Kendrick Lamar: DAMN. (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope) Review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Kendrick Lamar


Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope

May 03, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

On “PRIDE.,” Kendrick Lamar declares: “I can’t fake humble just because your ass is insecure,” his vocals subtly but unmistakably distorted into haunting whisper gusts and booming echoes over tightly looped funk grooves. The song’s effortless catchiness, coupled with its boldly offbeat creativity, prove that lyric positiveindeed, why would he feign humility on such an excellent song?

It’s the sound of a master at the top of his game, a feat that Lamar achieves again and again on his fourth full-length studio release, DAMN. True to its dire, downcast title, the new LP has little room for the sort of defiantly joyous cuts like “King Kunta” that the Compton rapper has become known for in the past, much less the exalted anthem “Alright,” or even breezier earlier cuts like “Hol’ Up,” or “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe.” No, this is a less eclectic, more grimly focused affair for dark times on troubled streets, where one lyrical giant rises to the occasion and towers over his peers, despite his slight stature.

That much is plain on DAMN. songs such as “HUMBLE.,” which features dourly aggressive key tones and a flow from Lamar akin to a lumbering gorilla. On “FEAR.,” he reveals a tender heart under his battle hardened exterior, wishing he could “smoke fear away, I’d roll that mother fucker up,” and then declaring “I’ll probably die anonymous” before lamenting passing away with broken promises, as melancholy bass solos ring out over muted gospel singing.

Sonic divergences from the downcast proceedings are rare, but when they emerge they quickly make themselves known as some of Lamar’s best work yet. “LUST.,” for instance, finds the MC showing off a sultry singing voice, rife with moans, over a lushly funky instrumental, as if he were auditioning for the role of Prince in a Purple Rain revival. Another ‘80s icon, Bono, lends his vocals to “XXX.,” a combination that shouldn’t work given the U2 frontman’s disparate style to Lamar, yet it somehow does, thanks to both vocalists’ spirited turns over producer de jour Mike Will Made It’s stark instrumental.

This is a fearlessly bleak, yet subtly downcast album, and Lamar has thankfully attained the confidence and standing not to compromise that vision with party tracks, nor dilute it with swaths of guest stars. It’s pure, direct, and bitterly spat. Just like the curse word that is its title. We should count ourselves lucky to witness the reigning era of such a brilliantly vulgar street poet. (

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10


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