Kendrick Lamar's album 'DAMN' is a book of revelations. While it's packaged as revelations about the artist known as Kendrick Lamar, it's actually overwhelmingly a collection of revelations about African Americans, these United States, and society-at-large. What follows is a track by track breakdown:
- BLOOD. - Intro/interlude of poetry spoken word tells story of a blind woman whom [presumably] Kendrick approaches to ask if she needs help & she turns her gun on him and shoots to kill. The track ends with a very telling Fox News audio clip.
- DNA. - Here he invokes the name of Yashua and the belief that African Americans are the original, true Israelites. He educates you on all of the things inherently present in his DNA. "I got soldier's DNA". He also refers to himself as an antisocial extrovert while growling "My DNA not for imitation. Your DNA's an abomination." While cultural appropriation has been a hot button issue for YEARS now on social media, the collective of well known rappers has typically turned a blind eye in favor of their brand and music sales. TI's defense of Australian born rapper Iggy Azalea comes to mind, which is really interesting when you take into account that Kendrick came to her defense as well. DNA's infectious instrumentals almost overshadows the brilliant lyrics at play. Kendrick warns of "tenets on the way" if you look up in the sky and growls "I don't compromise. I just penetrate."
- YAH. - the supreme creator, God, Yah, the universe...however you prefer to acknowledge your maker, Kendrick wants you to know that following your intuition is a must. Once again he mentions being an Israelite and even requests "...don't call me Black no mo'." He quotes Deuteronomy but also cautions that it ain't about religion.
- ELEMENT. - here, we are introduced to "Kung Fu Kenny" and I'm immediately reminded that Kendrick is from Compton!! As I turn the volume to the max and hear "I don't give a f*ck". Our conscious warrior is back and wants you to know "I will die for this shit" ala Tupac. He even jokes about faking his death and going to Cuba. But don't worry because he's gonna "make it look sexy". The screw music style at the end of the track makes one wonder if he's directing his lyrics at Drake.
- FEEL. - my first impression is that this music is psychedelic/trippy in nature. That's not a knock because I'm curious where the journey will lead! Here, we are introduced to Kdot's feelings of frustration with himself, his friends & the world at large. "Feel like removing myself ain't no feelings involved...since nobody praying for me." We've all been there haven't we? Not feeling like our best selves, having a moment of self pity and wondering where our friends are in our time of neediness and if anyone really cares at all! This track is an emotional journey of highs and lows, bravado, machismo, disconnection and ultimately, STRENGTH.
- LOYALTY. (feat. Rihanna) - definitely a chill vibe; a bit of flirtation. Loyalty is described as a "secret society", no switching sides. Rihanna & Kdot take turns asking the question "Tell me who you're loyal to" be it money, food, weed, drank, your family or your friends. Will most definitely be on the radio and in heavy rotation this summer.
- PRIDE. - more reflective sonics as he questions the choice between "happiness or flashiness". He cautions us not to take our respective pride too far. In this age of flexing our curated lives on the gram we are reminded the damage it does to the greater good. But don't worry Twitter, the line "I can't fake humble just cuz your ass is insecure" is just for you!
- HUMBLE. - the track that jumpstarted the anticipation for the rest of the album. This song is truly an oxymoron about Kdot's ability to humble OTHERS. And folks wasted no time in posting the oft repeated refrain "Be humble. (Bitch) sit down." Blog posts exploded to debate the meaning of ditching photoshop for an "ass with some stretchmarks" and the contradictions of the male species' voicing a preference for au naturale but constantly clamoring for the prize also known as a 'bad bitch' who's accessories may/may not include cosmetic surgery, hair extensions & a face full of makeup. That aside, 'HUMBLE' is Kendrick's reminder that it's levels to this shit, and his competitors ain't there yet.
- LUST. - we are initially confronted with a metaphor of the physical manifestation of a man's erection (blood rush, heart racing) as Kdot croons "Let me put the head in". But this song isn't about sex, not exactly. All of the things we and the male/female characters in the song lust for - sexual prowess, money, looks, danger keep us from doing good and making a difference. Keep listening and you'll recognize the recap of the energy post the 2016 presidential election & how the disappointment of so many swiftly dissipated as the collective became easily distracted by their lust for all things superficial.
- LOVE. (feat. Zacari) - you WILL be singing this in the shower! Hearing that sweet confirmation: "I wanna be with you" is Kendrick's spin on the spirit of Motown's classic love songs. Get ready to hear this at weddings for the next 24 months and beyond. So many "If I...would you still love me?" moments to choose from.
- XXX. - speaking directly to America. Not the people of America, but the entity. Kdot plainly lays out on the table disparities in quality of life, education and opportunities. And for those still tone deaf enough to continue equating death at the hands of police brutality with civilian on civilian crime that happen to be Black, he lets you know "Ain't no Black power when your baby killed by a coward." We end on a note that accurately describes how violence doesn't discriminate against social class, race or pedigree. From Compton to Wall Street to yes, our very own Oval Office.
- FEAR. - the longest track on the album at 7 minutes and 40 seconds, it's also the most complex and thought provoking. Especially if you happened to grow up in a household that infused fear in an effort to make you act right and behave. You're reminded of all the threats of an ass whooping for everything from jumping on the couch, losing a fight at school, not finishing dinner, your homework, etc. This is the first seed where fear continues to grow within your heart. And Kendrick allows his vulnerability here to let us into all of the dark corners of his personal fears: losing wealth, losing love, walking home in the wrong gang territory, the police and ultimately, fear of judgment.
- GOD. - it's not what you think. Actually it's more reminiscent of Kanye West's infamous 'I Am A God'. Kendrick is expressing his celebration of arrogance and ponders that "this what God feel like." Kinda like how all men feel fresh out of the barber's chair.
- DUCKWORTH. - as stated at the beginning of this album review, 'DAMN' has proved to be a a book of revelations of sorts. Kendrick Lamar saved the best (and most personal) revelation for last. Without giving too much away, I'll tell you that 'Duckworth' tells the hard to believe (but confirmed as true) story of Top Dawg founder Anthony Tiffith crossing paths with Kendrick's own father "Ducky" on the streets of Compton, and how if things had ended differently, we wouldn't have the pleasure of Kendrick Lamar Duckworth's dynamic artistry to behold.
This album will be in rotation for years to come - A CLASSIC.