King Kendrick is no more. New Kung Fu Kenny presents you his latest album DAMN.. And I hope you didn’t expect him to record a sequel to the To Pimp A Butterfly LP, because this is something completely different. Or is it? On the other hand, it seems like a natural continuation. It’s less politically driven, less introverted. Or is it? It’s more boastful, more braggadocious, more straight-forward. There’s more religion, more fame, and more inner struggles. And it’s pretty damn fine. But it’s not that easy.
There are so many themes to explore here, but the first impression I had after reading it and listening to it, is that Lamar is just bragging. He is black. He is strong. He is the best. He is almighty. He is the most talented rapper in the world. He is on the top of the world. It’s Backstreet Freestyle all over. But then, you can’t analyze this song without context of whole album. And this is what DAMN. is – among other things – about. You have this braggadocious lyrics, but then two, or three verses that just changes everything.
And that’s what measures Kenny’s abilities. The details are everything. And DAMN. is full of them. That’s because two or three spins are not enough. Especially for a person who’s from outside cultural context of Lamar’s environment. I don’t want to become a next Craig Allen, but this album seems to marvelously fit into the empowerment of black American identity. DNA. is probably the best example of extreme manifestation of what I am, where I am from, who I think I am. And there are a lot of similar themes throughout Kend… sorry, Kung Fu Kenny’s latest. Magnificent collaboration with Rihanna LOYALTY., subtle partnership with U2 XXX. or FEAR. being just few examples.
When it comes to music, there is a radical shift from TPAB or GKMC. This album is less focused on black music’s history, or rap history, emphasizing Lamar’s himself as a creator of a form to convey a matter. His choice was more Kaney-ish or Drake-ish. Sometimes I had a feeling DAMN. was an album where Kenny’s rapping to the instrumentals of 80s ballads. Moreover, sometimes it seemed like each song was an intense shift from previous one, Lamar wanting to make as many statements in as many musical forms as he can. But again, this also has its meaning. This is no random selection of songs, but thoughtful sequencing, which itself is a manifest. When listening to such intellectually and artistically advanced artists as Lamar, or albums like DAMN. you have to read between the lines. And believe me, this space is as important as songs and lyrics. And again, especially for people who does not have cultural nativity of Lamar’s main audience or his peers.
But what’s this album is actually about? At first I thought it’s all about how great the New Kung Fu Kenny is. That it shows or even manifests Lamar’s greatness. But on the other hand it has a very distinct theme of fame and all of the struggles that comes with it. In this case it reminded me somehow of The Life of Pablo. But do not get me wrong, this LP is completely different. It’s much more sophisticated and delicate in messages it conveys. Kendrick juggles with conventions, with subtle allusions, with refined references despite the first impression of straightforward form. But DAMN. is not only about praising oneself about being the best. It’s also about the constant struggle between being pride (also self-aware of one’s greatness) and being humble. This is wonderfully depicted in the clash of PRIDE. and HUMBLE. – both musically and lyrically.
So, generally DAMN. is about the fame, the struggle, the pride, the modesty, the cockiness, the self-worth, self-glorification, self-admiration (and their opposite), the pain within, the passion, the what-ifs, the thirst for love or divinity, the death or (constant) possibility of death, the meditation about alternatives. New Kung Fu Kenny tries very hard to bring every aspect of his feelings to life. Maybe that’s why this album is less coherent than previous two. On the other hand, this variety is an excellent way to demonstrate the diversity of an emotional life. But then again, this is just a guess, an idea. There is no one explanation. And DAMN. is a great case of an LP, which can have multiple interpretations. When you think of it, this may be even Kendrick’s most ambiguous album.
There’s one thing that I’m pretty sure of. This album is a great achievement. Both musically and lyrically. It presents Lamar’s ability to craft something more than a simple compilation of tracks. This is work of art. This is an old school style of making music. An album being more of a (expressionist?) novel with radically individualistic approach. Kendrick already made an album which made him enter music’s hall of fame. He could retire after TPAB. He has nothing to prove. He has his fame, talent, resources and a ton of ideas. Now he’s just doing what he wants to share. And you can hear it. DAMN. is an album that he was ready and open to release in this moment in his life. This is just Kendrick doing what he wants. And he’s really masterful and successful in it.
Of course, there are some theories about the second album coming tomorrow (Easter Sunday). There are some voices that DAMN. is just a first LP of double-album (second being NATION.?), which will play into bigger scenario of relation between the Good Friday (the struggle, the passion, the death) and Easter Sunday (the resurrection, the life, the victory). But then again, does it really matters? I say it does not, because Kendrick Lamar has already given us a lot to digest, to cherish and to be happy about.
DAMN. is a proof that Kendrick Lamar (or King Kendrick, or K Dot, or New Kung Fu Kenny) should be treated as one of the best rappers of our times. I’m even not afraid to say that he’ll be soon considered one of the best of all time. Kenny’s latest album may not be his best, but then again – how do you compare Revolver to Abbey Road to Sgt. Pepper. DAMN. is just a work-of-art level album, which can’t be analyzed. This kind of album has to be felt and individually interpreted. That’s why it needs a lot of time to fully acknowledge its content. Every listener will find something else within it, because of its great depth. Its main themes may be irritating, upsetting, sensible, incomprehensible, or intriguing. But this makes DAMN. – both lyrically and musically – pleasurable and thought-provoking. It makes us, listeners, react with the matter of an album, to think about it.
Listen to: DNA., LOYALTY., HUMBLE., FEAR.