Everybody’s favourite overrated rapper is back with his fourth studio album and at this point Kendrick Lamar can do no wrong, at least in his fans’ eyes. Even at the mere glimpse of some artwork or a “leaked” track, Lamar’s minions flood Twitter with a barrage of praise …“Kendrick is the G.O.A.T”…“Kendrick dropped some bars”… (insert goat or fire or 100 points emoji here… 🐐🔥💯). To anyone who doesn’t play into this hype, this kind of adulation can look ridiculous, almost like mass hysteria – it’s like these people have never heard Hip-Hop with a message before (albeit a hollow message). This is what happens when your only exposure to Hip-Hop is some twerp like Lil Uzi Vert, of course you’re gonna love Kendrick Lamar if Mumble Rap is your only source of rap music, but that kind of comparison only serves to bolster this mythic sense of godliness that surrounds Kendrick Lamar, an accolade and attribute that is largely undeserved.
If you don’t know, Kendrick’s second album ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ was taught as part of an English class in Georgia Regents University and his third album ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ was canonised at Harvard University Library (I hope Producer and Harvard Fellow 9th Wonder added ‘Soul On Ice’, ‘Let’s Get Free’, and ‘Revolutionary Vol. 2’ to the library too, otherwise he’s a mainstream fake like everybody else). My point is that the mainstream media and the public at large have acted for years like the sun shines out of Kendrick Lamar’s arse, like everything he makes is flawless, I mean c’mon, his first two albums were decent enough (although his second contained some Poppy crap like ‘Swimming Pools’ and ‘Poetic Justice’), his third album was a complete mess, but they were all overrated nevertheless, and his latest, well I’ll get to that in a moment.
If you turn on the radio or TV and hear Drake or Taylor Swift umpteen times a day, of course Lamar is going to blow your tiny mind but the incessant overrating and flattery aimed at Kendrick only comes from people who either listen to Pop, missed Hip-Hop’s golden era entirely, or whose idea of Hip-Hop is the likes of Migos and Lil Yachty (or all of the above). So while people who listen to Zara Larsson or Anne-Marie keep describing everything Kendrick releases as “fiyah” or “fuego” on social media, the rest of us know it really isn’t. Lamar’s label Aftermath/Interscope is playing the public like they always do, they push overrated MCs onto people who have no real knowledge of Hip-Hop so everything looks and sounds unique to them. To underground heads this shit doesn’t wash, it only takes a quick listen to something like ‘Makin’ Enemies’ by K-Rino to realise Kendrick Lemar’s flow, delivery, and content is radio-friendly, watered-down, overground, overrated Hip-Pop…
Mainstream, studio-backed albums 90% of the time follow a carefully crafted plan to attain recognition, fame, and longevity; the first LP showcases a new artist’s credibility (Section.80), the second crosses over with hints of credibility and maturity (Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City), the third denounces the previous crossing over and affirms its credibility once again, all-the-while “experimenting” with “new” sounds (To Pimp A Butterfly). From that point onward if you have the media on your side and a major studio behind you, you can do what the fuck you want, you can apparently even piss about in the studio letting kids play on instruments and the doormats in the upper-middle-class mainstream critic brigade will tout your bronze shit as gold (Untitled Unmastered). So at this point Lamar could release an album of armpit farts and the public will buy it, thankfully his latest album ‘DAMN.’ isn’t that bad. The problem for me (someone who doesn’t crawl up Kendrick Lamar’s arse every two seconds) is that this is an average, somewhat lacklustre release, but I guess I’m going to be one of the few saying this.
‘DAMN.’ is no classic, far from it, it’s more like a mixtape masquerading as an album, as though a couple of new songs have been combined with a few left-over tracks lying around in the studio. The tracklist seems like a jumble with songs placed in random order resulting in a jumping between moods. The slower songs for example, such as ‘YAH.’ and ‘FEEL.’ should not have a song between them and instead should be closer to the song ‘PRIDE.’. The confused grouping gives this LP a sense of disorientation and disarray, the album jumps all over the place, changing its tempo from slow to fast and switching genres from Trap to Soul.
There are two or three decent songs which prop up the weaker ones. ‘DNA.’ and ‘HUMBLE.’ are examples of this, the production is still hackneyed but these tracks are somewhat enjoyable and re-playable (but they both end too fast for my liking). ‘FEAR.’ and ‘DUCKWORTH.’ are two more half-decent songs, they’re not brilliant, they won’t be held in the pantheon of classic Hip-Hop songs but in ‘DAMN.’ they do stand out (‘FEAR.’ is only memorable if you ignore the many other examples of mesodiplosis in Hip-Hop).
On the topic of Damn’s better songs, when ‘HUMBLE.’ dropped, Lamar’s lyrics were rightly criticised for being patronising and misogynistic and I’ll add to that. The line “I’m so fuckin’ sick and tired of the Photoshop, show me somethin’ natural like afro on Richard Pryor. Show me somethin’ natural like ass with some stretch marks…” ends with the little addition of “…still will take you down right on your mama’s couch”, however the word “still” denotes a negative opinion of so-called “natural ass” therefore nullifying the entire sentiment. So despite a woman having stretch marks, Kendrick Lamar will “still” fuck them, was he expecting congratulations for that bullshit?
There’s lots of mediocrity and radio-friendly dross on this LP. Songs like the easy-listening, radio-fodder ‘LOVE.’ sounds like some Pop producer is channelling Cam’Ron’s ‘Oh Boy’ (it’s produced by Greg Kurstin who worked with the shite Ellie Goulding so that’s not a bad description). The Rihanna track ‘LOYALTY.’ is out-and-out Pop garbage (typical of Robyn Fenty I guess) and Lamar’s opening verse on this song sounds like he’s rapping with a clothes peg on his nose. There’s also the the crappy ‘GOD.’ with its contrived Trap flow and lame chorus and there’s a trash chorus in ‘ELEMENT.’ too (and Lamar bites a bit of Juvenile in one of the verses). For ‘XXX.’ (which sounds like two songs welded together) Kendrick Lamar seems to have dragged in U2 for singing duties like A$AP Rocky did with Rod Stewart for his second album – bringing in old, past-it, white singers will always appeal to mainstream critics I guess. All this forgettable and throwaway “filler” unfortunately takes over this album, and that’s not the only thing wrong with ‘DAMN.’.
Production-wise, this release doesn’t contain anything memorable, the overall sound is nothing to write home about. For me the production is the worst element of the album, in fact some tracks are so amateur, they sound like someone pressed the “demo” button on a drum machine and just let Kendrick rap over it. There’s also the strange concept of making this release sound like a mixtape with DJ shoutouts and abandoned and then repeated verses… “new shit!”… “new Kung Fu Kenny!”… please no.
This is Good Friday and it’s Easter on Sunday so to Kendrick, someone who many people seem to think is Hip-Hop’s second coming, it’s probably apt to release something that will be celebrated by many even though they’re Hip-Hop non-believers. For someone who likes to preach to the masses like a doorstep Jehovah, unfortunately ‘DAMN.’ is the equivalent of some free magazine that Jehovah’s Witnesses push through your letterbox. This is a mixtape at best, something if you listen to on Spotify will net the artist and studio around $0.006 rather than $9.99 on iTunes. For this piece of work the previous figure rather than the latter sums up the worth of ‘DAMN.’ – well under a cent.
Now of course, there are theories online that a second album will be released on Easter Sunday/Monday and this is just a taster for something better. Well if that’s true, it would explain the overall mediocrity of this release, in addition rappers usually release a mixtape to wet the appetite for a full-blown album. But if this theory is just some fans’ wet dream and a second, better album doesn’t surface on Monday, ‘DAMN.’ remains another disappointing album for Kendrick – that’s now three in a row.
With the DJBooth review for this album reading “DAMN! DAMN! DAMN! DAMN! I’m at a complete and utter lost [sic] for words” (I assume he/she means “loss for words”) you know the overrating is set to continue. Misspelling aside, a review that ends with this paragraph…
“Kendrick delivered. He gave us a rap album unlike anything he’s ever created and unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. By now this is what we should expect from the King. He is a king and the crown on his head is immovable.”
…it goes to show that the first page of a Google search will only offer you a mainstream view of things. That first page, the holy grail of search results will try to convince you up is down, left is right, and that ‘DAMN.’ is a classic, but sane, free-thinkers know this is bullshit especially when praise is coming from all sides. Only some tween raised on Disney will be saying “Damn!” when they hear this album (in a valley girl accent no doubt) everybody else will hear what I hear; a mishmash of Hip-Hop, Soul, and Pop cobbled together hastily with a sense of mixtape amateurishness. But I guess the truth will have a hard time getting through all the bullshit praise.
All that being said, this isn’t the worst album out right now, it isn’t even the worst Kendrick Lamar album, but it has to be pointed out (again and again if necessary) that Lamar isn’t the only one releasing credible Hip-Hop – both Joey Bada$$ and Your Old Droog dropped better albums in the last few months and both LPs despite their many flaws are more well rounded and contain more satisfying songs. But it seems that Ken Duckworth, whose name sounds like some reject Coronation Street character, will rise to the top because of all the corrupt mainstream praise he garners. He’ll continue to be called “the king” and “the greatest” even though he hasn’t come close to matching those that have come before. These days everyone bandies the term “G.O.A.T.” about but these fools seem to be people who don’t listen to Hip-Hop, if they did, they’d acknowledge that “the greatest of all time” really does mean “all time”. Kendrick Lamar hasn’t come close to overthrowing the best of the best from ’87-’97 and if he can’t dethrone the golden era greats then it’s impossible for him to be the frigging G.O.A.T.