Kendrick Lamar – Damn review

Secret Meeting score: 93

by Phil Scarisbrick

I initially struggled to write about this album. Not because there is nothing to say, but because once again Kendrick Lamar has created a masterpiece. When you are dealing with pieces of work that fall into that category, you have to pick your words carefully. So after several weeks of deliberation and back and forth, I think I have now reached the point where I can accurately articulate how much I love this record. All it took was for me to listen to it in reverse order!

Since he released Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City in 2012, Lamar has created three bodies of work (four if you include the too-good-to-be-labelled-an-outtakes-album outtakes album, untitled, unmastered) that have changed the face of hip hop as a genre. Through complex characters he weaves tales of high stakes and theatrical chaos. Where 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly was often mournful in tone, Damn. replaces that with anger. From the opening of BLOOD., where a news anchor laments To Pimp a Butterfly’s line about police brutality against black people, the listener is taken on a journey of the America seen through Lamar’s eyes, with tales of deadly sins involving the record’s leading protagonist, Kung Fu Kenny.

Hip hop albums seldom go by without featured artists and Damn. is no different. But, despite heavyweight collaborations with global superstar Rihanna and more intriguingly, U2, they don’t distract from Lamar’s peerless rhymes.

The album’s closer DUCKWORTH. is a frantic tale of how Anthony from Compton was planning to rob a fried chicken shop and take Ducky from Chicago out in the process. Twenty years later, Ducky’s son signs for Anthony’s record label and the two meet again to reminisce what might have been. It is a stunning piece of story-telling and gives even more depth to Lamar’s canon.

To Pimp a Butterfly was a tremendously difficult act to follow, but Damn. is every bit as good. There is a fragility about this artist that only makes him more intriguing, but also an artistry that transcends his genre. The fact that the album was written to be played front to back or the opposite way round, shows that he isn’t here to make four radio-friendly chart toppers and to complete his ‘product’ with filler. He is here for the same reasons as the greats, from Bowie to Dylan and everyone in between, to create albums that are more than just collections of songs. I for one cannot wait to see what he does next.