By Eli Schoop, Copy Editor
Key Tracks: “HUMBLE.”, “XXX.”, “FEAR.”
The rap wunderkind Kendrick Lamar has once again captivated the music masses with DAMN. It is difficult to dissect a record that has omnipresent attention, yet once the dust clears, a cursory listen can show how packed of quality this album is. Lamar has free reign to do whatever he pleases at this point in his career, bouncing concepts off the wall in the vein of an OutKast or A Tribe Called Quest disciple, but unlike on To Pimp a Butterfly or Good Kid, m.A.A.d City, he struggles to fit an interlacing theme throughout DAMN. However thematically polished one of Lamar’s projects is, one can bet the rapping will always be stellar, and that’s what really carries DAMN. in its 54-minute runtime.
It’s fitting that some of the most explosive and aggressive tracks featured were produced by Mike WiLL Made-It. “DNA.”, “HUMBLE.” and “XXX.” are all graced by his touch, unsurprising as he has an unimpeachable track record of delivering hit after hit. “DNA.” is Lamar’s clap back against Fox News taking him to task for his anti-police comments on “Alright”, eviscerating Geraldo Rivera and even forcing a response from the bewildered TV personality. The Compton rapper’s influence at this point knows no limits, as seen by the brazen callout and ability to not be fucked with. “HUMBLE.” is similarly braggadocios, a demolisher in its mangled drums and ominous piano line, seemingly showing Lamar atop his eminent throne dismissing any peasant who gets in his way. It’s the best song on the LP and a bonafide example as to why he’s one of the best rappers alive, and it couldn’t be possible without the magic of Mike Will.
One of the more interesting parts of DAMN. is how willing Lamar is to intersperse A&R jazz and smooth soul with his no-holds-barred approach towards traditional rap. Not that Lamar has ever been averse to experimentation, as seen by his flirtations with the avant-garde on most of his material, but unlike the cohesive samples that make up previous records, DAMN feels like pleasant interludes with such luminaries as Rihanna and U2, which may work to its detriment, but also has merit in how controlled and assured Lamar is as an artist. This just means that DAMN. is a more conventional studio album, and that’s okay.
Kendrick Lamar is captivating because he understands what makes hip-hop so special. He’s a workhouse, machinist capable of sure introspection, but also capable of ripping your throat if you get too comfortable. While DAMN. doesn’t inundate you into Lamar’s psyche as clearly as Good Kid, m.A.A.d City or as compellingly as To Pimp a Butterfly, it feels satisfying for him to grace us with this kind of lovingly made, enveloping art, and that’s all we can ask of such an empyrean soul.