Pion-Ear: Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN.


photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons License

Holden Foreman, web editor

Kendrick Lamar Duckworth. Sound odd? As musical connoisseurs, we tend to dehumanize the artists to which we unquestioningly surrender our ears. We place musicians upon Mount Olympus and expect them to bless us with perfect harvests in return. We rarely even acknowledge their real names. But rappers need time for themselves and their families, like Zeus and Hera. True talent triumphs when an artist combines their insight with widespread relatability. And Lam—no, let’s call him Duckworth—illustrates this in his third studio album, DAMN.

“BLOOD.” kicks off the LP with Duckworth’s death; a blind woman shoots him after he offers to help her find some unseen object. Confused? Good. DAMN. revolves around confusion, and this track’s opening lines, “Is it wickedness? / Is it weakness?” outline the album’s central conflict: submitting to God (weakness) to achieve blessings or defying God (wickedness) to suffer damnation. After establishing this theme, Duckworth concludes the track with a recording of Fox News lamenting his criticism of police brutality. Duckworth knows he will never escape adversity, whether in the public sphere or in his own mind.

In “DNA.” Duckworth responds to the recording from the previous song, which bemoaned his lyrics, “And we hate popo, / Wanna kill us dead in the street fo’ sho’” in the song “Alright.” Duckworth’s harsh tone evokes thoughts of such tracks as “Hood Politics” and “m.A.A.d city” from his previous albums, as he lists the effects of street life on his character. To finish his second verse, Duckworth shoves his sentiments in Fox News’s face like another Bill O’Reilly abuse allegation when he claims “Sex, money, murder—our DNA.”

“YAH.” comes as a stark contrast to “DNA.” in that Duckworth turns down the intensity and tunes out the bullsh**t in order to find God and, consequently, himself. “Buzzin’, radars is buzzin,’” Duckworth murmurs in the song’s chorus, symbolizing his awareness of the surrounding haters. The simple repetition of yah yah makes this track incredibly catchy and fantastic for car rides.

“ELEMENT.” moves Duckworth back to the Mount Olympus mindset, if only for a moment, as both his lyrics and delivery scream self-confidence. A persistent humming accompanies Duckworth’s verses as he wards off wannabes: “They won’t take me out my element / Nah, take me out my element.” The track alternates beats upon Duckworth’s demand, making for a diverse listening experience that highlights the best of the rapper’s ability.

Duality defines Duckworth’s life, so “FEEL.” sees the 29-year-old rapper walking listeners through the inner conflicts he faces daily as an American celebrity. Upon the song’s conclusion, Duckworth asks, “I feel like the whole world want me to pray for ’em / But who the f*** prayin’ for me?” And after listening to the whole track, one may struggle to answer.

As a standalone track, “LOYALTY.” would seem like a cash grab in which Duckworth and Rihanna perform together for the first time. As a part of DAMN., however, the duo shines in recounting the necessity for loyalty in all relationships. While the track fails to highlight Duckworth’s typical passion, his technical arrangement with Rihanna makes for a smooth listening experience and an unmistakable message.

“PRIDE.” sees Duckworth outlining his unrealistic vision of a perfect world. “Love’s gonna get you killed / But pride’s gonna be the death of you and you and me” guest Steve Lacey sings in the intro, and his words set the scene for Duckworth’s lamenting of human nature; “Sick venom in men and women overcome with pride / A perfect world is never perfect, only filled with lies.” The track and its intentions come across as sincere but a bit drowsy, so beware.

Duckworth stays a little humble as he rhymes ‘Ayy, I remember syrup sandwiches and crime allowances.’”

The radio received its hit with “HUMBLE.” Duckworth digresses greatly from the focus of DAMN. for this track about respecting the king: himself of course. Still, Duckworth stays a little humble as he rhymes “Ayy, I remember syrup sandwiches and crime allowances.” Despite an uninspired message and—at times—overpowering beat, the track works.

“LUST.” brings Duckworth back down to earth for a lesson on human nature. Everyone lets their desires dictate life to some extent, and Duckworth’s celebrity lifestyle makes him especially susceptible. “Wake up in the mornin’ / Thinkin’ ’bout money, kick your feet up” he repeats as a microcosm for the lives we all live. As with “PRIDE.,” some listeners may find the track’s tempo too relaxed, but Duckworth’s lyricism never wavers.

“21 Questions” anyone? 50 Cent’s 2002 single immediately came to mind when I heard Duckworth ask “If I didn’t ride blade on curb, would you still love me? / If I minimized my net worth, would you still love me?” Despite the undeniably similar lyrics, “LOVE.” retains a distinct sound, and Duckworth once again uses features to his advantage with the inclusion of Zacari’s crooning vocals.

The internet expressed doubts when Duckworth’s album artwork revealed U2 as a feature on “XXX.” Then, DAMN. dropped, and society let out a collective sigh of relief upon remembering Duckworth knows how to make good music.

Set aside more than seven minutes to sit down and listen to Duckworth’s old-fashion storytelling.”

“FEAR.” runs listeners through three separate experiences in Duckworth’s life, each revealing more about the artist’s personality, so don’t seek a review of the song’s meaning. Instead, set aside more than seven minutes to sit down and listen to Duckworth’s old-fashion storytelling.

Duckworth gives in to the glory in “GOD.” The genuine ecstasy in his voice stands out like a Feit BR40 LED Bulb in the darkness of DAMN. “Don’t judge me! Don’t judge me!” Duckworth shouts over a fittingly uplifting beat.

“DUCKWORTH.” revolves around Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, who spared Duckworth’s father, Ducky, during a stickup. The latter worked the drive-thru at KFC but survived Tiffith’s robbery after offering him free chicken and biscuits in the past. At the song’s conclusion, the album plays in reverse to where we met Duckworth walking the street. Damn.

5 out of 5 Gold K’s