The Voice Of A Generation
“Y’all got ‘till April the Seventh to get your stuff together,” the Compton native, Kendrick Lamar, boldly stated at the end of his promotional track “The Heart Part 4”. That single line, along with other subliminal shots spoken on the track, sent the internet into a frenzy. Once April 7 rolled around, no album. The world had to wait one more week until Good Friday, which Lamar was slated to perform at Coachella on Easter Sunday. On April 14, the world was introduced to Lamar’s fourth studio album, “DAMN.”
God, a focal point of many of Lamar tracks. The heart of his 2012 album, “good.kid.mAAd.city”, the soul of his 2015 release “To Pimp A Butterfly”, and the spirit of 2016’s “untitled unmastered”, and now, the voice of “DAMN”.
The album starts off with “BLOOD.”, in which Lamar sees a blind woman who appeared to have lost something. He offers to help her find the lost item and she replies, “Oh, yes, you have lost something. You’ve lost… your life.” Lamar is then shot, as the music transitions into two FOX News correspondents discussing their dislike for his 2015 performance of “Alight” at the BET Awards.
“DNA.” is tied for the most popular song along with “HUMBLE.” “DNA.” is verbal attack put into a track, Lamar’s flow is hard hitting and you can feel his verbal disputes as his voice has a discussion with himself about his heritage and culture. About halfway through the track is where the song becomes one of the best on the album, which is an inclusion of Geraldo Rivera’s distaste of the musical art form of hip-hop, stating that hip-hop has done more damage than racism. The Mike-Will Made-It beat is one of the best on the album, as the sample of Rick James in the second half of the song is enticing.
After “DNA.” is “YAH.”, a laid back track that delves into Lamar’s faith, family, life, and furthering his “feud” with FOX News, stating “FOX News wanna use my name for percentage.”
On “ELEMENT.” Kung Fu Kenny delivers one of the most catchy lines on the album, “If I gotta slap a wussy-lookin homie, I’ma make it look sexy,” Lamar states. Kenny returns to his “battle rap” style as he used on “The Heart Part 4” and “Control”, and states that his competition is weak, to say the least, “Last LP I tried to lift the black artists, But it’s a difference between black artists and wack artists.”
On “FEEL.”, Lamar uses the same rhyme scheme for the whole first verse, starting off each line with “I feel like..”, then continuing to talk about his inner demons and his life as a whole, such as when he states, “I feel like the whole world want me to pray for ’em, But who prayin’ for me?” This track showcases Lamar’s creative and supreme lyricism skills, as he successfully explains his feelings to listeners.
Bruno Mars’ “24K magic” is sampled on “LOYALTY.” for the beat. As Kendrick makes his next potential chart-topping track. He calls on Bad Girl Riri to assist him on the track. The two artists speak about how much loyalty can play a part in a relationship.
“PRIDE.” is an interesting track. It offers a new side of Kendrick on the album we haven’t seen before. We experience his first singing as he experiments on his vocal pitch on the verses as he gives a nod to Frank Ocean and Andre 3000 who have attempted this in the past. “PRIDE.” also consists of another memorable line on the album with, “I can’t fake humble just ’cause your self is insecure.”
The lead single “HUMBLE.” snags your attention from the very first thing you hear. From yelling in your ear and a hypnotic beat, the catchy flow, and the easy to recite hook, all adds up to the listener to be drawn in. “HUMBLE.” is already Lamar’s highest charting single as a solo artist. It’s not the best song on the album but it serves its purpose. It garnered buzz for the release and has drawn attention to Kendrick and “DAMN.”
“LUST.” is a change in pace for the album. As some of the songs before have been very braggadocious, even if their titles state otherwise. On “LUST.” Kenny raps about how people waste their life doing meaningless activities in the great scheme of things. Whether they wake up and think about money, begging for drugs, or lusting over sex. The beat is very reminiscing to an Andre 3000 song from his Grammy-winning album “The Love Below”.
Now for the track “LOVE.” featuring Zacari. Lamar sings on this track which has caught a lot of negative reception, but I personally find no problem with. Zacari adds to the overall conception of the track as a falsetto to Kenny’s awkward sounding singing voice. This is truly Lamar’s first love song. He’s made songs about love in the past, but not like this, he states his love for his fiancee on the track as he dissects what love actually is. It may not be a smash, but “LOVE.” proves Kendrick can excel in other genres of music.
“XXX.” fades in as “LOVE.” fades out. Kung Fu Kenny opens the track with a darker vocal tone while discussion the tale of little Johnny and how he got involved into the hood life. Johnny is a metaphor for urban youth in America who gets caught up into the wildlife around them. At the 1:20 mark, “XXX.” has an unbelievable beat change which elevates the track to one of the best on the album as Kenny raps about the hood life and violent matter of Johnny in his perspective over a phone call with himself. The beat dies and the songs meaning completely changes, now the track is about the American dream as U2 makes an appearance.
“FEAR.” which to me is the best track on the album (I want to use the word best loosely), is a track many listeners will not want to listen to, since the song checks in as a 7 minute and 41-second epic that spans the life of Kendrick Lamar in three stages. Ages 7, 17, and 27. “FEAR.” offers a lot for the listener to consume, whether it is the soul-influenced beat, the reversed lyrics in the beginning, or what Kendrick fears at different points in his life. At age 7, young Kenny is being verbally abused by his mother who fears about his actions at school and outside of the house. We fast forward to K Dot at 17, where he interprets Beanie Sigel’s track “Die” as Kendrick describes various ways he could die in Compton. Fearing it could be police brutality, drugs, sex, or gang banging. We visit Lamar as he is now 27 as a famous musician. Now his biggest fear is losing everything he has accomplished and worked for himself. The track ends with a voicemail that Lamar’s cousin Carl left him. Carl references Amos 3 from the Bible and relates it to his and Kenrick’s life.
Kendrick fears he would lose everything, but on “GOD.” he acknowledges what he has done for the music scene as he is braggadocious. He states, “This what God feel like, huh, yeah Laughin’ to the bank like, “A-ha!”, huh, yeah.” The track is more pop-influenced but is at its core, just a victory lap for Lamar as he looks back on what he has accomplished in short career so far.
The theme of god, faith, and religion on the album are fitting due to release day and the end of the album. As the last song “DUCKWORTH.” plays, Lamar displays the listener of a story where his manager, Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, who was a gangster in Compton before changing his ways to become a studio head. He would often go to the KFC where Ducky, Lamar’s father worked the drive-thru window. Ducky, knowing that Top was a thug, would often give him extra chicken and biscuits to get on his good side. On day Top decided to rob the KFC, and guess what? Here let’s just let Lamar tell us.
“Pay attention, that one decision changed both of they lives. One curse at a time. Reverse the manifest and good karma, and I’ll tell you why. You take two strangers, and put ’em in random predicaments; give ’em a soul. So they can make their own choices and live with it. Twenty years later, them same strangers you make ’em meet again. Inside recording studios where they reapin’ their benefits. Then you start remindin’ them about that chicken incident. Whoever thought the greatest rapper would be from coincidence?. Because if Anthony killed Ducky. Top Dawg could be servin’ life. While I grew up without a father and die in a gunfight,” Lamar stated.
After the last line, we return to the gunshot from “BLOOD.” as parts of the album play in reverse. Then it comes back to the opening line, “So, I was takin’ a walk the other day…”
While some believed Lamar would release a follow-up record on Easter Sunday, titled “NATION.”, to fit the theme of the album of resurrection, it never came. But what we did receive was a truly magical Coachella performance. Kung Fu Keny hit the stage and showcased his lyrical skills while splicing in some Kung Fu scenes for intrudes to contribute to his story he was trying to portray, some call the performance one of the best in Coachella history as he brought out his fellow TDE label mate, Schoolboy Q, as well as his “Goosebumps” collaborator, Travis $cott, and “Mask Off” rapper, Future.
Before his set on the 16th, Lamar sat down for an interview with Zane Lowe and they discussed the album’s themes and how everything came to be. Lamar claims he never checks his twitter feed or the internet to see fan reactions. He said he wants to see how they feel about the tracks first hand and how they take the songs to heart. He touched on the Fox News samples he used in the tracks “BLOOD.” and “DNA.”.
“I thought it was a trip, that it was clickbait because anybody that knows me they know that you know I represent my people you know and the culture the right way so to try and attack my character you know and make it an actual stunt. I wasn’t for it,” Lamar said.
Many people thought the 45th president, Donald Trump, would be more present on the album due to past projects being heavily influenced on current events and political topics, Lamar stated why he was only directly referred to on the track “XXX.”,
“I wanted more self-evaluation and discipline, because what’s going on now. We’re not focusing on him. What’s going on now, we focusing on self. You see real different nationalities and cultures are coming together and actually standing up for themselves and I think that’s a pure reflection of this record prior to this even happening prior to even coming out,” Lamar said.
Before the release, there was a huge discussion on who is the better rapper currently, Drake or Lamar, even though I’ve always believed Lamar to be the superior artist, the main argument from the Drake supporter side was he has the charting singles and the better album sales. But “DAMN.” brought a whole new argument into the competition. Lamar outsold Drake in first week sales, which previously Drake had been the king at. Drakes 2016 effort, “Views” sold over 1 million copies in its first week, something that has been done only a handful of times. While Lamar has never sold well, as his highest sales going into this release was 324,000 with “TPAB”. But “DAMN.” sold 603,000 to “More Life” only selling “505,00”. Furthermore stating that Kung Fu Kenny is the voice of our generation.
Lamar is set to go on tour for “DAMN.” in July and will stop at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. on the 21st with special guests Travis Scott and D.R.A.M.