Listen To Kendrick Lamar’s ‘DAMN.’ Album

Kendrick Lamar Delivered The Funk At Not-So-Secret Show in Brooklyn [Recap + Photos]

Photo of Kendrick Lamar courtesy of AMEX.


DAMN. is available on all digital platforms now, but you can stream the album below if you want to sample before you buy.

Another cinematic intro. Cannot place the sample, but if I remember correctly this is the track produced by head honcho Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith and possible newcomer Bekon. Lush sounds fill my headspace, as it sounds like a setting is being implemented. Kendrick has always had a cinematic take on his raps and album structure, so I consider this the opening credits to what will be a journey into sound. “Are we gonna live or die?” sets the stage for Kendrick to talk about a blind woman, pacing up and down the sidewalk, frustrated about something. For those thinking that DAMN. is a departure from the orchestral jazzy sounds of To Pimp a Butterfly, you’re sadly mistaken as the strings on this intro go extra hard with Kenny’s storytelling. Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert! The woman kills Kendrick Lamar (you know how he loves to use gunshots in songs) and segues to an audio sample of two broadcasters talking ill about “Alright” with disgust. One word: Wow.


“I got loyalty inside my DNA. I got power, poison, pain inside my DNA,” Kendrick starts off. This song reminds me of “Michael Jordan” in both bounce and the pocket he falls in right off bat. This is strictly made for the lovers of the bump. A trunk rattling beat made by Mike WiLL Made It, Kendrick goes dumb and takes it up a notch when the song switches. An audio sample of Geraldo Rivera dissing hip-hop sets things up for Kenny to black out and rap in circles. Like a freshly released animal back into the wild, he goes right for the jugular of whoever is in the top spot and rips them off the pedestal with these bars. I mean, damn, son is really showing off some dexterity on “DNA,” which is sorely appreciated in these days and times. Two songs in and already I have went from shock-and-awe to snapping my neck so hard that it’s about to come out of its socket.


Whenever Kung-Fu Kenny is done with the raps, he has a pretty sound future as a director or screenwriter. Hell, even an actor, as “YAH.” starts off with him going from a purebred beast on “DNA” to an enabled drunk on this one. Using a singsongy flow, Kendrick’s energy is more docile, fitting into a pocket where he is able to take his time and let his words paint the picture of what’s going on. “My momma told me I’m going to work myself to death,” he confesses. Meditative Lamar has always been around even before “R.O.T.C.” from Overly Dedicated, so hearing him talk about FOX News and brag about his niece being proud of him is a refreshing take. DJ Dahi, Top Dawg, Bekon and Sounwave give Kenny all the space he needs to make this one an enthralling listen, as Kendrick sounds completely different than the rage machine he was just a track prior.


What way to show that you’re about that real, rugged and raw hip-hop than to have the legendary Kid Capri on your joint? “Y’all know what happens on earth, stays on earth?” the DJ bellows. This is setting up to be a nice one I feel it in my bones. “I’m willing to die for shit,” Kendrick starts off rapping. He talks about how he doesn’t do it for the ‘gram, he does it for Compton. “If I gotta slap a p***y ass n***a, I’ma make it look sexy,” is definitely going to be people’s mantra for 2017. I wonder if the vocal sample underlining this cut was courtesy of James Blake. However you slice it, “ELEMENT.” is that West Coast swangin’ cut that will have the young G’s playing this at the cookout, while the old heads appreciate Kung-Fu Kenny kicking lyrics like hi-ya. This is that pop-ya-collar, throw up your set type music that is so smooth it goes down like the finest of bourbons. Beat thumps, Kendrick is slick talking his competition using Juvenile‘s flow. Now, it changes again, slowed up, but not sloppy. Definitely a song to have on repeat when gearing up for war.


The slowed up, but not sloppy grooves continue on “FEEL.” “Ain’t nobody praying for me” is not-so-subtly being repeated before the beat switches up. Kendrick describes all the ways he feels about the world, fake friends and family, removing himself from the field of battle and the utter disdain in knowing that nobody is praying for him. “I ain’t feelin’ your presence, I feel heartless,” Kendrick has a way with words, tongue-twisting and contorting lines while keeping in time with the beat. This second verse introduces the many facets of Kendrick as it sounds like he is having an inner conflict within himself and knows exactly how to feel about it. “I feel like the whole world wants me to pray for them, but who’s praying for me?” A sincere question from a man whose faith in God and the divine hasn’t changed despite immense success and worldly fame, but you can definitely feel that he has some angst toward those who feel some kind of ways about him.

LOYALTY Ft. Rihanna

Song starts off with possibly a sampling of Rihanna, played in reverse and then the beat fills in. Another trappy-sounding cut, which elicits the toes to tap and the fingers to snap, but upon first-take of the hook, sounds like SiR is in an uncredited spot. Maybe? Get Top on the phone! Now, here comes Rihanna joining Kendrick in singing about loyalty between man and woman. After a few bars from Kendrick, Rihanna is rapping! The two tag team the beat, interweaving their vocals in a sultry and sexy way. The beat falls out as Kendrick wants to know who you’re loyal to, picks back up for Rihanna to ask the same question. Even though we know Kenny doesn’t aim for the radio with his music, having Rihanna on this is an instant addition to Top 40 airwaves on the strength of these two mega-powers coming together to talk about loyalty—a subject not often discussed in this manner.


“Love’s gonna get you killed, but pride is gonna be the death of you,” an uncredited singer laments. Beat changes, Kendrick hits his falsetto in a drawling wail. Vocal changes make Kenny sound like this Overly Dedicated storyteller role to a helium-filled rapper. “I don’t trust people enough beyond their surface world,” he raps, admitting that he is a bit cold to the days and times of this era. “I can’t fake humble, just because your ass is insecure” will be another Twitter quote that gets longtime airplay this year. This gives me a whole host of André 3000 vibes because of the sheer creativity and the usage of Steve Lacy on “PRIDE.” Plus the levels are there with Comptown Kenny talking about “fake humble” before “HUMBLE.” — you got to hand it to the good kid for being in step with the sequence. Add to this the fact that Kendrick is giving off “Heaven & Hell” vibes without the fade-out ending and “PRIDE.” might be the track that comes before the proverbial fall (“DUCKWORTH.” perhaps?).


The song that got the game in a fervor, created numerous think pieces around the internet and made people stand at attention — “HUMBLE.” makes the simplistic sounds from a Casio keyboard sound as if the world has gone from Pangaea to breaking apart at its seams. Two weeks since its release and already I’m looking forward to hearing the New York City clubs scream out, “My left stroke just went viral” during day party SZN. I also wonder if people will finally give Kenny credit for making hits that do resonate in the clubs. Sure, one might say that “Alright” was a protest anthem, but it surely made the clubs jump too. And the right DJ who knows what he or she is doing can get “HUMBLE.” to ring off the same way. At this point in the album, I know Kenny has said that he’s not addressing the problem anymore, but I am still left with questions.


Sounds split between the left and right speaker makes it feel like the vibes are using my earholes as a tunnel. Producers Sounwave, DJ Dahi and BADBADNOTGOOD have me at “hello” with the “Vibrate” sample from André 3000’s The Love Below. When can we get these two in a studio together to trade bars (see: questions)…? Either way, Kendrick is giving off “P&P” vibes with the “let me put the head in” lines. This is a more mature Kenny who isn’t a teenager anymore just trying to get his hump on. He offers some cool and lascivious things to do for both men and women, Kendrick just asks for us to make whatever we do count. “Girl, I respect the cat,” he raps, showing that lust comes from a sincere place. “LUST.” is also the longest song on DAMN. so far, but if we can get a remix for this with 3-Stacks and Big Boi, I wouldn’t be mad at that being a 10-minute-plus song.

LOVE. Ft. Zacari

Quiet as kept, Kid Capri is the unofficial DJ for this album. His voice sounds commanding and as Kendrick and Zacari talk about love, this song is cute. Kenny switches up the flow, showing brightness while hitting the shoulder lean like Young Dro. Again, a trap flow, being used by Kendrick doesn’t sound forced and is melodic enough that you get swept up in the coolness of it all. Is this what he means when he wants the game to get its shit together? Because “LOVE.” finds him employing something you would find from Drake or Big Sean, but still keeps that TDE energy of being real and rooted in reality. For some reason, I am envisioning this video being like Young Gunz‘s “No Better Love,” but we’ll see if this even goes that far.

XXX. Ft. U2

U2, Kendrick Lamar singing about America? “God bless you if it is good to you,” the hook sings out. Beat switches quickly and there are DJ scratches, another vocal flip by Kendrick and the old, dusty piano stabs are well appreciated. This is car chase music, as “XXX.” has Kendrick leading the police (siren sounds and all) on a wild adventure through sound. A continuation to “m.A.A.d city,” perhaps, “XXX.” is another three-act effort with another beat change that allows Bono from U2 to get in. A rippling drum kick, Bono makes up for not-so-secretly putting that wack album on everyone’s phones a few years back. “Throw a steak off the yacht to a pool full of sharks, he’ll take it” is just one of a few lines that has Kendrick sounding like a YG who has serious mobbing issues. Just replay the second act of this song when Kendrick goes into storytelling mode and know that “XXX.” has layers, most notedly Kendrick staring America in its face while dropping ill lines about Obama and Trump.


Kendrick has been listening to a lot of Naughty By Nature it seems, as that “Poverty’s Paradise” sample throws me back to the ’90s. “Why God, why God, do I have to suffer?” he asks. The bridge goes backwards, signaling the creative, symbiotic relationship between Cornrow Kenny and The Alchemist on this cut known as “FEAR.” It sounds like Kendrick is rapping from his father’s perspective to a young, seven-year-old Kenny who is being told not to get his J’s dirty and not to hump on Keisha’s sister. The second verse finds him talking about the different ways he’d probably die, which is macabre, but the best in the business (see: Notorious B.I.G. + 2Pac) made in-roads in painting dark pictures with no happy endings. “Is God playing a trick on me,” Kendrick raps, detailing his fears at age 27. The longest song on the entire album, “FEAR.” is brutally honest, revealing and peeling back the layers of his human DNA that connects us all and what we can relate to. “FEAR.” ties the whole damn thing together with lines about “what happens on earth, stays on earth” and “loyalty and pride”. This voicemail at the end offers some insight to Kendrick’s mindset and where he is getting his game from.


“This what God feel like,” Kendrick raps in autotune, while laughing at those who can’t fathom the Creator’s presence. Trapping out the bando meets Lecrae on the corner of Crenshaw and Wilshire is what “GOD.” sounds like to me. “Everything I say is from an angel,” ha, this guy Kenny is connected to a higher presence and is unafraid to show it. Much like his contemporaries (see: Chance The Rapper) — “GOD.” will make you dab on the devil because you have too much sanctified sauce to sin. Cardo, Ricci Riera, Sounwave, DJ Dahi, Bekon and Top Dawg make this song feel like you’re at the peak of the mountaintop with Dr. King and Malcolm X, giving thanks for all the good tithings in one’s life. Extra points to Kenny for working in that Five Heartbeats line into “GOD.” (“Work it, JT”). With Easter on the way, you can play this one and not get any foul looks from those holy rollers.


Funky, hip-hop fueled and equipped with an ill sample, this 9th Wonder produced cut is the final joint on what has been a rollercoaster ride. The beat changes, feeling like a ghetto gospel as it doesn’t phase Kendrick at all from delivering this work. Soulful, another beat change back to the ghetto gospel, as Kendrick tells a story about Anthony, which you should pay attention to when you listen. Then this Momento situation happens, taking the listener back in reverse to the beginning of it all and you’re left with your mouth agape, brain fried and itching to press the restart button to hear it all over again. “DUCKWORTH.” shows that in this new generation of MCs, Kendrick Lamar is the top shotta storyteller able to take his experience (and those around him) and weave intricate, detailed songs that aren’t overstuffed with nonsense and build real drama. “DUCKWORTH.” marks the encompassing of how this whole TDE thing came to be and is worth its own dissertation.

All in all, DAMN. is a damn good showing from the good kid from Compton, California. It has been apparent since Overly Dedicated that Kendrick Lamar is dedicated to giving us experiences that we’ll never forget. A master storyteller, an exacting architect able to give you just the right balance of context and drama that keeps the listener on the edge of their seats — DAMN. is one of the few artists who make this review type hard. Why, you ask? From the shocking intro to the twists and turns throughout, Kendrick makes you want to hit the rewind button. Whether it is to hear a particular line he said, to give praise to a beat switch or to just playback a song in its entirety — DAMN. made me do the Florida Evans a few times enough to warrant not only a sincere stamp of approval, but to also say that this is what he meant by “getting your shit together”. Have the complete package, a vision for not only the project and the rollout, but for the impact it will have for years to come. A student of the game, DAMN. gives us flashes of Prince Paul, Ice Cube, DMX, Public Enemy and yes, Drake. But it is different from anything else you’ll hear this year or any year in the 21st century because, as Kenny so eloquently stated, he is The One and we are all made the better for it. DAMN. is worth multiple replays, as Kendrick and his cavalcade of producers have made another statement that proves hip-hop is the true voice of modern America and he is one of our loudest, immovable forces to be reckoned with.

DAMN. is available on all digital platforms now, but you can stream the album below if you want to sample before you buy.