As the nation sails into uncharted waters with a mad man at the helm and the future looking murky, it is a blessing to have an artist like Kendrick Lamar provide clarity and sanity during these dreary days. The Compton-based rapper has a knack for providing audiences with works that both provoke deep thoughts and a mean Milly Rock.
Lamar has returned, emerging from his castle in California, on Good Friday, to showcase once again why his nickname, King Kendrick, is more than a nickname, but a title. He does so on his fourth studio album, properly titled “DAMN.,” thus commencing “Kendrick Season.”
The album, released on April 14, is a grittier project for Lamar, with numerous hardcore, trap-influenced bangers to boot. It is a stark contrast to the jazz, funk and soul sounds that propelled his 2015 critically acclaimed album “To Pimp a Butterfly” into an instant classic.
Like its predecessor, “DAMN.” is an instant classic. Lamar is at the top of his game, refusing to hold back on any topic, a la Eminem, but in a masterful, cerebral manner. This is demonstrated on the album’s opening track “BLOOD,” where Lamar highlights criticisms made by analysts from the always “reliable” Fox News reporters regarding his performance of his unofficial Black Lives Matter anthem “Alright” at the 2015 BET Awards. The performance was denounced by the analysts, most notably by Geraldo Rivera who cited hip-hop as being responsible for “more damage to young African Americans than racism.”
Lamar simply claps back at Rivera on the track “YAH.”
“Fox News wanna use my name for percentage/ My latest muse is my niece, she worth livin’/ See me on the TV and scream: “That’s Uncle Kendrick!”/ Yeah, that’s the business/ Somebody tell Geraldo this ***** got some ambition,” Lamar raps.
Between his last studio album and “DAMN.,” Lamar’s perspective has noticeably changed, much like the world. Former President Barack Obama has left office, replaced by the maniacal Donald Trump and Lamar’s pain matches that of many Americans, reflecting in his music on “DAMN.” There is a lot of aggression in Lamar’s ever-colorful and imaginative lyricism that allows listeners to feel his pain and comprehend his outlook on the current state of worldly affairs.
“It’s murder on my street, your street, back streets/ Wall Street, corporate offices/ Banks, employees, and bosses with homicidal thoughts; Donald Trump’s in office/ We lost Barack and promised to never doubt him again/ But is America honest, or do we bask in sin?” Lamar passionately raps on the U2-featured track “XXX.”
“DAMN.” is less of a convoluted listen than its predecessor, lacking a concept, but still possessing a strong message. The album also sees Lamar rehash some of the sounds he crafted on his 2012 classic “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” while mimicking and ultimately outdoing the sounds of his peers: Future on “LOYALTY.,” Big Sean on “ELEMENT.” and Drake on “LOVE.” He hits hard with tracks like “HUMBLE.” and “DNA.,” but he also demonstrates his one of a kind storytelling ability on songs like “FEAR.” and “DUCKWORTH.”
On “DAMN.,” Lamar’s perception has shifted, coming off as a prophet, struggling with the perks that come with achieving a superstar status, something that is not too far off from “To Pimp a Butterfly”’s narrative. Lamar is noticeably agitated on “DAMN.,” feeling let down by those close to him, repeating the sentiment “Ain’t nobody praying for me” throughout.
“I feel like friends been overrated/ I feel like the family been fakin’/ I feel like the feelings are changin’/ Feel like my daughter compromised and jaded,” Lamar raps on “FEEL.”
So what happens when it comes to the discussion regarding who is the best rapper alive? Lamar himself will tell you to look no further as he did on the album’s promotional single, “The Heart Part 4.”
“I put my foot on the gas, head on the floor/ Hoppin’ out before the vehicle crash, I’m on a roll/ Yellin’, “One, two, three, four, five/ I am, the greatest rapper alive,” he confidently raps.
This claim only grows stronger, as “DAMN.” not only solidifies Lamar’s status as the best rapper alive, but even goes as far as to make Lamar deserving of inclusion in the “greatest of all-time” conversation in the realm of hip-hop. His placement on lists will vary, but to put him in the top 10 seems incredibly justified. Since the release of his debut album “Section.80” in 2011, Lamar has rattled off four consecutive classic, critically-acclaimed albums in a six-year span, a feat no other hip-hop artist in history can boast. Trying to decipher what makes Lamar so amazing as an artist may be a strenuous process. It is possibly better to simply appreciate the greatness of the Compton native rather than question it.
Lamar, like his idol Tupac, is a once in a generation artist that does not deserve to be questioned. All one can do is sit back and say “DAMN.”