The stirring American hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar released his fourth album last Friday, and so far the internet is abuzz with words of praise. Entitled “Damn,” the album proves to be a fine mix of celestial tones and kaleidoscopic soul music, with a layer of experimental, but still fairly main-lined style hip-hop lyricism spread throughout. The result is a trap album that is artistically interesting, with an expansive sound that doesn’t feel confined to itself. However, in regards to the art of hip-hop, Kendrick failed to impress me.
Much of the subject matter seems to revolve around religious belief, the everyday struggles of African American citizens, and a life pitted against varying systems that generally seem to work against the black community.
Having never been a fan of Kendrick’s earlier work, I specifically chose not to delve in to his past CDs. I wanted to experience the album for what it is, with no previous notions or bias formed from past performances by the artist. Having listened to multiple tracks off the album, I was left intrigued, but by no means a fan. While I can appreciate Kendrick’s work for what it is, I don’t find it nearly as compelling as some of my fellow critics. Still, the composition of some of the tracks were unique enough to warrant multiple listens and there were a few I sincerely enjoyed, namely “Humble” and “XXX.”
The album kicks off with “Blood,” a spoken piece in which Kendrick paints a vivid picture of an interaction with a blind woman he passes while walking the streets. She appears to be looking for something, and upon asking her if she needs help, she announces that he (Kendrick) has lost his life, followed by a gunshot.
It sells itself a somewhat haunting expression of the current emotional state of many African Americans, most likely given the current political climate, which has led to the empowerment of an underlying bigotry throughout the country which has been mostly quiet, until recently. It’s almost as if these communities are in search of something to fix the problems that plague them, but are unsure of where to turn nor what the answer to their problem even is. In the confusion of it all, the quality of life has diminished, and in many cases been completely snuffed out.
What follows is an array of songs that are so very different from one another that, while creative, makes for what I believe to be a mashup that just doesn’t blend well. I likened much of the experience to that dreadful moment when you’re craving a particular genre of music, hip-hop for example, and your iPod menacingly shuffles to that one Taylor Swift track your significant other sneaked into your music library. When songs shift from hard- hitting, empowering anthems to low-key love ballads filled with crystalline synthesizer tones, I personally find it very disrupting.
I felt that the album’s hit single, “Humble,” was one of, if not the strongest track on the album, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. While I’m aware that singles are usually chosen as such because of their catchiness and replay-ability, for it to be the strongest track on the album means that nothing else that was offered hailed in comparison. There’s a wide array of expression going on here, and while some may enjoy such a gratuitous mix of emotion, I found much of what I heard off-putting.
To say that I disliked the album in it’s entirety would be a gross assumption. To be fair, Kendrick’s style isn’t necessarily my preferred in the realm of hip-hop music. I felt that his style lacked the exquisite lyricism that one may find from the likes of Front Line member Locksmith, nor the incredibly intricate hooks and wordplay associated with artists the likes of R.A. The Rugged Man or the newly discovered IV Seconds.
“Damn” is worth giving a listen, if anything, simply for the fact that it’s currently receiving a lot of publicity. Whether I enjoyed the album or not, people throughout the country are finding something impressive and noteworthy in its delivery. To deny oneself the opportunity to experience a work of music or film or art that they have yet to endure seems like a disservice to oneself, especially when the work in question is affecting so many people positively. In that regard, it’s worth a listen.