As one of the most devout Christians in Hip-Hop, it is perhaps fitting that Kendrick Lamar has achieved an almost godlike status within the industry. He is at a level none of his contemporaries are even close to, consistently achieving commercial, artistic and critical success. However, it is perhaps more ironic that it is this level of acclaim and his loyalty of faith that has led to the self-doubt and pessimism at centre of DAMN.
DAMN. is an album of consequence, and internal conflict. It communicates the point Kendrick is trying to make on almost every level. From the track names to the album sequencing, Kendrick seeks to teach us about the fragmentation we all feel, and present his meditations upon behaviour and what makes a person who they are.
The personal and political aspects of Kendrick's music have been present from the very beginning, but DAMN. provides a middle ground between 2012's Good Kid, m.A.A.D city and 2015's To Pimp A Butterfly that contains some of Kendrick's most personal and emotional music yet, while simultaneously commenting upon the state of society and morality.
DAMN. is certainly the most pessimistic view of society Kendrick has put to album yet. His morals and faith, usually the foundations of his work are shaken. He reflects upon human nature and our motives, specifically in the final lines of DNA where he states "Sex, money, murder—[are] our DNA". On FEEL Kendrick reflects upon the state of our selfish state of society and claims "The world is endin’, I’m done pretendin’, and fuck you if you get offended”. It's evident that Kendrick is vulnerable on this album, he's unhappy with the world, unsure of himself, his fame, his voice as a social activist. This is a theme that runs throughout the album but is perhaps most clearly alluded to in FEAR where Kendrick draws parallels between himself and the biblical tale of Job. Throughout the album he portrays his duty to society and the burden it brings is as a test from God himself. This emotional burden is what has led to Kendrick's questioning of faith and morality. Just as he notes on FEEL, "I feel like the whole world want me to pray for 'em, But who the fuck prayin' for me?"
Tackling huge concepts, evident from the very track names such as PRIDE, GOD, LOYALTY and LOVE, Kendrick attempts to analyse human nature and the conflict between our inherent desires and moral expectation. This conflict is reflected in the album sequencing coupling tracks together to reflect the duality and connections within life .i.e. LUST, LOVE or perhaps most interestingly FEAR, GOD and Kendrick's own legacy of his name DUCKWORTH. GOD and DUCKWORTH represent the two patriarchs in Kendrick's life, to which he has an eternal duty: The Holy Father and his own Father, Kenny Duckworth.
Lyrically and conceptually Kendrick delivers yet another album at the cutting edge of Hip-Hop and modern day poetry in general. However, perhaps most impressive is the manner in which Kendrick is able to consistently reinvent himself with every album.
DAMN brings an entirely new sound to Kendrick's catalogue. Instrumentally, the jazz and funk inspired style of 'To Pimp A Butterfly' has gone. The collaboration with the likes of Thundercat and Kamasi Washington have been replaced by Steve Lacy, 9th Wonder and Badbadnotgood who assist in the construction of this new sound, from the trap style beat and hectic beat change of DNA, to the phone recorded lazy guitar led PRIDE and even a fully fledged, Jeremih-esque R&B track in the form of LOVE.
Though Kendrick deliberately creates a fragmented and disorienting listening experience, there is something within DAMN. that keeps it sonically cohesive and fuses a variety of disparate styles and genres into a fluid album.
The album, unlike Kendrick's previous work is not as concrete in its message, it asks the listener to reflect upon themselves and to draw their own conclusions, it is not simply stating right or wrong or detailing the injustices of the world it asks the lister instead to question their own injustices and morals, their vices and desires.
DAMN. focuses upon our development, our actions and our convictions. Kendrick teaches us to reflect upon the consequence of our actions, to act and treat people the way we wish to be treated. In these uncertain times, Lamar makes the case to act morally, love thy neighbor, regardless of the circumstances or personal burden.