A curse as title of an album on which the narrator asks for someone to pray for him; Kendrick Lamar (1987) moves between extremes on his new album that appeared on Good Friday. In 2015 the Los Angeles based hip hop artist became a household name with his succesful album To Pimp A Butterfly, on which he blended jazz, funk and hip hop. ‘Alright’ became the soundtrack of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Damn. Is less political than its predecessor. Musically speaking the new album sounds like hip-hop as it was made in the 1990s. Damn. is about making choices. In Lamar’s own words: “I always thought it was me versus the world, until I found out it’s me versus me.”
The album is full of contradictions: love and lust, pride and humility, fear and courage, God and fate. These contrasts define the music as well. Damn. begins with celestial music that accompanies the narrator who describes how he tries to help a blind woman crossing. Then a gun shot sounds and musical darkness falls in with penetrating bass sounds. Lamar even revives the old rewinding technique. Thanks to the return of vinyl records, it is possible to play the music backwards again: “The pain in my heart carries the burden for the struggle,” you hear.
The word ‘fear’ pops up several times. Growing up in a dangerous L.A. area leads to fundamental uncertainty. Lamar’s fear of dying has changed into fear of losing his fame. His way of talking by using a lot of repetition reminds of black church rhetoric. The rhythm of the sentences and the perfectly fitting music have an intoxicating effect. The vocal guest roles of Rihanna and Bono add bonuses to these tracks. However, it is remarkable that hip hop and swear vocabulary are linked so inextricably and that even Lamar uses little variety in these words.
Kendrick Lamar presented the world an intriguing musical work of art. His fans expected that he would publish a second album focusing on salvation on Easter Sunday. That hope turned out to be in vain.