By: Wesley Reno, Entertainment Guest Writer
Let me start this review by saying: I worship Kendrick Lamar. He has rightfully earned his place among Pink Floyd and Marvin Gaye on my “List of Top 5 Albums” following the release of the masterpiece, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. I have been anticipating a new release from him over the last two years to follow up on To Pimp A Butterfly. On Friday, April 14th, he released his fourth studio album, DAMN.
To put it bluntly, DAMN. is not Kendrick’s magnum opus. On this record, Kendrick explores and pushes sonic bounds that he hasn’t experimented with before. Atlanta trap producer Mike WiLL Made-It is credited with the production of three tracks on this album. Mike far surpassed my expectations (which weren’t originally high), because the tracks that he produced are my three favorite of the project.
The only single released for this project was “HUMBLE.”, which is a very strong representation of the lyrical themes Kendrick includes on this album. After reaching the top of the rap game, Kendrick is reflecting on his position and his path to get there. The simplistic production compliments Kendrick’s use of pitched and inflected vocals, and the combination of the two yield one of the heaviest tracks on the record. The second track, “DNA.”, is very comparable to “HUMBLE.” Once again, Mike WiLL created a playground for Kendrick to work his magic and move mountains with words. Thirdly, “XXX. FEAT. U2.”, is a track that turned my head when the credits to the album were released. Seeing Kendrick Lamar and U2 on the same project was startling, but in execution, it went very well. While the feature isn’t very prevalent in the music, it is tastefully introduced in the track. “XXX.” is one of the darkest, most To-Pimp-a-Butterfly-esque songs on this album along with “FEAR.” and “LUST.”
On the opposite side of things, Kendrick includes many songs that seem to be very heavily influenced by modern pop-rap artists, such as Drake. Whether it be that he is attempting to achieve the same tonal characteristics, or that he is trying to beat Drake at his own game (the latter appears much more probable given the lyrical themes of teaser track, “The Heart Pt. 4”), Kendrick uses an auto-tuned, sung delivery for half of the album. The main culprits of this are “LOYALTY. FEAT. RIHANNA.”, “LOVE.”, and “GOD.” Unfortunately, they don’t seem to find themselves of the same quality as the darker, hardcore-hip-hop tracks on the album.
It appears that with this release, Kendrick is trying to broaden his horizons and increase the scope of the people that his music reaches. While I wouldn’t consider tracks like “LOYALTY.” great, they are definitely pleasant to listen to. The high points on this project are very, very high, but in every few songs, you can find one much less desirable.
That being said, I look forward to seeing Kendrick’s future accomplishments. We may be seeing a change of direction of an established, celebrated artist, and music is being molded as we know it with releases like DAMN.