Adding to his illustrious output with this wonderful display of rhythmic mastery and great conveyance of mood through powerful soundscapes, Kendrick Lamar should be considered the greatest rapper of all time.
Just for fun, I will start my review of each category by trying to magnify and examine a very limited subject: what Kendrick Lamar did wrong. Within the large melodic picture, about 10% of the chorus time was a bit flaky and limiting to the texture. Perhaps another half of that time also felt a bit disconnected with what came before and after it. These points occurred when multiple voices were contributing at the same time, and while they sounded interesting the strength of the melodic line was slightly damaged compared with what was around it. That was true in both verses and choruses, happening about 5% of the time. Also, when the element of pitch was involved, rhythm sometimes got diluted a bit for no strong reason. That’s all I have for that subject. Now onto what was right. Notice how none of my dramatic scrutiny of the negatives had anything to do with Kendrick alone. That’s because basically everything that came out his mouth turned to gold on this album. When alone, he paced his lines with an insuperable amount of elegance and brilliance that caught fire, burned the forest to the ground, and gave light to a new world. He has an untouchable raw power to his rap, and he reaches a height of rhythmic mastery that few have ever achieved. The song “DNA.” is case and point. While he was undoubtedly on top of his game in that song, every song on this album had sparks of his rhythmic magic. His ability to maneuver with whatever musical structure is underneath while being as clear and polished as anything gives heightened importance to his meaning. If there are still any naysayers to Kendrick out there, this album should put them to rest. This work may be the very best in recent years at providing what the industry and the general public desire with such extreme quality. Rap is a hot commodity today, and for it to be this virtuosic is absolutely wonderful. The genre of rap has undeniably been elevated. Just get Kendrick on the microphone more.
What went wrong here? A majority of the background texture had periods of back and forth between two chords, which by numerical standards doesn’t seem too ambitious. A lot of the progressions also emphasized the beat in a rather obvious way, which didn’t always need to happen. Lastly, the harmony was almost too considerate and gentle, never being abrasive or aggressive at all which may have provided nice contrast if done well. None of those three points matter much at all if the finished product is cohesive and purposeful. Not only was it that, but it was well near beautiful at times. Sure, the harmony was mostly quaint and out there on its own, but the music as a whole completely followed that sentiment and became an incredibly personable experience. When the harmony was more conventional and recognizable, as in “HUMBLE.”, the rhythmic organization was pleasantly invigorating and root dominance was fully justified. When the harmony was more experimental and far-fetched, as in “YAH.” and “ELEMENT.”, the song was given new emotional attachment and set a necessary delicate scene. Indeed, this was a very delicate rap album, and only the best can find their true emotion and passion within such a context. Well, Kendrick is the best, so there you go.
I will try to pinpoint negatives about this album one last time, now from a timbral perspective. There were a couple of songs in which the instrumentation got bigger without strong entrances or obvious purpose within the form. I guess that was the only recurring problem, and it happened about 10% -15% of the time. The song “LOVE.” had some vocal mixtures and register reliance that I wasn’t terribly captivated by. With most every other song, captivating would be an understatement. The sound was subdued and strong, chill and composed, cohesive and daring, and just about what anyone could ask for within this setting. As a white person who grew up in a very segregated city, I have no real outside experience with the tone and feeling that Kendrick creates in this album. Indeed, rap can be a difficult genre for people like me to get into that don’t have life experience like this. The overall sound of this album, though, is the way in which everyone becomes united for a brief time and feels at least a basic level of what Kendrick is bringing. This is perhaps the most unique rap atmosphere I’ve ever heard. The collective of electronic and acoustic sound creates a driven, passionate, somber, and introspective atmosphere that paints the hardship setting of the ghetto in such as impactful way. His 2015 album To Pimp A Butterfly was the greatest example of this of all time. While DAMN. may not be as instrumentally or vocally perfect, the soundscape is still very much present. As an outsider, I feel as though I’m welcomed into his struggles and life lessons, whereas I feel more disconnected with rap that focuses mainly on solid beats and invigorating synthetic timbre. There’s nothing Kendrick wouldn’t do to his sound in order to get his messages across, and his successful experiments were testaments to the power of non-conformity. The songs “FEAR.” and “DUCKWORTH.” were two excellent examples of this. Kendrick is a great technical rapper, but it’s his overall musicianship and ear for connecting his emotions with viable settings that make him the greatest rapper ever, which is a title I’m ready to give him after listening to this album.
To blow everyone out of the water like this was almost unfair. Rarely do I witness the modern music world being so obsessed with something that is actually very high quality. Kendrick Lamar is perhaps the only musician of our generation that bridges the gap between public gratification and musical worth, which is a gap that has been unfortunately growing for quite some time. This album, as I said earlier, could be the best example of this bridge in the last 10 years or so. Its composition and story elements are brilliant. It’s fun and thoughtful. It’s adaptable and approachable. It brings on a multitude of emotion through well-done combinations of simplicity and complexity. It has some dead spots that prevent the album from reaching incredible status, but that does not stop the profound effect it has on our culture. It’s so new as of now, but after a while it may be even greater.
Final Score: 156/180