Kendrick Lamar’s ‘DAMN’ track by track review

kendrick-damn-promo
Photo: WEHUSTLE

Kendrick Lamar bares it all in his latest fourth studio album ‘DAMN’.

As you press play ‘BLOOD’ is the first song which narrates Kendrick meeting a blind woman which ends with an abrupt gun shot. Then transitions into a Fox News commentator complaining about Lamar’s 2015 BET Awards performance of ‘Alright’*. Interestingly, the instrumentals sound like old American wild west acoustics and percussion.

This then leads into the boastful track ‘DNA’ which features warped sample vocals from Rick James 1982 live version of ‘Mary Jane’. The track is the definition of ‘lit’ with its sleek yet heavy bass which screams decadence alongside Kendrick’s rap which slams hip hops critics (more noteably Geraldo Rivera). Definitely one to blast out in the car!

‘YAH’ is a little slower with a cool drum beat and reversing warped sounds. Kendrick’s woozy, dreamy vocals just put you in a daydream. Lamar asserts his position in a humble and enlightening way, as he speaks “I’m not a politician /  I’m not about religion / I’m an Israelite / don’t call me Black no mo / the word is only a colour, it ain’t facts no more”.

Bold and confident, ‘ELEMENT‘ still remains humble in true Kendrick-style with its innocent yet dark instrumental will keep your head bopping well after the song finishes. The piano accompaniment fits perfectly into the lyrics which makes the track easy to follow.

Kendrick’s definitely feeling some kind of way in ‘FEEL’, the track features a number of samples. The first being the beautiful atmospheric instrumentals from Fleurie’s 2016 track ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ which hauntingly echoes “ain’t nobody praying for me”. The second being the charming percussion from Stormy’s ‘O.C. Smith‘. This track is very ‘ear-pleasing’ and Lamar’s lyrics perfectly capture the ‘feels’ of the world right now, it is simply fair to say that this track is undeniably relatable. Also the deepening feel of the instrumentals moulds well with Kendrick’s lyrics.

‘LOYALTY’ FT. RIHANNA is one of my personal favourites off the album. Opening with a clever sample from Bruno Mars’ ’24K Magic’ but slightly warped as if the CD is tripping or stuck on replay. This track’s instrumental definitely has a bit of everything with samples from the Organic Future Hip Hop album, Ol Dirty Bastards ‘Shimmy Shimmy Ya’ and even lyrical inspiration from Jay Z’s  ‘Get Your Mind Right‘. Rihanna’s luscious and alluring vocals tie in well with Kendrick’s more softer vocals, transforming the track into a masterpiece.

Featuring co-production from the Internet’s Steve Lacy ‘PRIDE’ opens with a rather powerful verse highlighting the message of the song,  “Loves gonna get you killed / But pride’s gonna be the death of you and you and me”. This then transitions into a beach-vibe instrumental, throughout the track the lyrics are healing highlighting the track’s introspectiveness. Thoughtfully, Kendrick’s vocal pitch varies from high to low throughout the track, highlighting the contrast between his ideals and actions.

‘LUST’ samples Rat Bays ‘Knock Knock Knock’ but this vocals are warped at a much higher pitch. Kendrick’s lyrics tell of the repetitive lifestyle of being a ‘rapstar’ and the associated lust for luxury, sex, party and release from financial burden.

Contrastingly, ‘LOVE’ FT. ZACARI is presumably dedicated to his high school to now relationship with Whitney Alford. Zacari’s chilled vocals almost sound a lot like a young version of the Weeknd and just add some zest here and there. Such a vibin’ track.

Wow, ‘XXX’ FT. U2 is a track that has this almost warped old-school sound which has been transformed into a futuristic hip hop sound. Personally I feel the instrumental almost tells a story in itself, almost like a movie. The track features a noteworthy sample of James Brown’s ‘Get Up Offa That Thing’. Something about this track is mysterious and dark with plenty of spontaneity. The track even gives Donald Trump some limelight, “Donald Trump’s in office / We lost Barack and promised never to doubt him again / But is America honest or do we bask in sin”.

Then just halfway through fast-paced sirens silence and Kendrick speaks “Ok kids lets talk about gun control … pray for me”. Then the track slows into something more uplifting with U2’s Bono’s lyrics and Kendrick’s rap speaking as he educates his listeners about American realities. Surprisingly, Bono’s lyrics fit nicely adding this element of humanity and compassion into the song.

‘FEAR’ is a reflective track. Rather, it is a part biography telling of the phases of Lamar’s life which would undo him with an older self acting as a parental figure, warning him of his future if he continues down a destructive path. With the pained vocals value-adding to the emotion of the song alongside a subtle, easygoing electric guitar and sweet piano is a pleasant accompaniment.

With its blooming, rich synths, ‘GOD’ is primarily a redemption song on forgiving his wrongs and the narration in the previous song as he repeats “don’t judge me”.

‘DUCKWORTH’ is the final track on the album and is probably one of the most meaningful tracks on the album as Lamar tells the true story when TDE founder Anthony ‘Top Dawg’ Tiffith met Lamar’s father ‘Ducky’, years before he would sign Kendrick. The accompanying instrumentals are so varied, particularly the lavish gospels and the track even samples Hiatus Kaiyote’s track ‘Atari’.

Once again Kendrick has blessed his listeners with an impressive catalogue of heartfelt,  expressive songs which I feel continue to resonate and develop a greater impression the more one listens.

Take a listen to Kendrick Lamar’s ‘DAMN’ below:

 

 

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