The past, present, and future of Kendrick Lamar
By Jessica Berget, Staff Writer
“Is it wickedness? Is it weakness? You decide.”
On April 14, Compton’s human sacrifice, poet, and artist, Kendrick Lamar, released his fourth and most ambitious album to date: DAMN. Fraught with experimental beats, melodious rhythms, and exhilarating lyrics, DAMN. is a musical joyride, even though it contains a shorter tracklist than his previous discographies. The album name and track list is presented in all caps, illustrating the power and significance each song has to the album. Lamar’s skillful storytelling and poetic symbolism will make it a challenge to stop yourself from repeating the title of the album the entire time you listen to it.
The album is symbolic and blunt, emotional and numbing; it is a contradiction of itself, yet the songs work together harmoniously. The first half of DAMN. is dark and aggressive, almost angry. Recurring themes of racism, police brutality, and social inequalities appear frequently in his albums, but never in such a bitter and tired way as they do in DAMN. On the front cover of his album he looks drained—weary even—by the ways of the world.
The first song on the album is “BLOOD,” a stoic account of a woman looking for help, which ends in the death of the song’s main character, Lamar himself. The song takes a political turn however, with a sound clip of Fox News reporters critiquing Lamar’s lyrics in the song “Alright” from his previous album To Pimp a Butterfly. “And we hate the po-po, wanna kill us in the street, fo-sho.” “Ugh, I don’t like it.” Lamar’s response is quickly showcased as the first track fades out and the second track “DNA” opens with a righteous “I got, I got, I got, I got loyalty got royalty inside my DNA.”
The second half of the album delves deeper into religious and political themes, and it consists of aggressively symbolic notions of evil, freedom, and Lamar’s experiences as a Black man living in America. The Lamar and U2 collaboration “XXX” is a concrete example of this. In the beginning of the track, Lamar describes the moral ambiguity and the duality of man. “Throw a steak off the ark to a pool full of sharks, he’ll take it,” suggesting even the most innocent of people can do evil in certain circumstances. Following this is an anecdote of Lamar’s friend calling him drunk and belligerent because his only son was killed, to which Lamar responds with a message of revenge.
Lamar then takes on a more philosophical tone, and even goes on to question his own mortality in the next song “FEAR.”
“When I was 27 I grew accustomed to more fear.” As Lamar’s albums progress—and the older he becomes—he begins to realize the mortality of his own life and discusses how close he is to death at any moment. “I’ll probably die anonymous, I’ll probably die with promises.” He lists the various ways and reasons he has been berated by his mother and the constant anxieties that surround him, followed by a chilling metaphor: “If I could smoke fear away, I’d roll that motherfucker up, then I’d take two puffs.”
Kendrick Lamar is at the peak of his musical career, and DAMN. is a testament to that. Every new album he releases is more powerful and more extraordinary than the one that came before.
For Kendrick Lamar, the only direction to go is up, and that’s exactly where he’s headed. His DAMN. album and tour will be sure to illustrate the strengths of Lamar—not only as an rapper but as an artist and a performer. His future albums will only become better and better and I, like many of his fans, am excited to see what Lamar has planned for the future.