After discussing how Kendrick Lamar became my favorite current rapper, K. Dot dropped an album last Friday appropriately named DAMN. A Google search of the succinct title will garner a list of painstaking album reviews. This is not that. Here is what you need to know: DAMN. is damn good, period (see what I did there).
The intricacies of Kendrick’s normal offerings most certainly are not lost on this album; however, unlike To Pimp a Butterfly, the political stances, social perspectives and complex stories are presented with easy-to-swallow beats and cadences. So if To Pimp a Butterfly is a shot of dark liquor, DAMN. is a shot with a chaser except the chaser is a mixed vodka drink. The songs do not seem to bite as hard, but before you know it, your head is spinning and you are left wondering what in the world just happened.
The most effective way to describe DAMN. is The Matrix movie had it been written and directed by Quentin Tarantino and starred Jim Kelly as Neo. In this instance, we will call the main character Kung Fu Kenny. Much like all Tarantino films, the album’s beginning and the end are the same scene. The subdued – but important – opening act sets a somber scene. Imagine Kendrick sizing up an opponent that has been labeled as “on sight.” This is BLOOD. The gunshot at the end of the track serves as a starter pistol, or “FIGHT” declaration, to get the action started.
DNA. is a full-fledge rumble. Verbal jabs and counterpunches are thrown with black belt precision over a bass line that beats with the same speed and intensity of the parties involved. One minute and 50 seconds into the song, Kung Fu Kenny goes Super Saiyan 3, complete with the braids on fire, as if he has tasted his own blood. The beat breaks down as he transforms to an advanced hip-hop force of nature before Kendrick goes back in. Right around the 2:15 mark, the mood changes as he loses it completely and unleashes a barrage of haymakers that coincide with the background sample. I don’t even know if he took a breath, but I’m 100% he did the last 51 seconds of that song in one take and then took a nap. There is no possible way one can rap with such fervor on a second take. That passion comes from a genuinely pissed off place that is only revealed after multiple attempts to remain cool, only to have a MF’er keep working your nerves until the breaking point is reached and you black out completely. That is the last 51 seconds of DNA, and the unlucky MF’er this time happened to be Geraldo Rivera.
The fury of DNA. is balanced by the slow drawl delivery on YAH. But the sense of angst is still palpable within each stanza and seeps into the very first verse of ELEMENT, where he states blatantly that he is willing to “put the Bible down” and “go eye for an eye” to, oddly enough, maintain his place of peace. That angst is brought to life as K. Dot implores those around him to reciprocate his LOYALTY. He warns of the perils of PRIDE right before he is again fed up with people shooting at his spot, and in the most boastful, ironic way, tells them (possibly Big Sean) to be HUMBLE. The symbiotic relationship of LUST. and LOVE. is explored when Kendrick repeats the vices of everyday life in the former before prioritizing trust over love in the latter.
FEAR. is a standout track. In the first verse, K. Dot discusses the fear of a black mama at age seven in ways that only those who have lived through that can understand. It’s not a terrifying fear, just the type of respect where you did not want to do anything wrong. Also, there is the threat that ma dukes is likely to “beat yo a**”, as Kendrick so plainly states, if you mess up too much or too often.
DUCKWORTH. displays a story-telling prowess that is an often overlooked skill set in Kendrick’s bag. The story details two dudes who meet in the most dubious of circumstances as Ducky tries to stave off a potential, if not inevitable, robbery attempt by Anthony. I will not ruin the story for you, but I will say in true Tarantino fashion, the end of that song is the beginning of the CD. I know…your mind is blown.
Thus, the journey that is DAMN. It is a cross-country road trip from Connecticut to Arizona without a map or GPS where you experience a multitude of terrains only to miss an exit and end up in North Dakota, trying to figure out how in the world you ended up there. DAMN. is a course on internal struggle. The duality of being a regular Joe that is cursed with the perceived blessing of prodigy level talent that has lifted said Joe to a stratosphere where he is now perpetually praised and crowned as a great. The people only see the shiny gold exterior of the crown; they do not know the inside is lined with thorns. The tracklist is an arrangement of one-word right hooks to the gut written in all caps and a period at the end. A few of those hooks will break your ribs like Roy Jones did Virgil Hill in 1998. The others set you up for a knockout you never saw coming. DAMN. is an onomatopoeia.
**Note** This is Example 1/5 of our coiski 101: How to Effectively Write Descriptive Articles lesson.