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May 13, 2017

Kendrick Lamar comes clean with brilliant, frustrated ‘DAMN.’

(Gozamos/Flickr)

Kendrick Lamar’s fourth album, “DAMN.,” is an intricate blend of self-reflection and political resentment. Released on April 14, two weeks after the hard-hitting single “Humble,” “DAMN.” incorporates complicated lyricism and topics, while featuring a fascinating but small group of collaborators.

The album begins with “BLOOD.,” a mostly spoken-word piece that ends with a comment on Lamar’s frustration with media. Lamar adds an excerpt of Fox News host Geraldo Rivera’s discussion of Lamar’s song, “Alright,” a track that comments on the issue of police brutality. In the excerpt, the Fox News commentators voice their dislike of the track, chiding Lamar’s supposedly negative views of the police.

“BLOOD.” is a clear criticism of the media and its misunderstanding of Lamar’s message. In that way, it provides a solid introduction for the rest of “DAMN.,” which comments extensively on society’s treatment of citizens of color.

Of course, this is far from the first time Lamar has commented on this issue. The eerie music video for “Alright”–one of the centerpieces of his landmark 2015 album, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” –ends with Lamar himself being shot down by a white officer. “Alright” has also taken on another life as an anthem for those protesting police brutality and systemic racism in the justice system.

“XXX.,” a track that features—in a small but endearing cameo—U2, critiques America and Lamar’s opinion of its ideals. “Ain’t no Black power when your baby killed by a coward,” he snaps at one point, returning again to the idea that the injustice he so vividly painted on “To Pimp a Butterfly” remains. Lamar does not shy away from expressing his sincere views, and it’s clear that he has no desire to move from the tough conversations on racial and economic injustice that have defined his music to date.

Many of “DAMN.”’s songs—“FEEL.,” “LOVE.” and “LUST.”—are titled with singular, emotional words, while others are given titles that reflect elements of human life, like “DNA.” and “GOD.” These track titles seem to insinuate that “DAMN.,” along with its social commentary, is a work of intense self-reflection.

These themes can also be found in the first two music videos to be released alongside “DAMN.” The eye-catching video for “Humble” was released on March 30, the same day as the single, while the video for “DNA” was released on April 18.

“Humble” is more reflective, featuring a poised Lamar rolling in cash and sitting at the center of a long table with other men, in a clear attempt to recreate Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” These visuals, coupled with effortlessly delivered but assertive lyrics (“Obama just paged me”) showcase Lamar’s power, and his status an artist.

The video for “DNA.” features actor Don Cheadle, who is seen lip syncing to the lyrics alongside Lamar. The two voice the words back and forth as if in an argument, whilst in the setting of a police interrogation.

These two videos provide a perfect insight into “DAMN.,” an album that masterfully balances introspection with a broader assessment of the issues that continue to plague America.

Lauren Crociati can be reached at lcrociati@umass.edu.

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