Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. Unpacked

This post is part of our program, The Story of Kendrick, an in-depth, 10-part look at the life and music of Kendrick Lamar. Sound cool and want to receive the other installments in your inbox? Go here. Already signed up and enjoying it? Help us get the word out and share on FacebookTwitter, or with this link. Your friends will thank you.

Shakespeare once famously declared that brevity is the soul of wit, but simplicity has been the last thing on Kendrick Lamar’s mind for the majority of his career. His two previous albums, 2012’s ghetto uprising saga good kid, M.A.A.D. city and 2015’s political prog-rap opus To Pimp a Butterfly were sprawling, intricately detailed patchworks, suffused with symbolism and strung together with the kind of recurring characters and monologuing one would expect from the Bard himself.

But DAMN. is a different story. Having already claimed the throne as one of (if not the) most talented rappers in the history of the game, DAMN. is the sound of a young artist at the peak of his abilities delivering his music straight, no chaser. Not to say that DAMN. isn’t as multilayered and critical as anything else K.Dot’s put his name on, but now more than ever it feels like Lamar’s focus is entirely on the songs rather than the cohesive effect of the project. Each song on DAMN. feels as if it is coming from a different universe, be it the ‘90s slow ride of “HUMBLE.” or the futurist R&B of “LOVE.” or the absolutely bipolar “XXX.,” which travels between Metro Boomin minimalism, Public Enemy fury, and smooth boom-bap consciousness in the span of four minutes. Though Lamar’s influences are vast and easily traceable (the bassy Afrofuturism of Flying Lotus, the beat-poetry prophecies of the Last Poets, the self-aware party-rap of OutKast), on DAMN. he synthesizes them effortlessly, letting his own musical voice shine through more clearly than ever before.

All of which makes DAMN. an incredibly fun, engaging listen, and adds another notch to Lamar’s already impressive catalog. With small-time songwriters emerging from the woodworks on major tracks (Zacari?) and mind-boggling appearances from big-name rock stars (U2!?), DAMN. is packed to capacity with ideas and influences and collaborators—so take a listen to this playlist and start unpacking the latest from one of our generation’s greatest.