Damn. First Impressions

 So it hasn’t been 24 hours since the release of DAMN., but I think that’s enough time for some quick hits on the album. This is more for my benefit than anyone else’s, since I’ve come dangerously close to stopping strangers on the sidewalk and politely, but forcefully telling them that they don’t have any earphones in, and thus couldn’t be listening to DAMN. in what seems to be time they could be using to listen to DAMN.

This record is deep, and my thoughts will surely develop more over the next listens, so keep an eye out for a full-length discussion in the coming days. Hopefully I can wrangle Deege into it, and either way I’m going to try to bring a few other folks in, but it can be hard coordinating written discussions with multiple people, so we’ll see. Now, in the jumbled order they came into brain, onto the quick hits!

Am I tripping, or does “Element” sound like the long lost cousin to Drake’s “0 To 100”?

I by no means think this was intentional, but I think it’s an interesting way to see how Kendrick and Drake approached comparable beats.

That U2 feature is nice because Kendrick has that 30,000 foot feature vision.

He flashed it on Section.80, and he solidified his mastery on Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City and To Pimp A Butterfly, but DAMN. feels even more advanced. I really want to take the time to breakdown the evolution of Kendrick’s ability to arrange artists within his albums, and I actually started doing that, but I realized I was getting sidetracked from Damn.

Pictures are worth a thousand words, so reading this picture of someone who was once featured on a Kendrick Lamar album should be enough.

colin munroe

The big picture? Kendrick made a huge jump in the quality of his features between Section.80 and GKMC, and he made a huge jump in the way features were integrated into the DNA of the album between GKMC and TPAB

The leap here isn’t quite as dramatic, but it feels like he’s built on that second leap, so that superstars like Rihanna and Bono sound like they were only exist within the context of the album. That’s probably a convoluted explanation, and I think the features are something that’ll make more sense to me as I listen to the record more.

Don’t take this as a knock against Bono (U2 was once overhyped, so naturally is now underrated), but at this point, Fred Durst could pop up on the tracklist and I’d be like, “Fuck yeah, I love Limp Bizkit too.” Rap game Quentin Tarentino.

“YAH.” is the most hypnotizing thing Kendrick has ever done.

It’s not an apple-to-apple comparison, but this song along makes me think Kendrick could write the greatest A$AP Rocky song of all-time. Remember Dr. Dre’s verse on “Compton”? The one that’s so dexterous and ferocious that one could imagine Kendrick ghostwriting it for his hero? I wonder how many rappers Kendrick could ghostwrite for in a way that was simultaneously convincing and better than said rapper’s typical output. Besides Rocky, here’s a shortlist of rappers I would like Kendrick to write for:

  • J Cole (just to make it painfully obvious J Cole is the most milquetoast rapper of all-time)
  • Jay-Z (can you imagine a late career album from Jay that legitimately banged?)
  • Big K.R.I.T. (feels like this guy squandered some talent)
  • Joey Bada$$ (make him make 1999 Pt. II, Kendrick!)
  • The Weeknd (entirely convinced Kendrick could write a better MJ impression than The Weeknd, even if he couldn’t perform it)

The production and arrangements on here are insane.

Take “XXX” as just one example – we get a minute of some kind of NWA/Clams Casino/Grandmaster Flash mashup instrumental, and then those pianos drop in like a Oneohtrix Point Never joint, and then some sirens go off like you’re in a fucking air raid, and then Kendrick is talking to me, a schoolchild, about gun control, and then we slide into some U2 groove that was plucked out of the ether, and it’s over. My first, and most frequently recurring thought, while listening to the album was “what the fuck is this?” Pitchfork lists the credits here.

This sounds vintage already, and I mean that in the best possible way. “FEAR.” is unlike anything I’ve heard in rap, ever.

Not outdated, but warm, lived in, full of those tiny intricacies and echoes and errors that have been steadily weaned out of music since the advent of Frooty Loops.

Take “FEAR.”, for example: none of his colleagues are doing anything that sounds even a little like this. The way Kendrick makes it feel as if a universe is contained within the song strangely reminded me of Jim Morrison and The Doors more than anything else. This is tied into the next headline.

“FEAR.” is unlike anything I’ve heard in rap, ever.

I need more time on this, but this freewheeling cut is absolutely masterful. It’s a life story told in seven minutes that feel like thirty seconds and an eternity at the same time. I’m struggling to find the words to capture the brilliance.

The core of it, though, is that Kendrick Lamar is the greatest storyteller of this generation. He inhabits each character, gives them life through subtlety, tone, detail, and flow, rap game Daniel Day-Lewis. His ability to tell a story through abstraction, metaphor, and anecdote is unrivaled, it’s the greatest skill he has continued to improve upon continuously since Section.80, and we’re at the point now where I’m not sure if you can write down the thesis of Damn. because it’s so entwined with the sound of the music.

Have you seen Arrival? You know how Amy Adams is such a linguistic genius that she begins thinking like an alien and accesses alien powers because of it? That’s where Kendrick is going.


Pigeons and Planes reversed those already-reversed lyrics at the beginning of “Fear” – check it out here.


I’m buying stock in this double album conspiracy theory.

conspiracy theory

This picture has been going around the internet, and while I’m hesitant to discount the brilliance of Damn. by hoping for another album being released the same week, I kind of buy this theory. It doesn’t feel like a conspiracy theory, and you know Kendrick can shit out b-sides into a cohesive album at will (see: untitled unmastered.), so I’m game for this.

Is the album cover a reference to Trump’s infamous Time cover?

Hard to imagine its not.

Random thought: what does Drake think when Kendrick drops this?

Is he blown away by the newness? Does he fuck with the bars? Does he think it’s pretentious, tryhard, overrated? Does he appreciate the art, or does he look at it strictly as a business product that’s not going to do the streaming numbers More Life is going to do?

This isn’t a dig at Drake, who I think has been wise to stay in his lane as the best volume shooter in the game, and I’m only mentioning Drake because of his passive-aggressive rivalry with Kendrick, their divergent styles, and their statuses as the two best rappers of the generation. But I wonder if Drake recognizes that his creativity is outpaced by bounds by Kendrick’s, and if he even cares.

Spoiler Alert: Why have we never heard this Top and Papa Kendrick origin story before?

If this is a real story and not a hypothetical (and I think it’s real), this is a bombshell of an album closer. Did he just hear this story recently from Top or Pops, or has he been sitting on this? GKMC is as good of an origin story of any rapper, or musician, of this generation, but one track at the end of this album almost hits harder by itself. Kendrick has always been one to exit stage with a surprise and flourish. 


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