Kendrick Lamar – DAMN (2017) Album Review
BLOOD. : Kendrick’s 4th studio album opens up with one of my favorite skits in all of hiphop, telling the story of his demise at the hands of a blind woma
n who shoots him after he offers his help finding something she lost. A great way to start a great album (9/10).
DNA. : “DNA” is one of the hardest songs on the album, with hard trap production (by the legend Mike Will Made-It) that features booming 808s, a dark synth melody and an energetic delivery from Kendrick. The back end of the song also has one of my favorite moments in his discography, delivering a masterfully transitioned beat switch where his energy further intensifies over a distorted & bass oriented instrumental with a dope screamed vocal sample. Even though the song is very overplayed it never fails to hit hard (9.5./10).
YAH. : this is probably one of the chilliest songs Kendrick has ever made. The instrumental (produced by Sounwave, Bēkon & DJ Dahi) features an intriguing reverse melody over boombap drums, but the highlight of the song is Kendrick’s amazing introspective lyricism where he speaks on religion with weak and defeated energy. The great hook elevates the song to another level, but it’s repetitiveness sometimes gets in the way of my enjoyment (8/10).
ELEMENT. : Kendrick’s dominant lyrics matched with one of the best beats on the album make “ELEMENT” a great song to get hyped to. The complex trap instrumental has multiple elements to it, including: a ghostly vocal oneshot, dark lofi synth keys, tight drums and a glistening chord loop in the hook section (provided by James Blake, one of my favorite artists of all time) (9/10).
FEEL. : this is one of my top 3 favorite songs off the album. “FEEL” sees Kendrick showing us his vulnerable side, expressing feelings of self-hate & loneliness (“ain’t nobody praying for me”) while masterfully incorporating the world “feel” into his rhyme scheme across the entire song. The instrumental is also one of the best on the album, with a haunting vocal sample and an amazing bossa nova-esque drum loop. The first absolutely flawless song on the album (10/10).
LOYALTY. FEAT. RIHANNA. : this may be a hot take, but this is one of the more mid songs on the album. The pitched up & reversed Bruno Mars sample sounds cool but it gets old really quick, the Rihanna feature is underwhelming and the whole song feels very repetitive. The song isn’t necessarily bad though: Kendrick has some really good verses and the hook is dope, but the song overall is very mid (5.5/10).
PRIDE. : this song is a 4 and a half minute Steve Lacy produced meditative experience. It features a very ethereal hook and great singing with angelic backing vocals, a dusty drum loop and a catchy guitar loop. Kendrick lyrically dives into the contrast between his ideals and his actions, once again showing us his more weak & vulnerable side (enforcing the themes of duality on the album, shown to us by the phrase that haunts multiple tracks: “Is it wickedness? Is it weakness?”). A nearly flawless song, just a tad bit overplayed and repetitive at certain points (9/10)
HUMBLE. : sometimes I really wish I could go back to when this song wasn’t so overplayed, because it was truly a great song but hearing it a million times made it sound so repetitive to me that I wind up skipping it every time. The basic piano based trap beat with siren FX feels very stale, with the only saving grace being Kendrick’s great lyricism and memorable bars like “bitch, be humble”. Used to be a 9, but since it’s now one of the most overplayed hiphop songs of all time I can’t bear listening to it (5/10).
LUST. : I have mixed feelings about this song. The psychedelic guitar loop mixed with hypnotizing reversed drums make this song/interlude (?) a great section on the album production-wise, but I can’t help but feel like it’s too long. I usually don’t have an issue with long songs (some of my favorite hiphop songs of all time are SAMIDOT, FEAR. & Mother I Sober), but this one feels unnecessarily repetitive. The singing is very mysterious and lyrically it’s very good though (7/10).
LOVE. FEAT. ZACARI. : another hot take, but I find this song boring and generic. It isn’t as mid and repetitive as “LOYALTY” but “LOVE” just doesn’t hit for me. I find the hook lowkey boring, the instrumental very generic and the overall concept cute but overused. Kendrick still has a great performance on it though, and the drums sound very nice on the track. (7/10).
XXX. FEAT. U2. : one of the best songs on the album, both from a lyrical standpoint and production-wise. The track goes thru 3 different beat switches: the track opens up with a very tight drum loop, distorted bass, lo-fi chords and Kendrick rapping in a very dark & low tone; the second beat is one of the hardest and most fun beats I’ve ever heard Kendrick on, with hard hitting drums, gliding bass, energetic sirens and Kendrick spitting with a very anxious & aggressive tone (telling us the story about a friend of his who called him up looking for closure after his son gets killed, and Kendrick promptly tells him “I can’t sugarcoat the answer for you, this is how I feel: if somebody kill my son, that mean somebody getting killed”). The final section of the track features a beautiful hook from bono and a great alternative instrumental, where Kendrick speaks on the state of America. An amazing song from Kendrick (10/10).
FEAR. : an absolute masterpiece of a song. “FEAR.” details Kendrick’s struggles with fear at different by telling us 3 instances of true terror he experienced; with amazing wordplay and top tier lyricism over the course of 7 minutes. The first verse tells us his fear at age 7 (the fear of growing up in poverty with a strict mother), the second verse tells us his fear at age 17 (the fear of dying young due to police brutality and gang violence) and the third verse tells us his fear at age 27 (the fear of being judged and losing the life he built for himself). The fourth verse serves to connect the full album concepts by referencing multiple tracks: “I’m talking FEAR, fear of losing LOYALTY from PRIDE/’Cause my DNA won’t let me involve in the light of GOD/I’m taking fear, fear that my humbleness is gone/I’m talking fear, fear that LOVE ain’t living here no more/I’m talking fear, fear that it’s wickedness or weakness”. Also, the gorgeous instrumental by The Alchemist (one of the greatest hiphop producers of all time) serves as the perfect canvas for Kendrick to paint us the picture of his fears. (10/10)
GOD. : the idea that the best song on DAMN can be followed by the worst song on the album is something mind melting to me. “GOD” sounds like Kendrick decided to make a Drake song and completely failed: the instrumental very boring (some of the synths sound cool tho) and the drums sound very weak. Lyrically it’s also underwhelming: the flows sound a little overused and the hook sounds like he came up with it while taking a shit (“This what God feel like, laughing to the bank like “a-ha”). Should’ve been scrapped. This song isn’t awful but it’s dogshit compared to the rest of the songs Kendrick has put out so far. (4/10)
DUCKWORTH. : A perfect outro for an amazing album. This track features Kendrick in full storytelling mode, telling us a story about his father (nicknamed “Ducky”) whose generosity saved him from getting killed by TDE CEO Anthony Tiffith during a KFC robbery. The best plot twist on the entire album hits at the very end of the song, when we hear a gunshot and a sped-up reversed version of the entire album plays back ending with the first line we hear on BLOOD: “So I was taking a walk the other day”. The first time I heard the album from start to finish this moment hit me like a brick to the face, and now years later it’s role in Kendrick’s discography is even more clear to me: DAMN represents the path Kendrick could take if he chose to forfeit his soul after losing his spot in heaven in “How Much A Dollar Cost” back on TPAB, and it’s also his “last fight” considering the album dropped when he turned 29 (in the final moments of TPAB 2Pac says that a black man in America loses his will to fight and make a difference once he turns 30). (9/10)
“Hail Mary, Jesus and Joseph/The great American flag is wrapped in drag with explosives” (from “XXX. FEAT. U2”)
“I feel like the whole world want me to pray for ‘em/but who the fuck praying for me?” (from “FEEL”)
Overall, I think this is an amazing album with a couple truly perfect songs but it’s flaws keep it from being a perfect album. DAMN ranks kind of low in my Kendrick Discography ranking, but it’s still a great project and one of the greatest hiphop albums of all time despite a few problems.
Do y'all agree with my rating? Let me know in the comments 🖤