Kendrick Lamar, King Kunta and K-Dot have all melded into one hip-hop trailblazing project for the Compton native and a single expression to capture it all: DAMN.
TDE fans, rejoice!
With several teasers leading up to the final release on Thursday night (April 13), the only thing that didn’t take everyone by surprise is the fact that Kendrick always has a surprise up his pen. “The Heart Part 4,” the first warning that he’s coming for his rightfully-owned crown in 2017, did as it was intended. Then, when he ordered “b***h, sit down” to the competition with the album’s first reveal, “HUMBLE.,” he had Twitter ready to hide their favorite rappers. Fans have even taken it upon themselves to pick apart K-Dot’s lyrical targets and the codes laced within his return to the rap scene this year, a feat that’s nearly impossible for the Compton flagbearer who becomes more enigmatic, more mystifying and more unpredictable with each undertaking.
DAMN. is K-Dot’s rap throne declaration. No, he’s not “beefing” with anyone, he’s not stirring the pot and he’s certainly not hiding behind controversies. He’s only doing exactly what he promised us four years ago. And now that he’s held true to that promise, it’s not just time to rejoice, but also recollect.
After hitting play on the 14 tracks that is K-Dot’s fourth studio album, here’s what BET.com has to say about DAMN.
K. Dot holds no punches with FOX News and former anchor Geraldo Rivera on “DNA.” and BLOOD.” Giving the controversial panel discussion the Tomi Lahren treatment a la Pusha T’s “Drug Dealer’s Anonymous,” Kendrick fires back at the right-winged network for its commentary about the rapper’s 2015 BET Awards performance of “Alright.” Hate it had to be you, FOX — actually, not really.
DAMN. warrants a bevy of Instagram-worthy captions, ranging from professions of Blackness (“I got royalty, got loyalty inside my DNA.”), to promises of graceful fades (“If I gotta snuff a p***y a** n***a, I’ma make it look sexy”), to hood love poetry (“Keep it a whole one hund', don't got you I got nothing.) *pulls up Notes app, jots them down for later*
“FEAR.” turns the mirror to ourselves in its first verse, making it plain that the song’s title is a common facet in Black upbringing. Filled with all-too-familiar “I beat yo’ a**” threats, Kendrick shines the light on the arguable root of our fearful walks through society: aggressive parenting. Before we’re ever met with racism, police brutality and other discrimination designed for us, we have mothers and fathers who tell us: “N***a, you gon' fear me if you don't fear no one else.”
The argument of who is the greatest rapper alive and the criteria of what makes one the greatest rapper alive has been long debated, but Kendrick is more than Compton's self-proclaimed human sacrifice. He's the greatest rapper alive without a doubt and the savior of a generation lost in a rabbit hole of mumble rap and endless cups of codeine. It's not just his tactful flow and otherworldly word play (“ELEMENT.”), the charming charisma that oozes through his linguistics (“HUMBLE.”) or the substance within his syntax (“FEEL.”). It's his audacity to consistently challenge rap’s status quo and consumers of music from every corner of the world. What's most thrilling about DAMN. is experiencing the evolution of the multidimensional 29-year-old MC through his chivalrous sonic palette, which aptly switches with every body of work he gifts the world. Sorry 6 stans, Drake could never — nor Big Sean for that matter. Ain’t no rivals went it comes to King Kendrick, bih.
If the bold, all-capitalized letters of the DAMN.’s tracklisting don’t make enough of a statement, the names of the songs and their content say it all: “LOYALTY.,” “PRIDE.,” “LOVE.” and “HUMBLE.” In normal Kendrick fashion, no topic is too big or too real to tackle. It's not easy to practice the aforementioned, especially when your name is in the top tier of rap, but the humility Kendrick is (and has always been) clothed in is ridiculously inspiring.
As if the album’s lead track, “BLOOD.,” and it’s follow-up, “DNA.,” don’t make it obvious enough, K-Dot employs gritty, yet refreshing beats beneath vicious bars that downright murks any naysaying opinion piece, post, tweet or meme that dare suggests otherwise. K-Dot is already a force never to be reckoned with, as the Compton native has proved on his rise to rap fame. But with the sound genius of Mike WiLL Made-It and riveting narratives in just the first two tracks of the project, he’s opening up some tender flesh wounds for his rap adversaries and he’s got no cut cards nor first aid kits left.
When I heard, “let me put the head in,” on the mesmerizing “LUST.,” I literally had to hit rewind. Did he seriously just say that? Hell yeah. And we’d all better get used to the unfiltered, the unexpected and the unapologetic remarks voiced throughout the entire album. Confrontational in his approach, Kendrick imprints the untold narratives of not only those on the relentless streets of his Compton home turf, but every hood, project and ghetto, into DAMN. And those stories are far from easy on the ear, at least for those outside of Black America. So when you hear bars like, “Go hit you a lick, go f**k on a b***h, don't go to work today / Cop you a 'fit or maybe some kicks and make it work today / Hang with your homies, stunt on your baby mama / Sip some lean, go get a pistol, shoot out the window,” just remember what he told us on the last album: "The blacker (and bolder) the berry, the sweeter the juice."
For “XXX.,” you can throw away any possibility or notions of a docile K-Dot if such a thought ever existed. This time touching on Black youth, Kendrick makes inventive use of his legendary rock sound assists courtesy of U2 — and the outcome is euphoric. Sirens, alarms, breaks and a head-bobbing bass line do the track justice, but not enough of it without the contrast of Bono’s brief intermissions and the damage of Kendrick’s red-hot lyricism that boils through two and a half minutes of the track. Messages of America’s hottest topics, like gun control and the nation’s most sinful secrets, are just the perks. Damn indeed, Kendrick.
Growing up, I felt like everyone had a cool nickname but me. It's a blessing I was born with zero musical talent because all too often a rap moniker is not self-selected, it is given to you from someone else, someone older and wiser, and I probably would have been stuck with something I hated. With the transition of Cornrow Kenny ("He was born with a vision") into Kung Fu Kenny ("Ain't nobody prayin' for me"), a name assumed to have been selected by the likes of Kid Capri, Kendrick Lamar takes on these alternate egos with grace, allowing each one to enable him to freely explore a different facet of his creativity. With Kung Fu influencing hip-hop from the formative days of Wu-Tang and beyond, Lamar expresses his lifelong commitment to perfecting his craft ("I'm willin' to die for this s**t / I done cried for this s**t”) further proving why this is a nickname that not only will happily stick, but is one that makes a lot of sense at this point in his journey. Nothing was given to him and therefore everything is at stake. This is serious, serious business. Lifeblood business. Willing to die for it business. How can you greet that with anything else but the utmost respect?
When Drake raps about loyalty, he's whining he doesn't have any and interpreting that unfortunately missing quality as "fake love." Rather than shine a light on those who have betrayed them, when Kendrick Lamar and Rihanna talk about loyalty, they bring an entire new meaning to the word. For their collaborative track “LOYALTY.,” Rihanna and Kendrick (can you name a more iconic duo?) address that with loyalty, the second it has to be questioned, it's lost forever. Such a loss isn't mourned, however. Instead it’s a revelation that is looked at simply as a blessing. Now that's real AF.
As someone who believes religion is a sacred thing that should be allowed to be kept private (a sentiment my outwardly Christian family does not share), Kendrick's introspection on "PRIDE." is a personal call-to-action to challenge my own instinctual perspectives and really let his words resonate. As he dives deep over a fittingly whimsical beat, he allows his conflicted critical thinking to freely question various idiosyncrasies surrounding religion and wonder aloud what is expected of him as a religious man. As he plays with the idea of how he'd be different in a perfect world or in another life, he explores pride, one of the original seven deadly sins, in an extremely captivating way. While bringing it back to the present moment with the line, "I can't fake humble just 'cause your ass is insecure," it becomes clear that, regardless of who you are (or where you're at with your own faith), this is a song to get lost in, especially if, like Kendrick, you care even when you don't necessarily know or understand why. Without the integral art of introspection, we'd be even more lost than we all too frequently appear. This track welcomes a vulnerability that in turn requires multiple listens and, naturally, introspective reflection. Even though we often look to Kendrick to have all the answers, especially regarding the bigger picture, this track reminds us that he, too, is human after all.
Has Kendrick Lamar been a closet U2 fan this whole time?! What? Huh?! As one of the most curious collaborations in the rapper’s entire storied discography, it's hard not to raise an eyebrow at the news of this extremely unlikely pairing. However, the direction "XXX." takes us in is nothing like either party has created before and somehow as much as it doesn't make sense, it works, especially considering the song’s political heat. U2 is on a rap record in the year 2017 and everything is wonderfully weird. F**k it. The song is a roller coaster of emotions and instrumentation alike, as they all switch it up just when you start to warm up to the idea that this collaboration is actually happening and is amazing at that. Whoever said they saw this one coming is straight up lying.
The idea of progress is a weird one. How does one measure if they are getting better? Or more creative? One could argue that progress is directly related to how many risks you take over time. With DAMN., Kendrick takes all the risks, in turn raising his own bar to an unprecedented level, all while reminding himself that there are no ceilings in the first place. At this point in his career, he technically has nothing left to prove. His legacy is solidified. We love him. The culture needs him. The internet literally cannot even. For argument's sake, such an overwhelming amount of support could kill off all creativity. How do you motivate yourself to get better if you're consistently being hailed as the best? Do you quit while you're ahead? Do you wonder if it’s time to pass the torch? Luckily for us, Kendrick Lamar is as unpredictable as he is talented and, for now, he’s got plenty of fight left in him. While we don't know what the future may have in store for him, it's hard not to feel some type of way about the fact that Kendrick. Lamar. Is. Still. Getting. Better.
(Photo: Pedro Gomes/Getty Images)