Kendrick Lamar’s “Damn.” is an All-Star Tour de Force

Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

The simply titled “DAMN.” is Kendrick Lamar’s third LP since becoming a global superstar in 2012 and in some ways is his most straight forward work as a major label artist.  The album doesn’t have the obvious cinematic storyline of “good kid, m.A.A.d city” or the free form jazz influence of “To Pimp A Butterfly” but absolutely delivers as a rap album and proof that “Kung Fu Kenny” is quite possibly the greatest MC of his generation.

Like King Kendrick’s previous two major label efforts, “Damn.” Is a tour de force of Lamar’s rhyming ability including multiple flows, phrasings, accents, full voice changes, stretching of some syllables while truncating others and various vocal effects sometimes in the space of a few bars. While all of the songs on “DAMN.” are clear examples of K. Dot’s vocal dexterity, the album is also an achievement in production and engineering as spoken word pieces, news clips, vocal samples, live instrumentation and samples are all utilized to create a package that in lesser hands would be an unintelligible mess, but here become a completely cohesive album.  There is even a popular YouTube video depicting how difficult it must be to engineer a Kendrick Lamar recording session…

The track list is stark and somewhat intimidating as all of the songs titles are a single word, written in all caps and followed by a period.  Also the only collaborators listed are superstars Rihanna and U2 and new comer Zacari, but the group or producers including Alchemist, Mike Will Made-It, Badbadnotgood and DJ Dahi deserve equal credit for creating soundscapes that shift from aggressive to contemplative and from street to ethereal often within the same song.  The fourteen tracks start strong with “DNA.,” YAH. ELEMENT. and FEEL., all showing Kendrick at his aggressive best.  If the good kid we met in 2012 was setting off on his journey in the m.A.A.d city, this is the conquering hero returning to his native Compton to brag about his dominance.

The middle of the record starts with the Rihanna assisted “LOYALTY.” and ends with a guest appearance from U2 on “XXX” these two tracks exhibit perfectly just how far outside the box Lamar thinks.  Instead of wasting the RiRi vocals on yet another “Rihanna sings with a rapper” pop song or using U2 to make a tired rap/rock collaboration, both tracks are well thought out, conceptual pieces of music that accomplish what very few pairings of this magnitude ever produce…interesting music that is worth listening to an talking about.

The record’s only shortcoming is that some of the songs between these bookends that comprise the middle third of the album lack some of the energy of the first few tracks.  While these slightly lower energy cuts get better with repeated listening, they lack the grab-you-by-the-throat intensity of the bangers that start the album.

“DAMN.” Finishes on a super high-note with the one-two punch of “GOD.” and “DUCKWORTH.” that leave the listener satisfied, but still wanting more King Kendrick.  These last two songs are a great demonstration of Lamar’s appeal, in the span of two tracks he addresses spirituality and a very specific story from Compton while rapping, singing, using various voices and otherwise expanding the term “MC” from somebody that simply rhymes words to a performance artist that uses words and various other methods to convey his point of view.

This is one way to explain Kendrick’s appeal this decade, he is tailor made to appeal to millennials’ short attention span by addressing numerous topics in one verse and his ability to incorporate so many styles, topics, effects, etc. into every song is almost like reading a social media newsfeed. Most rappers have a “Conscious Song” or a “Love Song” separated from the rest of their collection, but Kendrick has albums that reflect all assets of modern life into one cohesive package where spirituality, organized religion, the US government, education, the streets, gang life, politics, commercialism, family, the music industry, personal relationships, sex, drugs and Hip-Hop all mix together into one messy, beautiful mix… a lot like real life.

To say that Kendrick is the greatest MC of this decade is up for debate, but it’s clear that while most of his peers are capable checkers players, “Kung Fu Kenny’ is playing chess…and “DAMN.” That deservers everybody’s attention.

Best Songs: DNA. FEAR. DUCKWORTH.

Perfect For:  Proving that some of this decade’s MC’s belong in the “Top 5 Dead or Alive” debate.

Score: 9/10

Bill Bodkin is the owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beautiful daughter, Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites