Dropping to make sure Big Sean and Drake stay Humble. Kendrick Lamar comes out of the abyss and drops a his third major release Damn. This album shook the internet on Good Friday. According to Kendrick and the rest of TDE, “Everything happens for a reason.” and it definitely does. How was Kendrick’s follow-up to TPAB?
Christopher Nolan is one of the best filmmakers of our time. Combined with the writing genius of Jonathan Nolan, the Nolan brothers have changed the way we look at movies forever. Similarly, Kendrick Lamar has slowly risen as a relative unknown from Compton to Hip-Hop’s heir apparent. Both taking their respective art forms to a level unheard in recent years. Kendrick doesn’t create albums, he creates audio cinema features.
Similar to the release of Inception, the internet is now full of Inspector Gadgets and soothsayers trying to figure out what DAMN. means. There is a rumor going around talking about him releasing a second album on Easter Sunday to mirror the death and resurrection of Christ. This by far would be on of the most amazing album rollouts in ever if true, but I feel that would lessen the impact of this amazing body of work. I’d rather enjoy and wait.
Kendrick Lamar – Humble:
Album releases from major artists like Beyonce, Kanye, Jay Z, Drake, and Kendrick are like blockbuster movie releases now. We have tweets, photos, tracklists, and videos becoming like teasers, trailers, and early weekend reviews and preview showings. With DAMN. Kendrick mixed nearly all of the best strategies and ideas of the music industry for the last few years into this project. DAMN. is a simple title, easily hash-tagged and quoted. The cover is simple and easily Meme-able with maximum effect. (I also will include some of my favorite covers in this post, like last time.)
Where Kendrick soars is his insistence on meaning. Nothing is wasted from the red, green, and black on the album cover to a message of “DEATH 2 THE LEADR” as an anagram on the back cover. Flames were fanned hoping that Kendrick was leading us into another Christopher Nolan, Prestige or Inception level masterpiece. We are on the edge of our seats and still don’t know when the movie is over, in hopes that we don’t miss one final clue to put the entire puzzle together.
Note: I greatly recommend listening to the complete album before checking out any reviews or any in-depth articles because I easily see the final song being talked about as one of the best outros of the last five years. To Pimp A Butterfly had a special guest appearance from Tupac Shakur, this album delivers a completely different twist at the end.
Like any Nolan/Kendrick production, the overall message is open to interpretation but it’s often the execution that makes the difference between a phenomenal body of work and sub par piece. Many people thought To Pimp A Butterfly was too far out of their realm of comfort, similar to Interstellar, but DAMN. hits a nice sweet spot of what people loved from Section.80 and Good Kid Maad City, mixed it with To Pimp A Butterfly while still executing occasional radio friendly songs that will keep this album in rotation for months. This is a declaration the King Kendrick can do whatever he decides.
I also don’t think he sacrificed some of the grittier, tough energy on this outing. Songs like DNA, Element, Humble rattle speakers and are Kendrick at his most ruthless lyrically. Love seems perfect for the radio and Lust contrasts that by sounding like a love letter from Andre 3000: The Love Below. He calls in the big guns with Rihanna riding shotgun and U2 in the back seat for Loyalty and XXX. I didn’t know what to expect from them on the album and they seem perfectly chosen and don’t distract from the flow. Execution was as clean as it could be.
However, the moments that stole the show for me as an emcee were Feel, Fear, Duckworth with emotional vulnerability and storytelling. I won’t spoil the narrative but each song perfectly connects to the entire project’s theme. The amazing people at DJBooth already wrote a piece breaking down all of the themes and overall meaning of the album here. (Beware of Spoilers)
Coming out of the DAMN. Kendrick seems to be in a different place. This album is definitely dealing with his own personal sins and delusions. Each song seems to relate to its title as a theme of him addressing those issues. Humble is Kendrick bragging, showing that he doesn’t really know how to be humble anymore because he came from nothing and now is on top of the world. He feels he can never go back to being humble but on a later song, such as Fear, Kendrick shows how weak he is.
It must also be said that Kendrick has become (or started following) the teachings of Hebrew Israelites. Religion has become a steadily more important aspect in his music. Him putting His sins out in plain sight has been his way of repenting. Yet, He also questions if he can completely leave these wrongdoings behind him or is it in his DNA? Is sin and pride inherent in our lives or something we can overcome? Kendrick leaves those questions to answer ourselves as he continues to question.
Similar to the end of Inception Kendrick crafted DAMN. to leave us with more questions than what we came in with. The Hallmark of Nolan movies are clean production, complex visuals, intricate storytelling, multiple layers of meaning, and surprise conclusions that often leave the audience in awe. Kendrick Lamar has continued to evolve as an artist while hitting all the right buttons for three mainstream releases right now.
The overall acclaim for this project has been positive and I don’t expect it to change. Similar to Nolan, I have enjoyed his most recent works and want to see him continue to develop. Most importantly, I want Kendrick to continue to tell more new and varied stories as he develops as a man. Whether it means going further into Christ or to a more global perspective, he has written his name into Hip-hop legend. Kendrick has shown his willingness to experiment and push himself further in his craft. Whether he releases an album Sunday or not, I will still invest and still catch myself saying DAMN. this album was good.
What do you guys think of Kendrick Lamar’s new project? Do you think it’s a progression from his last projects? Do you like the name Kung Fu Kenny? King Kendrick? Cornrow Kenny? How do you think Spirituality has been changing the hip-hop? Let me know in the comments below.