Review: Kendrick Lamar's new album is out, and God DAMN, it is good
If there is one way to describe Kendrick Lamar's new album DAMN., it is this: honestly and brutally good.
In it, Lamar reveals a lot about his state of mind, what it is like to grow up as a black person and his view of politics and violence in America. He mediates about vices and sins, but this 14-track album seems more realistic than pessimistic in tone.
In 'Blood' Lamar turns into a story teller, telling a tale of police brutality that a black man faces. He makes a reference to one of his own songs 'Alright', where he critiques the police for targeting black people on the street.
The fear of surviving the everyday without getting shot is evident in the first few lines - "Is it wickedness? Is it weakness? You decide / Are we gonna live or die?" This song is as hard-hitting as the gunshot sound that plays at the end of it.
'DNA' is an unapologetic explanation of what makes a black man take up hip-hop. Lamar clearly differentiates between the experience of growing up black versus growing up white and privileged, with the lines "Shit I've been through prolly offend you" and "My DNA not for imitation/ Your DNA an abomination".
In 'Yah', Lamar carves out his own identity. He says he's got "real nigga conditions" but later in the song rejects his black identity with the explanation that it is only a colour and no longer a fact.
This album focuses on loyalty or rather the lack of it, and really makes you think.
The song 'Loyalty', where Lamar has collaborated with Rihanna, asks tough questions: who are we loyal to, why are we loyal to them, and in the process, are we loyal to ourselves? Even in 'Pride', the singer says that he cannot empathise with those who are insecure of his success. He says that he does not trust anyone but the lyrics he writes.
In 'Feel' there is a confession of feeling very lonely in the world, feeling that no one has his back. Lamar talks about how most of the people in his life are imposters pretending to be someone else.
In 'XXX', he sings about the violence in America through the experience of having to console a friend whose son was shot. "But is America honest, or do we bask in sin?" he asks.
There is a strong religious undertone to the songs in this album.
In 'Loyalty', Lamar asks if the listener would give his life for the person he loved, adding that this is something you do only for God.
'Yah' is a reference to Yahweh, which is supposed to be the closest estimation to God's name. There's also a repetition of the line, "What happens on Earth stays on Earth".
In 'Fear', he directly addresses God and demands to know why he is being made to suffer. 'Fear' is my favourite track from this album; unable to deal with the fear that he has lived with all his life, Lamar says, "If I could smoke fear away, I'd roll that mothafucka up/ And then I'd take two puffs."
The music is haunting and effective, but does not take away from the words of the songs, which are the reason why Kendrick Lamar's music is so hard-hitting.
For example, in 'XXX', the sound of police sirens is integrated into the music, thus emphasising the point about police brutality.
The most haunting part of this album is that it starts and ends with the same story.
In 'Duckworth', which is the last track, Lamar tells the story of his father, an honest man who was shot dead for no fault of his. At the end of this song, we hear the start of 'Blood' and it brings us back to the cyclical emotions running through the album.
It's rare to find an album that can boast about impactful words as well as memorable beats. Lamar hits it out of the park with DAMN.