Kendrick Lamar is tellurian again. On To Pimp a Butterfly he asked to be desired like Nelson Mandela and Michael Jackson—and he meant it. He wanted to consolidate a top ideals of dexterity and care and purpose. On Damn he only wants be himself. Stripped of a charged symbolism of To Pimp a Butterfly and a soul-baring confessions of Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, Damn is easy minimalism, swat pared down to one male vocalization his mind in all a complexities and contradictions and convictions, a strain itself corroded into a sludge of soul, bass, and 808s. It’s one of a many consummate redefinitions given Yeezus, and in many ways Kendrick’s many desirous manuscript to date.
Kendrick’s self-image tends to counterpart his ambitions. On his entrance album, Section.80, he was calm with being a small observer. “I’m not a subsequent cocktail star. I’m not a subsequent socially wakeful rapper. we am a tellurian motherfucking being,” he announced on a album’s outro. On his subsequent album, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, he was “Compton’s tellurian sacrifice,” attacked of his ignorance by a whirl of violence, poverty, and hormones. Observation remained his primary means of enchanting with his diligent world, yet unexpected a act was transformative. He was altered by what he witnessed, and a some-more he observed, a some-more he was able of, as a chairman and as an artist.
Among fans and critics Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City turned Kendrick into a star and socially wakeful rapper he didn’t wish to be, yet Kendrick’s possess ambitions were greater. “Tell me that we adore me, always meditative of me, unconditional, I’m anticipating I’m your favorite,” he rapped on Tech N9ne’s “Fragile” in 2013, seeking something grander than adoration. By 2014 he could name what he was looking for: immortality. “Tell me we can live prolonged and we can live wrong and we can live right,” he demanded on Flying Lotus’ “Never Catch Me.” To compare that grand aspiration he had to turn something some-more than a man, a daunting hearing that his third album, To Pimp A Butterfly, decorated in awing, abdominal detail. Kendrick spends that manuscript cocooning himself in a vast stretch of blackness, dynamic to comparison celebrity and injustice and self-doubt and emerge perfected, unblemished by a fury and disunion that conclude being black in America. He ends adult unwell though, promulgation him into a turn of basin and self-hatred that he narrowly escapes by his god, his family, and Tupac.
That Pyrrhic feat haunts Damn to a core. Less endangered with who he contingency become, Kendrick explores who he is, focusing on his many component urges. “What happens on Earth stays on Earth,” DJ Kid Capri announces periodically, anchoring a manuscript to a mortal realm. The strain titles are brutally fundamental—”Blood,” “Element,” “Love,” “DNA,” Fear,” “Feel,” “Loyalty,” etc.—and Kendrick spends a manuscript detailing how complicated life is made by these former forces.
Damn is easy minimalism, swat pared down to one male vocalization his mind in all a complexities and contradictions and convictions.
Kendrick’s faith in a vast doesn’t wane, yet we can feel his solve change as he views his life by an conceivable lens. On “DNA” he takes a thought of strange impiety literally, make-up a entirety of tellurian knowledge into nucleotides and proteins: “I got royalty, got faithfulness inside my DNA/Cocaine entertain piece, got fight and assent inside my DNA/I got power, poison, pain, and fun inside my DNA.” For Kendrick DNA is both predestine and possibility, bonds and freedom, and as he peers deeper into a microscope he sees a tellurian condition and himself with new clarity. Midway by a strain a kick shifts to compare his new viewpoint and he emerges with complete purpose, responding to a extremist Geraldo Rivera quote with blunt conviction: “I live a improved life, I’m rolling several dice, fuck your life/This is my heritage, all I’m inheriting/Money and power, a creation of marriages.” Through DNA, strange impiety becomes probability incarnate, a accursed birthright fake into a weapon.
Relieved of his messianic ambitions, Kendrick speaks openly and directly. His rapping is mostly lax and circuitous and anxious, labyrinth in and out of tune and easing into hooks. He’s always had a freeform delivery, yet here he indeed sounds free, spacing out his words, home on syllables, and pretension rather than sprinting by beats. “Element” and “Humble” are full of slowed pronunciations that concede Kendrick to provide syllables like little accordions, fluctuating and compressing rhymes as needed. His narratives follow suit, alighting with a blunt force that he couldn’t utterly accomplish on To Pimp a Butterfly. “I feel like there’s no tomorrow, fuck a world, a universe is ending/I’m finished sanctimonious and fuck we if we get offended,” he says plainly, on “Feel.”
Kendrick has been opposed existence head-on via his career, yet a disproportion here is a matter of scale. No longer vocalization for a era or a city or a people, he speaks for himself, and this frank, unobstructed probity rouses him to new levels of expression. You can feel him seethe with fury when he addresses a pomposity of white America on “XXX” (“It’s nasty when we set us up/Then hurl a bones to gamble us up/Overnight a rifles, afterwards tell Fox to be frightened of us”). And on that same track, when consulted for devout superintendence after a genocide of a friend’s son, he endorses absolute, uncontrollable reprisal (“Ain’t no black energy when your baby killed by a coward”). “Pride” and “Humble,” dual obverse meditations on ego, are only as scaled-down. On “Pride” Kendrick sum a ways his ego creates him reduction obliged to others; on “Humble” his ego empowers him to put others in their place. Because “Pride” and “Humble” prioritize Kendrick’s voice, they aren’t as multi-dimensional as some of his comparison songs—his critique of beauty standards on “Humble” doesn’t during all cruise how women themselves feel about those standards—but together they move out an ambivalence in Kendrick that frequency appears in his songwriting.
His catalog is filled with parables and ethics and lamentations, forms of storytelling that restrict people and practice into neat, eatable lessons. On Damn, these practice and people—Kendrick included—are available their flaws, lusting and loathsome and shit-talking and all a other things humans do. Kendrick eventually ends adult coloring these flaws as a biblical abuse imposed on amiability (“Fear”), yet a stories themselves sojourn graphic from his fire-and-brimstone conclusions. “Duckworth” a album’s final lane tells a story of Kendrick’s father and Kendrick’s boss, Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, encountering any other during a KFC in a ‘80s. Top Dawg was a gangbanger and designed on robbing a KFC, yet was stopped by a munificence and skill of Kendrick’s father, who offering Top Dawg and his posse giveaway chicken. Kendrick describes a story as a “coincidence,” yet he stages it as an act of boundless intervention, a abuse of strange impiety momentarily lifting, and a astonishment with that he tells it strongly suggests that he interprets it as an act of god. My interpretation is, damn, that’s a good story.
Some will be unhappy to hear Kendrick welcome a boundary of his possess perspective, generally after an manuscript where he channeled so many voices so evocatively. But Kendrick’s self-indulgence on Damn isn’t a detriment of ambition. It’s a changeable of priorities, an bid to live life rather than comparison it. In a universe on a margin of tellurian fight and in a nation on a margin of fascism, that sounds utterly desirous to me.