Faith, p***y and politics – the mind of Kendrick Lamar is a hectic, action-packed place. The triumphant Compton MC might have cut down the number of tracks on his fourth studio album – ‘DAMN.’ is by far his shortest release to date – but the ideas, thoughts and feelings it contains are massive, weighty things, from sexual tension to deep, dark depression.
Also jostling for attention is the eternal battle between good and evil, with some chart-friendly rap bangers thrown in just because he can. ‘DAMN.’ shows Lamar as spiritual but tormented, confused and ego-tripping all at the same time. Being Kendrick Lamar, you imagine, must be knackering.
Every bit as cinematic as 2012’s outstanding breakthrough ‘Good Kid, M.A.A.D City’, ‘DAMN.’ begins with the immediate ‘BLOOD.’, a stark scene-setter that sees Lamar speaking over swooping sampled strings and slow, funky keys, telling the story of helping out a woman on the street before being shot dead. As album openers go, killing off your main protagonist in the first two minutes is a bold move, but since 2011’s high-concept debut ‘Section.80’ Lamar has proved himself to be one of the boldest artists around.
With, we can only assume, Lamar’s body still warm, we fire straight into a sample from Geraldo Rivera, a presenter for US television station Fox News, criticising Lamar’s take on police brutality on his 2015 track ‘Alright’. Lamar has no time for Rivera’s racist bulls**t, taking him and Fox to task throughout the album. But rallying against the right-wing media isn’t Lamar’s only objective with ‘DAMN.’ The high-octane, beat-heavy ‘HUMBLE.’ sees him batting off other MCs and stating his greatness, while on the dreamy ‘GOD.’ he compares his life to that of a deity and the Rihanna-featuring slowjam ‘LOYALTY.’ muses on a different kind of faithfulness.
We plunge into darkness on the doomy ‘FEEL.’ which opens a window into Lamar’s bleak, lonesome state of mind. “I feel like it ain’t no tomorrow / F**k the world / The world is ending / I’m done pretending,” he spits, showing that even when you’re on top of the world, sometimes it feels like you’re being crushed by the weight of it.