Death of the Critic

DAMN. - Review

Written by: Tom Blaich


Kendrick Lamar is an artist that has always grown on me, and he has been remarkably consistent in putting out amazing records, even if it sometimes takes me a few listens to get into them. With this success has come a certain expectations, a bias towards greatness and groundbreaking tracks. His
B-sides collection was one of my favorite albums of last year. And I think that this expectation is somewhat unfair. DAMN is a great album, there are no doubts about that, but it isn’t of the same level as either To Pimp a Butterfly or Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. Would I think more highly of it if I didn’t have either of these albums to compare it to, or if it was from a different artist? Is it even fair to compare them to each other? It is hard to eliminate one’s biases in writing a(n) (inherently subjective) review, but at the very least we try to make it known.

DAMN is a story. A man tries to help an old woman and is shot in the street for it. We get to listen to his last thoughts, his last experiences as he lies bleeding in the street.

“So I was taking a walk the other day…”

We can think of DAMN almost as a stream of consciousness record, as it bounces all over the place, from his regrets to his ego to his love and violence and life. It never stays on any one topic entirely too long, and there are some interesting stylistic choices along the way, but first and foremost, you notice how good the album sounds. It has grit to it, but the production is impeccable besides the transition into “Humble”, which for some reason sounds out of place to me (possibly because of how many times I listened to it before the album released).

Most of the tracks on this album are treading very familiar ground. There are trap beats, and more sing songs rap - a la Drake. It’s rather well done, but it lacks the flair and originality that made both To Pimp a Butterfly or Good Kid, M.A.A.D City so great. It does not bring anything new to the table and as it bounces around between styles it sounds somewhat unfocused. It has it’s themes, but the whole idea of the song being at odds with the title is well worn by the end. “Humble” is about being proud and full of braggadacio. “Lust” is float and almost tender. It lacks the boldness and the raw power that I’ve come to expect.

In many ways, DAMN is unsure of itself, intentionally so in fact. Kendrick explores so many different styles to try to find himself and it does lead to some interesting places. “DNA” hits hard, and the switch halfway through is fantastic. “Loyalty” is way better than it has any right to be with its hook, “Imma make it look sexy.” Rihanna has a great feature, surprisingly enough. “Yeah” is great, and “Duckworth” is amazing.

But alongside of these you have some tracks that just aren’t that great. “God” is one of Kendrick’s worst songs in years, and “Humble” just doesn’t do it for me here as much as it did as a single. While there are some very high highs, there are definitely lower points, and coupled with the inconsistency of the album, it keeps it from being as great as it could be.

It is hard to separate this album from Lamar’s earlier work and judge it on its own. Your expectations are so high going into one of his new projects that you can’t help but judge it based off of his earlier works. And that is not entirely fair. This is a great, but flawed album that experiments and gives us the portrait of a troubled artist at his most vulnerable as he is trying to find himself. Not all of these experiments work, and that is to be expected. It leaves many paths for him to follow in his next venture.


LOYALTY. ft. Rihanna
LOVE. ft. Zacari

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Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

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