Over the past few years, Kendrick Lamar has arguably given the strongest case for best rapper currently making music. His amazing storytelling, brilliant lyrical play, keen ear for beats, and creative nature for themes in his albums have separated him from the rest of the pack in many areas. While I think he doesn’t quite reach the creative heights that Kanye reaches, I think his rapping ability and storytelling do manage to be better than Mr. West on most occasions, with “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” being the main exception. Nonetheless, since the release of “Section.80,” Kendrick has given us not only some of the best hip-hop albums, but some of the best concept albums of recent years.
But despite creating such acclaimed works, he never really reached the superstar status that some artists have. He certainly has no problems with albums sales, but his numbers have always paled when compared to the Drake’s of the world, despite Drake being a much worse artist. But all that changed with “DAMN.” When he announced his new album would be coming out, all fans of hip-hop went into a frenzy unlike any I had seen since the lead up to “Life of Pablo.” Kendrick has finally reached superstar heights, so was he going to release a superstar album?
As I’ve come to expect with any new Kendrick album, it sounds like nothing he’s ever recorded. His versatility over his career is continuously astonishing, and this album’s diversity is no different. He manages to have a variety of tones and atmospheres on this album that keep it interesting even after multiple listens. Yet these different sounds come together in a pleasant way that still manage to sound coherent and work as an overall free-flowing project.
I do like “DAMN.” I think it’s one of the better hip-hop albums I’ve heard this year and Kendrick has some amazing songs here. Tracks like “DNA” and “HUMBLE” are undeniably addictive and braggadocios but still have multiple layers to them and songs like “FEAR” and “ELEMENT” help us into the mind of a truly troubled artist struggling to find answers to some incredibly philosophical questions. “LOYALTY” sounds like a quality, light-hearted summer song and “LOVE” shows Kendrick can take Drake’s music formula and create a track that’s better than anything off of “More Life.”
But unlike some of Kendrick’s other albums, there are a few tracks on here that I found to be really uninspiring. I didn’t think much of the song “GOD” and whatever Kendrick was doing with his vocal inflections. “YAW” was another track that seemed rather lackluster and didn’t contribute a lot to the album sonically. Those two tracks are the only two I skip when going through the album now, but that’s a rare phenomenon for me when listening to previous Kendrick albums.
I’ve always had my favorites on albums like “Good Kid, M.a.a.d. City” but I’ve never felt the desire to skip a track when going through the entire album. While “DAMN” is undeniably good, it’s just not quite as good as Kendrick’s previous works such as “Good Kid” or “To Pimp a Butterfly.” I like his level of confidence being displayed here and applaud him for deciding that he just wants to rap rather than create another layered concept album, but this album feels too safe, too mundane at times when compared to what we know he is capable of producing. It’s by far my least favorite Kendrick Lamar album out of his major studio releases, but at the end of the day, most artists would love to have their worst album be as good as “DAMN” is because it’s still better than any album we’ve heard from Drake or J. Cole. It only helps his case for the best rapper of all time and he absolutely has to be in that discussion after providing another piece of quality hip-hop.