EVERYTHING’S IN CAPS, DICKHEAD.
With all the fuss surrounding Kendrick Lamar, I think he’s alright, I liked To Pimp A Butterfly a moderate amount, didn’t love it, didn’t hate it. So, if you’re expecting ANOTHER review tickling his balls and telling him how straight up godly he is (he seems to know that from some of the lyrics on this thing), this ain’t what ya want. Nonetheless, I’m not gonna sh*t on his stuff either. Just wanted to make sure we’re clear on that.
As anyone in any kind of hip-hop or music circles’ll know, Kendrick Lamar is a west coast rapper who, since his major label debut with 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, has been met with overwhelming critical acclaim, being praised for his flow and lyrics and heralded as one of, if not, the best MC in the game right now. Now, I wouldn’t go that far, but, as I said, I enjoyed To Pimp A Butterfly as much as the next guy, so I was definitely interested to see what Kendrick would do next and if he’ll continue this apparent golden streak.
*Retrospective Milo here* This review has taken a good week to write, so needless to say it’s a big-un, you’ve been warned.
So, with this review, I’mma take a different approach than my usual track-by-track sorta ting. I’ll still talk about the songs in that format, but I’ll also try my hand at commenting on stuff overall, just things that I particularly liked or disliked that don’t fit in the that structure. Lemme know if it’s crap though, no point in wasting everyone’s time, eh?
Well, it seems only right to start at the start with the intro track, BLOOD. It’d be fair to say that this is one hell of an opener. Leading with a soulful sample and harmonised backing vocals, we’re then greeted by Lamar in spoken word form, detailing a story of a blind woman looking for something on the sidewalk. This is a song that I won’t spoil the ending of because, initially on first listen, the ending really shocked me and set the tone for the entire album in its surreal nature. Needless to say, it’s a hell of an intro.
This ending leads right into the second track and second single, DNA. This track takes a very different approach to the opener, with a much more trap-infused production style that would go on to define the rest of the album. While I’m not the biggest fan of trap music to say the least (*cough* it’s the lowest form of modern hip-hop *cough* *cough*), Kendrick plays on top of this beat with a flow that definitely says “one of the best current MCs”. There is also a sense of aggression in his delivery, which would also go on to define DAMN.
From the first two tracks of this record, we can see that it takes the overall atmosphere, crunches it into a ball, and plays football with it on the kitchen floor. While there seems to be some underlying themes, as there would be with any album, the way these are presented varies from anger and aggression to sombre and depraved, as if Kendrick takes a bipolar form in his rapping.
This is seen in spades on the following track, YAH. While, again, we see spectacular yet personal lyrics from Lamar, referring to his race and family, there is this really dumbed-down hook that goes over an almost ambient-sounding loop that really lobotomizes the listener with its repetition, it’s just “Yah yah, yah yah”. Moreover, while I understand the rapper’s views on race, and I sure as hell ain’t one to comment on them, I feel like some of these lines, specifically those referencing Deuteronomy, to be a bit… preachy, maybe? To be on a song with such a droning hook, at least.
The album as a whole, especially to someone with limited experience in the genre, is more of a grower than shower, to use crude dick metaphors. For someone who prefers the Rick Rubins and Bomb Squads on my hip-hop production, this mainstream, as I said, trap-infused production style on many, if not all of the tracks on DAMN. has a tendency to turn me off early in the track listing, and it was only the glowing reception and Kendrick’s skill as a rapper that kept me interested.
On no song is this attitude truer than on ELEMENT., which went from a song that was in the lower end of my ranking of the track listing to one of my favourite songs on the album. While the trap-laced beats and vulgar chorus are carried over from what I’m not a personal fan of, it’s the variety and catchiness of the instrumentals and hooks that slowly wore me down, with an opening piano loop that’s to die for. There is also a variation in Kendrick’s delivery that keeps every aspect of the song interesting, not to mention dark. And, though it has the element of vulgarity and bravado you’d expect from Young Money, that hook is gonna have you mumbling “…gotta slap a pussy-ass n*gga, Imma make it look sexy…” for days. Which has got me into a fair few predicaments, I’ll tell you that.
The opening line, as well as the hook, of the following track, FEEL., “Ain’t nobody praying for me“, seems to be a recurring theme throughout the record, popping up on plenty of other songs in the track listing. While anyone, including myself at first listen, could go “dude, you gots millions of fans”, I feel like it does show a level of vulnerability that you don’t see in much mainstream hip-hop, ‘cept for Mackrelmore and his gay-ally bars. Joking aside, I think it’s Kendrick’s willingness to explore these themes in his songwriting with such precision that sets him apart. This vulnerability remains a theme throughout the rest of the song, as you’d expect from the title. The beats also feel a lot less glitzy, giving the song a much more humble atmosphere, resulting in another great song.
AH! OH, THAT STINGS! After two great songs, we’re greeted with one of the worst on the album, LOYALTY. There are many detracting factors that make this such a disappointment of a song. Firstly, the fact that it was preceeded by two absolute quality cuts, which I’ve now touched on twice, so let’s leave it alone. Secondly, the Rihanna feature. Now, on a conscious level, I have nothing against Rihanna, I mean, she’s no Beyonce, but she ain’t awful. However, years of crap pop music that she has been involved in has slowly grown a seed in my brain that I just don’t like listening to her. However, kudos to her as she does keep up with Kendrick on a delivery level. Lastly, the grating sample that runs under the song like autotuned sewage. Eurgh.
Then have two songs that go into one, when you really think about it, PRIDE. and HUMBLE. While they’re sonically different, they both deal with similar themes. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of either of these songs, with both of them taking an (admittedly purposeful) boastful tone. However, while PRIDE. has a listenable instrumental and understated approach, HUMBLE. is the equivalent of whipping your dick out thinking it’s God’s gift, only to find that it ain’t that great. With this really obnoxious piano loop and unholy lyrical turds like “ooh that pussy good won’t you sit on my taste bloods” (that’s what it says), and others that border on homophobic. Still, Genius Lyrics will probably tell you that “ooh that pussy good” refers to the Egyptian feline godess Poussi, and that Kendrick is so insightful and we need his seed to spawn other godly rappers. The only redeeming factors here is, as per, the flow and deliver, as well as the opening line “nobody pray for me”, showing an amusing contradiciton. Also, WHAT THE HELL ARE TASTE BLOODS.
Following this, we have LUST. As the title more than suggests, we have a very sexy, very nocturnal instrumental back this one, one of my favourites on the album actually. The beat, while offbeat, seems tight and the hi-hat is to die for. Moreover, the subtle strings and moaning guitar solo near the mid-end of the song are just the stuff of things I have to pretend to know nothing about in front of my parents. However, there is a lot going on in the vocal section as well, with the backing vocals and multiple vocal tracks adding a dynamic layer to Kendrick’s politically-scathing lyrics and, as per, spectacular delivery. These lyrics and chilled flow make it one of the most passive-aggressive on the album and, as a British person, passive-aggression is one of my favourite things.
This leads me to another point on the overall of the album; though Kendrick, for the most part, keeps a composed delivery throughout the record, there is a sense of aggression, in both personal and, of course, political aspects of his life and lyrics. While I’m no Lamar expert, I gather that this is the most incendiary he’s sounded since his major label debut. Whether or not this has anything to do with a certain toupeed wotsit is regardless, I think this aggression has improved Kendrick’s delivery, adding a certain level of emotion.
However, another disappointment after a great song, LOVE., isn’t the best song to back up these claims. Featuring Zacari (a dickhead who I am not interested in) singing on the bland hook, which is supported by a bland beat, on which a bland Kendrick turn is rapped. It may not be an all-round bad song, but it’s just so vanilla compared to some of the other cuts on the LP that I can’t help but be disappointed.
That being said, that crap was followed by another great one, this great one being XXX. With a feature from…. no…. I read that wrong…. U2? Really? Really? Well, with a feature from U2, this song is essentially two, with the first half being a killer set of bars from Kendrick on a trap-style beat with some dope record scratches, and the second being more of a ballad with some more great bars and a chorus with Bono. As crap as this sounds on paper, the attention to detail in the production, such as the slight pitch bend on the piano, as well as Kendrick’s parts, and admittedly those from U2, really help it stand out among the track listing as something different.
XXX. really sets the listener up for FEAR., which, while not my favourite on the album, does blow e away in its epic nature. With a good three tracks-worth of material, Kendrick raps an anthology of fear-related verses over a smooth loop and a great hook (…take twoooooooo puffs). While the instrumental is great, and Kendrick’s delivery is the standard, this song really shows off his songwriting abilities, weaving believable and strong anecdotes and forming his deepest thoughts into really well-written lyrics. While, at almost 7 minutes, it’s no picnic, it’s a really chilled, refreshing track that lightens up the back end of the album.
The penultimate track is one I can’t quite make my mind up on. While in some cases, I can appreciate the catchiness and instrumental on GOD. On the other…. cases, I can’t stand how throwaway the hook is. For an album with such an abundance of religious imagery, I feel like it’s lacking on this track, which doesn’t make sense.
Maybe he’s making a statement and you just don’t get it!
Piss off is he making a statement. Look, I’ve listened to this album so many times this week that Kendrick is literally invading my every waking thought. It’s time to stop. In short, this song ain’t great because of its trashy hook and weird beat.
Probably my biggest issue with Kendrick himself on this album is his overbearing messiah complex that just flows throughout many of the songs here. I feel like with all of the religious imagery and lyrics, instead of being the self-preacher he thinks he’s being, I feel like I’m being rapped at by a moany Jehovah’s witness. Through all the great bars and amazing flow Lamar hits on this, I’m still reminded at intervals in the album why I was irritated before, it’s because he thinks he’s Jesus. Yes! It all makes sense now. He doesn’t think he’s Jesus — he IS Jesus. Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat.
Finally, FINALLY, we have DUCKWORTH. Named after Lamar’s actual surname, this biographical track is probably the one where everything that was built up on the album comes to a crescendo. The themes, the thoughts, even the instrumentals hit their peaks here. Telling one of the best stories I’ve heard in a rap song, seemingly concerning the life of his father and the events of his birth, Kendrick really brings the story to the listener and it remains one of the most entertaining songs on the album. We also have this brilliant g-funk-style production and soulful, sample-filled instrumental. The outro of this song, which links all the way back to the beginning, however, is what really proves that this is an album to take seriously.
Overall, THIS HAS BEEN A MASSIVE REVIEW OF AN ALRIGHT ALBUM. Indeed, while there are some brilliant cuts on this thing, with Kendrick proving himself as a force to be completely reckoned with in the modern rap game, and some great production and instrumental tracks, there are a good few duds, being personified by Lamar’s attitude to religion in his lyrics, some pop-hooks and trap-style production. Nevertheless, this is a fine album from someone who I can see being even greater in the future.
Lots of hugs, kisses and lacerations