Kendrick Lamar's 'DAMN.' Is Introspective And Unforgiving If To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar's ornate jazz-funk experiment, played like billiard balls scattering after the break, then DAMN. wraps its focus inward: tight and layered, like a bundle of rubber bands.


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Kendrick Lamar's 'DAMN.' Is Introspective And Unforgiving

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LA rapper Kendrick Lamar released a new album on Friday called "DAMN." It's his fourth album in the last five years. It's a mix of spiritual and political. Reviewer Oliver Wang says it strengthens Kendrick Lamar's claim to be his generation's greatest rapper alive.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Is it wickedness?

OLIVER WANG, BYLINE: Spoiler alert - "DAMN." opens with Kendrick Lamar narrating his own death at the hands of a blind assailant.


KENDRICK LAMAR: You've lost your life.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Is it wickedness?

WANG: This isn't the first time Lamar's used a gunshot to cut off a song or stanza. And as he reminds us, violent ends can come unexpectedly, especially if you're young, black and male.


LAMAR: (Rapping) I'll probably die anonymous. I'll probably die with promises. I'll probably die walking back home from the candy house. I'll probably die because these colors are standing out.

WANG: It's no coincidence that Lamar decided to release "DAMN." on Good Friday, a day meant to mark the death of the righteous at the hands of tyrants. Throughout the album, Lamar interweaves the spiritual with the political in verses redolent with biblical references to the wages of sin and the blood of innocents.


LAMAR: (Rapping) Hail Mary, Jesus and Joseph. The great American flag is wrapped and dragged with explosives. Compulsive disorder, sons and daughters, barricaded blocks and borders. Look what you taught us. It's murder on my street, your street, back streets, Wall Street, corporate offices, banks, employees and bosses with homicidal thoughts. Donald Trump's in office.

WANG: The album's 14 songs are all titled with brief concepts such as "FEEL.," "LOYALTY.," "PRIDE." Lamar uses them to explore conflicts and contradictions both within the soul and society. It's an introspective effort reflected in the somber soundtrack and a stark contrast to the torrent of creative intensity that flooded across his much-lauded 2015 album, "To Pimp A Butterfly." On "DAMN.," Lamar's focus wraps inward, tight and layered like a ball of rubber bands.


LAMAR: (Rapping) Hell-raising, wheel-chasing, new worldly possessions. Flesh-making, spirit-breaking, which one would you lessen? The better part, the human heart, you love 'em or dissect 'em. Happiness or flashiness? How do you serve the question? See, in the perfect world, I would be perfect, world.

WANG: The rapper's word play has always been intricate, but he's finding new ways to push its limits. He plays with super stacked rhyming couplets, constantly modulates his voice and pacing and furthers his reputation as one of hip-hop's most vivid storytellers.


LAMAR: (Rapping) Small-time hustler, graduated to a brick, on him $10,000 out of a project housing. That's on the daily. Seen his first mil (ph) 20 years old. Had a couple of babies, had a couple of shooters. Caught a murder case, fingerprints on the gun they assumin', but witnesses couldn't prove it. That was back when he turned his back and they killed his cousin. He beat the case and went back to hustlin', bird-shufflin'. Anthony rang, the first in the projects with the two-tone Mustang.

WANG: Many people, myself included, believed a rumor that Easter Sunday would bring a second album. It didn't, but the collective anticipation captures how much Lamar has electrified the music community. There's a real yearning for artists of his stature to speak truth to power, especially at a time when the powerful are not always truthful.

Kendrick Lamar isn't here to provide relief or distraction. His anxieties and unease mirror our own. And his struggles toward salvation and redemption exhort us to do the same work lest we perish in a damnation of our own making.


LAMAR: (Rapping) I'm not a politician. I'm not 'bout a religion. I'm an Israelite, don't call me black no more. That word is only a color.

MCEVERS: Reviewer Oliver Wang is an associate professor of sociology at Cal State, Long Beach and author of the book "Legions Of Bloom (ph)."


LAMAR: (Rapping) And Deuteronomy say that we all been cursed. I know he walks the earth. But it's money to get, yeah.

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