Okay, you can call me lame for trying to incorporate the album title into my headline like everyone else has done on their other articles and reaction videos to this record, but I couldn't help it. Now, obviously going into this new release from Lamar, I wasn't expecting it to be as good or even better than what I consider to be his best record and a "masterpiece," To Pimp A Butterfly. I say this because the amount of effort, thoughtfulness, and quality that it offered was just off the charts and really made people speculate or begin to believe that Kendrick is one of the greatest rappers ever, if not the greatest. One thing that I can say that I got from DAMN. was the fact that this record was by far Lamar's most commercial sounding project yet, especially compared to the jazz and funk influenced sounds on his past two projects To Pimp A Butterfly and untitled unmastered., with it's trap inspired production on some of the tracks and the record's features like Rihanna and rock icons U2 (which were two of the three contributing artists credited on the album with Zacari being the last one, along with some uncredited vocals and spoken word from people like Anna Wise and Kung Fu Kenny). Another thing that I noticed from this album was that while it addressed many themes throughout such as religion, Lamar's struggle of dealing with fame, lust, culture, relationships, one of the seven deadly sins ("PRIDE."), being a "God-like" figure compared to his contemporaries and peers in the rap game, life, death, and love, this album wasn't a true conceptual record as his previous two studio albums, good kid, m.A.A.d. city and To Pimp A Butterfly, which is understandable because it is interesting to see Lamar go in a different direction with a new sound and an album that is honestly just straight up hip-hop containing a few topical themes to address.
However, I wouldn't be surprised if there are people who decide to call this album a "concept record" because while it doesn't truly tell a step-by-step story that flows together by the end, it does contain many "concept-like" thoughts to it. An example can be the intro track to this album, "BLOOD." in which Lamar notices a blind lady struggling to find something on the sidewalk and decides to go over and ask her if she needs any assistance, to which the lady ends up shooting him to death. This track was the first of the many life and death related motifs and themes heard throughout the album, as well as introducing the "wickedness or weakness" concept that Lamar seems to use in the record too, especially since the blind lady represented the weakness in the beginning and once she shoots Lamar, she's considered to be wicked. Another reason why people would consider this album to be a "concept album" is because on the last track of the release titled "DUCKWORTH.," the album goes in reverse and ends with the first lyric that Lamar says to kick the whole album off "So I was takin' a walk the other day." implying a "rise from the dead" type of theme, and this would make sense as the album was released on "Good Friday." Overall, I would have to say that this new release from Lamar was more personal than political or conceptual as To Pimp A Butterfly and good kid, m.A.A.d city were, and I'm not saying that's a bad thing by any means as he does address many topics that are going on in his life in both a thoughtful and straightforward way.
Some songs that were highlights for me after listening through this record include the lead single "HUMBLE." in which Lamar tells his listeners to be humbled by the lyrics he dishes out in his songs and addresses issues such as positive body image among women by saying "I'm so f***** sick and tired of the photoshop/show me somethin' natural like afro on Richard Pryor/show me somethin' natural like ass with some stretch marks," and mixing religious themes with urban life in the song's "out-there" but excellent music video, and "DNA." was another standout track for me as it shows Lamar acknowledging his black heritage and culture and shunning those people who abuse and receive profit from that black culture and heritage. Other tracks that I think are worth mentioning include "FEEL.," "LOVE." featuring Zacari, and "FEAR.", especially the latter song because I love how Lamar describes three different instances of fear that he has experienced throughout his life with one being when he was a young seven year old who encounters a life of domestic violence in his household, a teenage Kendrick who expresses his fear of dying young as a result of being surrounded by gang violence and police brutality around the neighborhood that he lives in, and what seems to be the present Kendrick who discusses the lack of confidence he has in himself, and fearing that he might lose the successful life that he has made for himself and his family. "LOVE." is a great song as well with a fantastic chorus sung by musician Zacari that sounds very passionate as the song is a ballad about Lamar reflecting on his relationship with his real-life fiancé and how they can strengthen the biggest characteristic of their romantic bond, which is love. However, while I do like a majority of these tracks on this new record from Lamar, especially from a lyrical standpoint, I still find that some of these tunes come up a bit short.
Mainly the two songs that I can't seem to connect with on this album are "YAH.," and "LOYALTY." featuring Rihanna. While I actually appreciate the messages of both of these songs, with "YAH." talking about how the press, mainly Fox News, wants to know about everything he believes and that he's "not a politician," and "not 'bout a religion" adding more religious themes into the song as well, along with calling out Fox News broadcaster Geraldo Rivera, and "LOYALTY." being about how both friendly and loving relationships need to possess honesty and loyalty to make them work out and become successful, I don't really care for the choruses on either of these songs mainly because they don't provide much lyrical prowess as in many of the other tracks from Lamar on this record. In addition, the instrumentation on "LOYALTY." is probably my least favorite beat on the record just because the "chipmunk background vocals," as I like to call them, seem a bit off-putting and a little annoying to me. However, with more listens, the songs might grow on me with time, so we shall see.
Now, I know that I can't relate to any of these situations that Lamar depicts in his lyrics, so giving a review/opinion like this might make me look like that I don't know what I'm talking about because I don't live in a rough area like Compton, California, but I don't listen to Kendrick's work because I relate to the "pictures he paints" with his lyrics, I listen to him because I appreciate how conscious and thoughtful he is with his words and beat choices throughout his projects, and he does a superb job telling stories from start to finish on his albums as well, even if I don't relate to any of them. In conclusion, I think this album was a great release as a whole because while it wasn't as detailed, thought-out, and mind-blowing like To Pimp A Butterfly and good kid, m.A.A.d. city, Kendrick does a great job rapping about the topics he addresses regarding his personal life and feelings on this record, despite how straightforward and simple it is. Whether we could possibly see Lamar drop a new album on Easter Sunday, amid many rumors and speculations from media outlets and fans alike, for now this record continues to show how confident Lamar is becoming as an artist and that he is at the absolute "top of his game."
Album Rating: 9/10
Favorite Tracks: "DNA.," "LOVE." featuring Zacari, "FEAR.," "HUMBLE.," "ELEMENT.," "FEEL."
Least Favorite Tracks: "YAH.," "LOYALTY." featuring Rihanna