Rap music from the past decade comes off to be all about the clothes, the cars, the money, the expensive toys, the big mouths, the women and the bling. Although this notion is certainly true even till today, there comes an artist in every generation that lives that lifestyle, breaks off this cycle and speaks about issues that matter while the rest stay in that loop. Kendrick Lamar is one of them.
At this year’s Grammys, he won five awards. They are:
Best Rap Album- DAMN.
Best Rap Song-HUMBLE.
Best Rap Music Video- HUMBLE.
Best Rap Performance- HUMBLE.
Best Rap Collaboration- LOYALTY.
I am about to review each one of these awards and exactly why he won them. I’d like to start with his latest album DAMN, for which he won the ‘Best Rap Album’ award, and then I’ll pack the ‘Best Rap Song’, ‘Best Rap Music Video’ and ‘Best Rap Performance’ along with ‘Best Rap Collaboration’ together in a separate article.
Best Rap Album 2018
(Image courtesy: Google Images)
DAMN is the fourth studio album by American rapper Kendrick Lamar. It was released on 14th April 2017. DAMN was well-received and topped the charts in the United States and Canada, while it went on to take the second spot in Australia, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
It featured producers such as Top Dawg Entertainment Label Chief Executive― Anthony ‘Top Dawg’ Tiffith, Sounwave, DJ Dahi, Mike Will Made It and Ricci Riera. In July 2017, DAMN was certified double platinum by the RIAA. DAMN is the ‘Billboard Year-End Number One Album’ of 2017. The album recording was started somewhere between 2016 and ended early 2017.
Kendrick released an album prior to DAMN called ‘Untitled and Unmastered’, but I am going to omit that album in comparing his earlier work, given that ‘Untitled and Unmastered’ was a compilation album. In chronological order, DAMN is actually the third album. He released ‘To pimp a butterfly’ (2015) and ‘Good Kid, M.A.A.D City’ (2012) prior to releasing DAMN.
Coming to the content of the album, DAMN has been characterised as Concious Rap or Political Hip-Hop, whichever jargon you prefer. Political Rap has its roots in the greats such as N.W.A, Tupac Shakur, Public Enemy, etc. Early Gansta Rap often had an overlap with political issues, too. For instance, N.W.A made music which spoke about issues such as police brutality and general discrimination against Black people in America.
The album starts off with a track called ‘BLOOD’, which highlights a short story of an elderly woman who was searching for something that belonged to her, when a boy decides to help her and― she shoots him. The song fades off into a real-time review that one of the Fox News reporters had done on Kendrick Lamar’s performance at the AMA awards. The reporter reads a line off of Kendrick’s song called ‘Alright’, to which another comments, “Ugh I don’t like it”. I believe it’s a decent intro to DAMN, given the political climate of the United States at this time.
The second track on the album is entitled ‘DNA’, in which Kendrick Lamar celebrates his heritage with multiple viewpoints, critiquing and exploring it too. The instrumental of this song uses influences from traditional hip-hop and hardcore hip-hop.
“I know murder, conviction
Burners, boosters, burglars, ballers, dead, redemption
Scholars, fathers dead with kids
And I wish I was fed forgiveness
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, soldier’s DNA” ― Kendrick Lamar
As we see, he’s talking about the troubled life in black neighbourhoods and how he’s confident in his ability to shine to the top.
The third track is called ‘YAH’, it’s a slow ballad relating to God and how religions don’t matter, it’s the people who do. We can assume that when he says “YAH” he’s referring to “Yahuha”― another name for god, in Hebrew. Unlike his earlier songs ‘BLOOD’ and ‘DNA’, where he refers to Fox News in general, this time, he directly calls out reporter Gerlado Rivera.
“I’m an Israelite, don’t call me Black no mo’” ― Kendrick Lamar
The fourth track off the album is called ‘ELEMENT’, in which Kendrick highlights the point about doing everything it takes to improve the situation in Compton and says that he would “die for this”; he also talks about his confidence to do extremely well for himself and the other guys who envy him or try to use him would not be taken lightly.
The following verse can sum up the overall energy of the song:
‘Cause most of y’all ain’t real
Most of y’all gon’ squeal
Most of y’all just envy, but jealousy get you killed
Most of y’all throw rocks and try to hide your hand
Just say his name and I promise that you’ll see Candyman
Because it’s all in your eyes, most of y’all tell lies
Most of y’all don’t fade, most of y’all been advised
Last LP I tried to lift the black artists
But it’s a difference between black artists and wack artists ― Kendrick Lamar
The fifth track is entitled ‘FEEL’, in which Kendrick catalogues the wide range of feelings, particularly the negative ones that his stardom has elicited. He feels like nobody is looking out for him, yet cites a strong desire to isolate himself from friends and family. He boasts about his status in music, but notes that the very same industry that he dominates is full of toxicity. Despite having been at the peak of his critical and commercial success over the past few years, Kendrick nonetheless continues to grapple with emotional, interpersonal, and spiritual problems.
The sixth track on the album is called ‘LOYALTY’, it features the queen of R&B, Rihanna.
The seventh song goes by the name of ‘PRIDE’, which is one of my favourite songs on the album. The song’s tempo is low and it is a perfect slow ballad. As the title says, he speaks about the issues relating to pride and how to get past them.
“Love’s gonna get you killed
But pride’s gonna be the death of you and you and me”― Kendrick Lamar
It’s about how ego as an emotion is a thorn when utilised in the wrong way, and whilst other emotions have the potential to pull you down, they are nothing compared to the ego.
HUMBLE, the song that got everyone going this year and had everyone singing its verses, changing their social media profile description to its lyrics. It’s the first single he released off of DAMN. This track incorporates Political Rap the most and disses many high-profile rappers as well.
The ninth track goes by the name of ‘LUST’, in which Lamar reacts to the 2016 Presidential Election; the song also includes the interruptions that cause you to have issues with your work such as material things and romantic lust.
The tenth track off of the album is entitled ‘LOVE’, which features Zacari. I interpret this song to be about his strong love for his fiancé, Whitney Alford. If you view it in general terms, then it would be about being one with someone and having strong feelings and affection towards them beyond sexual desires.
The eleventh track is called ‘XXX’, which features Irish Rock N Roll legends U2. Lamar talks about Donald Trump once again and mentions Barack Obama in between the song. While the first verse talks about what he would do if anything happened to his family. The chorus then features Bono singing a prominent refrain in the latter half of the song. All in all, this song is about power and what it can do to a person.
The twelfth track is entitled ‘FEAR’, the song begins with his cousin, Carl Duckworth, who, in the voicemail, speaks a verse from the book of Deuteronomy, a part of the Hebrew Bible. The song is general is about fear. Fear of death, anxieties, lack of self-confidence, career failure, etc.
The thirteenth track goes by the name of ‘GOD’, and as the name suggests, he talks about god and the successes he’s had in his life. He also may be referring to himself as the ultimate Rap God. He’s been a devout Christian all his life, so it was only normal that he would write a song about God sometime.
The final track off of ‘DAMN’ is called ‘DUCKWORTH’, this song uses true events related to Lamar’s father ‘Ducky’ meeting his label boss Anthony ‘Top Dawg’ Tiffith, many years ago, and on several other occasions, prior to Lamar signing a deal with Top Dawg Entertainment. I believe that this song ends the album on a high with some classic hip-hop sampling and gives a vibe of being an early hip-hop song.
I’d say that, overall, DAMN opens up a new level and side of Kendrick Lamar. His prior albums such as ‘To Pimp and Butterfly’ and ‘Good Kid, M.A.A.D City’ were mostly about hardships in Compton, gang fights, economic problems of the area etc. ‘DAMN’ as an album is much stronger, incorporating human emotions, the state of the world and a few general principles that Kendrick lives by. Its production quality is strong and its sudden short-jumps from genre to genre and tempo makes it an album of the future.
(Contd… PART 2)
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