By Rahul Lal
When Kendrick Lamar dropped his latest project, DAMN., people wondered which version of Kendrick we would get. Overly Dedicated and Section.80 gave us the hard-hitting Kendrick giving us reports about living in Compton. good kid, m.A.A.d city put him on the mainstream map with quotable choruses and radio songs. With To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick sent waves throughout hip-hop that he would not compromise his own sound or silence his own voice just to sell records and, in the process, created one of the most conscious and thought-provoking albums the genre has ever seen. DAMN. takes him further in that Prince-like direction, showing that he’s a constantly evolving artist: we can keep up, or not. He’s gonna keep moving. It’s an aptly-titled album: our reaction to our first listen was literally, “DAMN.” Here’s our five favorites from the album.
“DNA.” – The intro to the album, “BLOOD.,” starts the album off slowly and really sets the listener up to bop their heads the minute the beat for the Mike Will Made It produced “DNA.” drops. Here, Kendrick looks back on the past: “When I was nine, on a cell, motel, we didn’t have nowhere to stay. At 29, I’ve done so well, hit cartwheel in my estate.” Clearly King Kendrick is humbled by his own success but isn’t afraid to talk about how proud he is of where he came from. Kendrick knew he was destined for success and, as he says, he’s got loyalty and royalty in his D.N.A.
“XXX. (featuring U2)” = People were unsure of what to expect in a collaboration between Kung Fu Kenny and U2 but “XXX.” did not disappoint. In fact, lyrically speaking, this song is the most important on the entire album. In “XXX.,” Kendrick plays around with a few different sounds, so it’s fitting that he has the legendary rock — who have gone from post-punk to arena-rock to industrial dance music and back to rock over the decades— helping him weaves through these sounds. The minute the sirens hit is when the social warrior Kendrick decides to take over and speak his mind, and it recalls some of U2’s more politically charged moments, from “Sunday Bloody Sunday” to “Bullet the Blue Sky.” “Ain’t no black power when your baby killed by a coward. I can’t even keep the peace, don’t you f— with one of ours” shows us his state of mind. “The great American flag is wrapped and dragged with explosives,” he says, not knowing when he recorded those words that the song would be released the day that America dropped “the Mother Of All Bombs.”
“LOVE. (Featuring Zacari)” – In “Love,” we hear Kendrick get really raw about his emotions as he’s complimented by the falsetto vocals provided by Zacari. Kendrick is married to his long-time sweetheart and it’s pretty definite that he’s using her as his muse as he recalls experiences before he was famous like ‘Remember Gardena, I took the studio camera. I know Top will be mad at me, I had to do it, I want your body, your music.’ He also pays an ode to the classic 50 Cent and Nate Dogg collaboration “21 Questions” with the lines ‘If I didn’t ride blade on curb would you still love me? If I made up my mind at work would you still love me?’ Go on Kendrick, tell your lady you love her.
“DUCKWORTH.” – “Duckworth” starts off with a subtle tribute to 2Pac’s 1995 album Me Against The World, saying ‘It was always me against the world until I found out it’s me versus me.’ Kendrick goes through with this theme talking to himself and later referencing both Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith and his own father Kenny Duckworth and how life has been so soberingly funny even calling life a “comedian.” It’s a reference to an incident from 1984 when Top Dawg Entertainment’s CEO nearly killed Kendrick’s pops when he was planning on robbing the chicken spot he worked at. “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.” Now, each of the three individuals discussed are living a much different lifestyle.
“HUMBLE.” – This song was released about two weeks ago and has made waves since. Whether it was the song’s incredible visuals or the lyrics themselves, Kendrick takes us through a journey in his mind accompanied by a classic beat. Telling listeners to humble themselves while listening to his song, he stirred up some controversy by saying “I’m so f—ing sick of the Photoshop. Show me something natural like afro on Richard Pryor. Show me something natural like a– with some stretch marks. Still will take you down right on your mama’s couch in Polo socks.” The most interesting thing about these lines is the video – it shows a woman across a split screen and one side portrays her with straight hair and makeup while the other side shows her in normal clothes and curly, natural hair. Kendrick is really trying to get his point across in every way he can with this song.