip-hop’s greatest artist. While “DAMN.” may have a few thematic shortcomings and an occasional lack of sonic cohesiveness, its sprawling ambition and honest emotion makes it another impressive effort from the Compton rapper.
Throughout the album, “Kung Fu Kenny” embraces a popular sound unlike any he ever has before. On some tracks like “LOYALTY.” and “LOVE,” this leads to slightly generic lyrical content and production. However overall, Lamar demonstrates that not only can he succeed using his own unique style, but can also shine when he embraces the sound used by many of his contemporaries. Atlanta producer Mike WiLL Made-It produces three tracks (“DNA,” “HUMBLE,” and “XXX.”) and infuses each with a trap flavored sound that is fairly foreign for Kendrick. On each of these tracks, Lamar brings an anger and intensity that makes them some of the standout moments album.
On the second track of the album “DNA,” Lamar samples a Fox News newscaster criticizing the negative effects of hip-hop culture on the black youth. Lamar responds to this with one of the more violent and rage-filled tirades of his career declaring, “You mothaf—– can’t tell me nothin’ / I’d rather die than to listen to you / My DNA not for imitation / Your DNA an abomination.” He then concludes the song by ironically stating, “Sex, money, murder—our DNA.” This line perfectly sums up the stance Lamar takes on throughout the record. While those looking on the outside want to narrow his people down to a set of easily definable stereotypes, they are ignorant to the rich and complex history inside his DNA. Unfortunately, there are some songs on the project that lack this thematic cohesion.
At first glance, it seems as if the themes of the album are clearly laid out for the listener in the name of the tracks with songs like “PRIDE,” “LOYALTY,” and “FEAR.” However, Lamar does not always address these ideas in each song, nor does he maintain a consistent stance on these concepts throughout the album. While it can be argued that Lamar’s internal struggle is revealed to the listener through the contradictory nature of much of the project, it also unfortunately creates one of the most inconsistent projects that Lamar has released to date.
Of course, by the standards of the rest of the rap game, this album’s unity would never be questioned, and could even be considered to be a completely cohesive concept album. However, as the king of rap, Lamar has elevated his personal bar of excellence to such a great height that fans of his music cannot help but to notice the subpar thematic continuity.
After “To Pimp A Butterfly,” many were concerned that its greatness would be difficult to follow, even for the king of the rap game. Unfortunately, some of these reservations came into fruition, as “DAMN” fails to offer the same jaw dropping awe of Lamar’s 2015 offering. Despite this, Lamar’s seat at the throne undoubtedly remains secure, as he has delivered another work of art that can only be rivaled by a select few in the industry.
Photo courtesy of metacritic.com