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First Thoughts: Kendrick Lamar's 'DAMN.'

REVOLT TV

 // Apr 14, 2017

Asmar Bouie // REVOLT

At 14 tracks and 55 minutes, Kendrick Lamar's DAMN. is many things. It's an outcry of emotions that, all in all, is palpable, blunt, and as loud as the caps behind the song titles.

No punches are pulled in this effort, as Kendrick laments on "the pain in my heart carrying the burden for the struggle," questions "loyalty," mourns "Donald Trump's in office," flips 50 Cent's "21 Questions" in a quest for unconditional love and baptizes Kung Fu Kenny. To think, all of this takes place after he opens up with a scene that ends with the words "you lost something / You've lost your life" and closes with a gunshot.

Hours after the 14-track collection arrived on iTunes and several streaming series, here REVOLT offers our very first thoughts on K. Dot's latest statement, DAMN.

"DNA."

The stutter that Kendrick uses to kick this off (and that recurs throughout) is as hype-inducing as a DJ’s classic scratching. Rewound and released, K.Dot’s invited us to sing it in unison, in a crowd, and while jumping up and down with our arms wrapped around each other’s necks. And the Mike WiLL Made-It-produced twang that reverbs under the trap is for a Kill Bill-esque entrance, a shoot-out if necessary. But we don’t have to wait long to figure out who Kendrick’s coming for, who his enemy is. Right before the two-minute mark, something speeds towards us; it stops so we can clearly hear Fox News figure Geraldo Rivera opine, “This is why I say that hip-hop has done more damage to young African-Americans than racism.” A foreboding countdown ensues. Make no mistake, "DNA" is bouncy, but it's brash.— Danielle Cheesman

"PRIDE."

On his seventh track Kendrick wrestles with his perception of pride on a supremely melancholic beat. A beat that some of us may reflect on just the same if it was in our grasp. Of the seven deadly sins, Pride is often cited as the source of the sins to follow. As there are two connotations of the word, a negative and a positive, Kendrick chooses to offer both when rhyming on the record. Beginning his first verse with "hell-raising, wheel-chasing, new worldly possessions," Kendrick briefly details the excitement and riches the world has presented him, though, he immediately contradicts it with the follow up line, "flesh-making, spirit-breaking, which one would you lessen?," he questions. K. Dot has never been one to bite his tongue when it comes to telling his story, however a Kendrick in limbo is a different sight altogether. It should be noted that "PRIDE." proceeds the single "HUMBLE.," the positive connotation (as previously mentioned) of the sin. However, it seems as if the direction of the song enforces that whichever angle of pride he ought to follow will nevertheless lead to his demise. — Rob Hansen

You know when you’re on an airplane home after a perfect weekend, looking at yourself in the mirror, feeling sad but feeling happy too? Looking at your life? Where you at in this life? What’s the point of life and what if you went left instead of right at the fork in the road? Decisions? Love. Life. Live. — Noah Weissman

"FEAR."

"FEAR." is to DAMN. what "Sing About Me, Dying of Thirst" was to good kid, m.A.A.d city and "u" to To Pimp A Butterfly. A potent keystone on the project, the six-minute confessional is a testimony to Kendrick's aptitude as a master of dramatic structure as well as the power behind his first-person accounts. When he utters the lines "I'll prolly die at these house parties, fucking with bitches / I'll prolly die from witnesses leaving me false accused," immediately songs like "Average Joe," "Sherane aka Master Splinter's Daughter" and "good kid" — wherein he details his experience getting jumped, falsely arrested and, well, Sherane — come to mind. Drawing from his past and splicing them with the bottled up fear has followed all his life, including the current alarms that surround him with fame ("The shock value of my success put bolts in me"), the song heightens the overall purpose behind this brutally honest, spare, and loud cry of an album. — Ralph Bristout

"YAH."

Over an equal-parts woozy and dreamy beat to match his lax vocals, Kendrick delivers this as if he can’t be bothered. But that’s not necessarily the case. He just won’t grant the agitators in-question his energy. He won’t raise his voice. Despite being a known straight-edge, on this track, his tone is the equivalent of the stoner friend trying to calm you down because, you know, you’re, like, too good to be rightfully offended by whatever the transgression. And this is no more evident than when he kills with kindness on verse two: "Fox News wanna use my name for percentage / My latest muse is my niece, she worth livin' / See me on the TV and scream: ‘That's Uncle Kendrick!’ / Yeah, that's the business / Somebody tell Geraldo this nigga got some ambition." Plus, that extended drawl of the choral "buzzin'" makes you want to roll one so you can feel fuzzy, too. (And, btw, that song title isn't just a shrug of an affirmation.) — DC

"XXX."

Like one of the first lines in the opening verse, this is X-rated. As one of the hardest records on the album, "XXX." is the sonic composite to K. Dot riding around in a DPV while an engulfing fiery wind fumes and buildings crumbling all around him. The police sirens, schizophrenic production, and still chorus from Bono of U2 soundtrack is altogether a pointed message that, in some ways, pulls from the final verse of "The Blacker the Berry." In the first verse, he recalls a conversation with a friend who’s son was killed ("because of insufficient funds") and when asked "can you pray for me?," he instead notes how "if somebody kill my son, that mean somebody getting killed." This nihilistic view is part of the societal woes that plagues communities, which is a message that adds weight to the hypocrisy narrative he offers on "Blacker the Berry" ("Why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street/ When gang banging make me kill a nigga blacker than me?”). In the second verse, he offers a more macro view of this narrative, touching on the political reflection of this thought. "It's nasty when you set us up," he raps. "Then roll the dice, then bet us up / You overnight the big rifles, then tell Fox to be scared of us / Gang members or terrorists, et cetera, et cetera / America's reflections of me, that's what a mirror does." All in all, this cut is the emancipation of a real… you know what I mean. — RB

"DUCKWORTH"

Proving once again he creates what Cole thinks he’s creating, Kendrick closes out the album with a fiery buzzer-beater that injects a new facet into the masterpiece with effortless storytelling over ethereal beat-switches. I swear my soul shed 2 tears as the track rewinds through the full album to land on "So I was taking a walk the other day..." What Jermaine fumbled on 4 Your Eyez Only Kendrick brings home again – just as he did on "Mortal Man" and "HiiiPower."— Luke Yun

In classic Kendrick fashion, his final track wraps up the album's overall narrative. Kendrick isn't rapping about himself, directly, he pays tribute to two very important men in his life – his father Kenneth and Top Dawg CEO Anthony. He takes you through the upbringing of Anthony who was a collective individual from a large, imperfect family and like most residents in the tales told by Kendrick Lamar partook in the crime around him. And if Seinfeld taught us, “there are no small coincidences. Like a moment in Paul Haggis' Crash, Anthony finds himself in a chicken joint plotting to rob it. In hopes of avoiding any conflict, a light-skinned gentleman, from Chicago, with curly hair and a gap in his teeth was at the register (aware of the fact that Anthony had previously robbed the place in 1984) and offered the man free food. Anthony had taken a liking to Kenneth, recognizing that they were both soldiers of the same war, and by the forces of the universe, would collectively nurture the talent and future stardom of a young Kendrick Duckworth, whose life rested in the four hands between his father and his mentor. Chronologically, it's astounding to hear a prequel-like track to K. Dot's catalog, void of himself in the story. It only goes to show what can be accomplished with just a little bit of opportunity, one that Kendrick Lamar does not take for granted. — RH

"LOVE."

Who knew DAMN. would bring the most beautiful soundtrack to summer ’17!? Within the flow of the album, Love is a wildly unexpected intermission where K Dot swerves seamlessly into a whole new lane full of VIBES – VIBES neither So-Far-Gone Drake nor even The-Love-Below 3 Stacks could touch. This will undoubtedly put numbers on the (radio) boards. "If I didn't ride blade on curb, would you still (love me?)" Yes, Kendrick. Yes. — LY

First things first, can we give Kendrick a slow-clap for not enlisting go-to hook vocalists Justin Bieber or Jeremih on this? Now that that’s out the way, can we give him another slow-clap for making a very public tribute to his very private relationship? Simply put, it’s #VeryRare. Sure, it’s the at odds with the rest of the album. It’s soft and synthy and pop-leaning and if you’re a true Kendrick fan you’re probably supposed to hate it because, what a sell-out!, amirite? No. You bop to dvsn’s beats and you strained your voice singing Kanye West's "Bound 2," so let the man honor his high school sweetheart-turned-fiancée with abandon. Thugs need love, too. Now 'shhh' and sway.— DC

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