“I feel like the whole world want me to pray for ‘em / But who the fuck prayin’ for me?” Kendrick Lamar spits during ‘FEEL.’ from his new record ‘DAMN.’.
With 2015’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’, the rapper opened himself up to the world, acting as a mouthpiece for a viciously angry generation and becoming a figurehead for millions. On ‘DAMN.’ he turns the camera inwards, coming to terms with his new position and how it affects the rapper himself. It’s most concisely presented in some of the album’s final lyrics: “It was always me vs the world, until I found out it was me vs me.”
The record sees Kendrick fighting against anxiety and expectation, and the result of these inner struggles is simply stunning. From opener ‘BLOOD.’ sampling a Fox News broadcast which criticises ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ track ‘Alright’ and its damning of police brutality in the US - the organisation crops up consistently throughout ‘DAMN.’ - there’s plenty of references to Kendrick’s last album and its vital political conscience, but the majority of the record looks inward, and onto topics of Kendrick’s family, his god, and his relationships.
The reflective nature of the record doesn’t make it any less vicious or angry though. ‘DNA.’ sees Kendrick running and running with verse after verse until he practically bursts. There’s also hits - previous single ‘HUMBLE.’ possesses a ridiculously catchy beat that could carry any track, while the Rihanna-featuring ‘LOYALTY.’ is bright and positive, with Rih’s smooth rap, rolled out with consummate ease, seeing her at her very best.
Musically, ‘DAMN.’ trades the brass and jazz of ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ for slinky beats on the James Blake-produced ‘ELEMENT.’ and siren synths on ‘XXX’, erratic yet fused together by his continuing quest for inner peace, fighting against anxiety. ‘PRIDE.’, meanwhile, could be lifted from an Ariel Pink or Connan Mockasin record, and includes a Rat Boy sample. ‘XXX’ also makes Bono sound gorgeous, restrained and melancholic. Only Kendrick…
One of the record’s unexpected highlights comes from ‘LOVE.’, which features largely unknown LA singer Zacari. It’s the warmest track on ‘DAMN.’ and the newcomer’s gorgeous vocals serve to bring down Kendrick’s bars themselves, becoming care-free and free from anxiety. He also, almost humorously, slips in the line “this party won’t end”.
‘FEAR.’ sees ‘DAMN.’ return to its probing heart, spending a minute or so pondering any of the ways he might possibly die, before referencing the great, punching sadness felt on election day when Donald Trump was elected. He also fears “losing creativity” and “that my humbleness is gone”. ‘DAMN.’ suggests anything but, on both counts, but the record is a fascinating window into life at the top, and the worries and anxieties that creep into even the biggest, most critically acclaimed stars.
‘DAMN.’ still fits in time for one more chart-botherer via the glorious ‘GOD.’ and the amount of styles, tempos, samples and collaborators on the record, but Kendrick fuses them all together incredibly to create something that rises and falls dramatically, yet every piece feels entirely compatible.
Kendrick Lamar rose to the top with his last album, and on ‘DAMN.’ he tries to rediscover himself while on this new perch, with spectacular results.