Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly was hailed as a career affirming hip-hop masterpiece as well as a near flawless chronicle of the troubling racial climate of modern America. With DAMN. Kendrick avoids re-treading ground by sidestepping the new-age jazz of his last record, in favour of a further reinvention to his musical profile.
Deceitfully straightforward production wise at first, as DAMN. unravels it demonstrates the deep mystique of its craft. For example, ‘DNA.’ begins with a hard-hitting but relatively standard beat. As the song progresses it begins to blossom, with a bass-heavy beat switch accompanied with stuttering vocal samples adding colour to what began as a humble hip-hop beat. Similarly, the U2 collaboration ‘XXX.’ is a true progressive journey, starting as a low-key minimalist number before imploding into a police-siren laced, high octane anthem. Front-to-back the album retains this high quality of smooth creativity. ‘FEAR.’, with its mellow guitar line, as well as the BADBADNOTGOOD produced ‘LUST.’ are deeply soulful and brimming with lush psychedelia.
Thematically the album is every part a deeply personal meditation on Trump’s USA. The country seems to take on the role of a harrowing dystopia; in a poignant turn of imagery Kendrick raps about how “the great American flag – is wrapped and dragged with explosives”. Elsewhere Kendrick takes on the misplaced bigotry of the media and the appropriation of his musical messages; hilariously ludicrous snippets from Fox News are incorporated into the album. Standout ‘FEAR.’ features the wordsmith reminiscing over his past and present qualms, ranging from police brutality to his own personal self-doubt and anxiety. Much of Kendrick’s rhetoric is shrouded in mysterious metaphor; rather than seeming overwrought or pretentious this ambiguity adds a welcome texture to the album that is uncommon in contemporary hip-hop.
Overall DAMN. Is as beautifully crafted and heartfelt as any record could be, and is a worthy chapter in Kendrick Lamar’s flawless discography.