Wednesday 20 September 2017

Why Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. Was Not That Good

Why Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. Was Not That Good


I will never forget the first time I heard Good Kid, M.A.A.D City.

At that stage, I was already well versed with Kendrick's Section.80 debut, and I feel the same way about that release now, as I did back then. Overhyped. Flawed. An artist who was yet to find his style. But whatever greatness it may have lacked, it was still enough for me to keep Kendrick in my periphery, and when his sophomore followed, I followed, everyone followed, and the musical decade would never be the same again.

It was like listening to a dramatic autobiographical film come to life within my ears, built from the trademarks of an old school West Coast seasoning, except rearranged ever so slightly into a modernised impression which flowed like a conscious stream around cocky antics and unsettling skits. I immediately knew this was something special, and wasted no time in loudly preaching this to be the future of hip hop, an unequivocal landmark in the genre, forever and always, amen. What I didn’t predict, however, was that every listener would feel exactly the same way, and as we already know, it cleaned up the critic’s 2012 lists like a mop with a knife handle (hitting #1 on mine), recognised as an instant classic from back then until right now, five years onward. And I couldn’t be happier.

Such a rapid rise up the success ladder was dizzying for all of us to witness, but if I knew anything about physics (I don’t really), it was an ascension at that pace to such a soaring height surely meant an equally fast (if not faster) plummet to the ground. By all my music education, I accepted that the rules were the rules, and creating two masterpieces in a row was an impossible (or at least implausible) feat. Which is why, in 2015, when To Pimp a Butterfly was announced, the sadist in me was eager to see just how deep of a crater Kendrick’s body would leave. As it turns out, the crater was massive, but it wasn't his body that put it there. It was his warfare.

To Pimp a Butterfly shook the planet by total surprise, and unlike its predecessor, it did not stick to me instantaneously. Rather, it presented a complex puzzle of wires which taunted the listener with more experimental sounds; fiddling with jazz, aggravating the funk, and overflowing with soul whilst refusing to completely turn its back on Kendrick’s hip hop core. It didn’t revitalise any old school city flavours like he had done previously, but it did boldly create something brand new, far more intelligent and deeper than anything he (or anyone?) had done before. The promise of rewarded perseverance was always there, I could see it in the distance, and when I finally found my footing and crawled up to its level, the fact of the matter was undeniable: Kendrick had done it again. What’s more, he did it without doing anything he’d done before, which was a blissful period for all of us. Together, the whole musical world chimed in unison, hailing Kendrick as the long awaited saviour, just as the prophecy had foretold. I didn’t even care that this was popular opinion, because it never felt like an opinion whatsoever. It felt like a fact. Once again, it hit #1 on my end of year list, like so many others.

Everything that has happened since the crowning of Kendrick has been somewhat of a blur. untitled unmastered. darted past us fast enough, and as essentially a compilation of demos, the slightly subpar content didn’t phase me, because when you graded it on a b-side value, it was inarguably one of the greatest b-side albums hip hop has ever produced. Still, we can safely ignore this record as any true part of the man's catalogue, and move on to his official fourth album, released earlier this year. And that’s where the subject of this article begins.

He called it DAMN.
And I am finally willing to admit that I have problems with it.

But first, please do not misconstrue what I am about to say. Damn is a good record. Some might even say a damn good record, and I would never dare deny that. But the difference between this and the preceding monumental masterpieces was immediately apparent to me before I even listened to it, and it has only continued to grow sour the closer I inspected it. And you must believe me, I’ve inspected it really close up. I’ve picked it apart, I’ve read what everyone else is saying, and I’ve debated my stance to rooms full of opposing screams. Every day I questioned my sanity. What is it that I’m not hearing? Where am I going wrong? Because this was the immaculate Kendrick Lamar after all, and I would sooner blame myself over him for any misstep. And I did that for a long, long time, eventually drilling as deep as I could, yet still unveiling far more dusty rocks than any diamonds. I had to give up. I had to confess that I had been lying to myself, and the simple truth was this: I do not consider Damn to be a great record. So I stopped searching the album for answers, and begun to look into myself, until I found my own words and worked out how to place them in a proper order. And slowly, I began to articulate what was wrong.

Why Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. Was Not That Good


The theme I will be visiting over and over again throughout this piece will be that of innovation—or rather, a lack thereof. And as I could already pinpoint several red flags with this album before I even put it on, the likelihood of another classic Kendrick journey did not seem promising.

I can break these external elements down into three parts:
The Title,
The Cover,
and The Track Names.
Let’s look at each one of these individually, shall we?

Ok. So, DAMN. Not the worst idea in the world, certainly. It’s a good word we all use from time to time. It comes with a certain power, one which Kendrick has generously emphasised by hitting the caps lock and upgrading it into that special capital lettering effect, like a shouting teenager on the internet. And I don’t see why not.

Except let us compare the phrase DAMN. to that of the (admittedly annoyingly punctuated) Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. This 2012 title is a comment on Lamar’s youth, growing up within the troubles of Compton, and trying to remain a decent child when faced with the bad influences such a hood would provide. It’s a common story, wherein lies its beauty; a concept which could hopefully encourage any similar street youth to try and emulate the successes of Kendrick, as he proved that escaping into a thriving life doing what you love is achievable.

Following on from that, was To Pimp a Butterfly. Such a fantastic juxtaposition; the striking and dirty air of the term “pimp”, balanced out by the butterfly’s natural beauty, a more calm, cleaner side of life. “It represents using my celebrity for good. Another reason is, not being pimped by the industry through my celebrity,” was Kendrick’s official statement, and was a great indication that his ever expanding conscious mind refused to ignore how forcefully his stardom had been propelled into the stratosphere. He needed to address his newfound royal status directly, keeping his rhymes relevant to his immediate surroundings, and keeping his fans as close to his real life as possible, once again.

When recently asked about Damn, however, Kendrick stated “it just felt like that”. Which is fine, sometimes things just feel like things, I’m not going to tell him how to do his job. But when people start to look for some intelligent meaning behind all of this, that’s when I begin to smell the burning of trouble. Let me ask you this: if Katy Perry released an album called Damn, would you be surprised? What about Limp Bizkit? Wait, didn’t Ja Rule release a song called Damn in 1999? Didn’t renowned jazz musician Jimmy Smith release an album called Damn! in 1995? I found a band named ReTo who released an album called DAMN. last year, exact same grammar in every way. In fact, with a tiny bit of research, I was able to uncover 18 different singles/albums with this one worded title, released before Kendrick’s attempt even existed. Guess how many I could find called Good Kid, M.A.A.D City? And To Pimp a Butterfly? None, obviously.

Designed by Vlad Sepetov, it surprised me to discover that this was the same mind behind the To Pimp a Butterfly cover. The reason for my surprisal has nothing to do with the font chosen (known as the most common typeface in history, Times New Roman), because I honestly quite like that style of fuck you. It also has very little to do with the careless placing of the parental advisory sticker, because once again, its intentions are recognised and appreciated. Rather, in order to grasp my dissatisfaction, I must implore you to go fetch your copy of Butterfly right now, and marvel over its artwork. Isn’t it incredible? The intense complexity and political charge of this one image told more than just one story, which not only perfectly represented the black activism inside of the record, but also that on the outside, as these social movements have become such an important topic of our newsfeeds in this upset age. The black community. The white house. The people. The government. Who we have been taught to fear. Who we have been taught to trust. It was like an onion. It was like a berry.

Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, on the other hand, was less external, more an internal struggle; a record which narrated gang violence and the economic hardships of disadvantaged areas, a direct reflection of Kendrick’s experiences. And the accompanying artwork depicted this impeccably: a baby Lamar, his grandfather, and two of his uncles (one of whom was displaying the Crips gang hand sign), all in a single photograph, accentuating the priority of family and home and faith, especially in these troubled environments.

Now if we look at Damn, we will notice that it presents us with an image of Kendrick himself, looking all grumpy. I did a bit of research and there isn’t all that much of a deeper story here, sorry to disappoint. But, hey, at least we got some humorous memes out of it!

One gimmick that came free with DAMN. was where every song followed the title’s suite. They were all capitalised. They were all punctuated by a full stop. And they were all one word. I like that last point, it’s quite a quirky little syntax style he did there. I also really enjoyed it when Cocteau Twins did the same thing back on 1984’s Treasure, or when Slint did it back on 1989’s Tweez, or when Prince did it back on 1994’s Come, or when System of a Down did it back on their 1998 self titled debut, or when Goldfrapp did it back on 2013’s Tales of Us... but why get into all of that? Rather, let’s inspect the titles themselves, and how unoriginally common they each were.

Here’s a very quick and non-exhaustive breakdown highlighting how many of Damn’s song titles have already been used as song titles from artists we recognise. Blood? This Mortal Coil and Editors. Feel? Robbie Williams. Loyalty? American Head Charge (Soulja Boy has a whole album called this, by the way). Pride? Robert Palmer and SOiL. XXX? ZZ Top. Fear? John Cale and The Behemoth. God? Tori Amos. Love? Oh, don’t even get me started!

What’s my point, I hear you ask? My point is Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe. My point is Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst. My point is The Blacker the Berry. My point is innovation. My point is ingenuity. And now we’re dealing with Yah? How much thought do you reckon went into these titles exactly? How creative are the titles he even chose? I wonder, how many of these 14 examples could be included in an average list of a baby’s first 500 words? Or, let me guess, that was the whole idea in the first place? It’s supposed to be a simpler album, right? It’s supposed to be an album for babies. Spare me, groupie.

Why Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. Was Not That Good


Of course, all of these previous complaints are insignificant qualms, I recognise that, I really do. Plenty of classic albums have boring artwork, shallow titles, and unimaginative track names, so even if this was Kendrick's first time, what does that matter? The only factor which truly counts towards any album’s worth, is the content. The music itself.

Before I get into that, however, I would like to openly appreciate that music is subjective. God knows that if Damn has taught me anything, it was that I am very alone in a lot of what I’m about to say. Many people have written extensively about how this album’s theme is one of duality and human nature, as well as commentary on Kendrick’s personal experiences with fame, which is engaging enough. But even when considering these topics, we need to ask ourselves if the very music has the strength required to carry this message properly. And, thankfully, despite where you think I may have been going with this, I have no trouble noting that Damn does have some killer redeeming factors.

So how about that Humble, hey? Even when comparing to m.A.A.d city’s The Recipe or Butterfly’s i, I would happily label this track as Kendrick’s crowning lead single yet. When I was first introduced to this track via the music video, I nearly hurt myself I was so excited. Fair dues where fair dues are due, Humble is as good as anything the boy has ever put to tape, and as the first taste of Damn, I was blindly fooled just like everyone else that this would be a summary of the whole album’s overall quality. Unfortunately, no track quite lived up to its genius.

That’s not to say some tracks didn’t come close. In fact, I consider many of these songs to stand tall against the rest of his relatively flawless catalogue. What I found most surprising, was how much closer I gravitated towards the more mellow prizes on offer here. Yah and Pride were both 100% on par with the skill we’ve come to expect, and Element’s cool sexiness is easily one of the most impressive slots on the record. Adoration for DNA has been so universal that I don’t really need to worship it anymore (I do adore it, by the way), and yet it was the generally mediocre response to the Drakey Love which bewildered me the most, as no other song grew on me quite like it did after I’d already sworn it off. But the winning tracks would never be the problem here. It was the problem tracks. It was the fact that an artist who had worked his ass off to produce albums that never had any problem tracks, now had an album with problem tracks whatsoever.

Let’s start with the most obvious candidates which didn’t sit right with me. Feel was boring enough to put me to sleep, only to be awoken by Kendrick's signature aggressive final verse, which has become such a cliché trademark in his arsenal that it sounds like he is going through the motions rather than feeling anything at all. Loyalty was an even worse addition, an obvious desperate ploy to jump further into the mainstream, arguably the poppiest composition Lamar has ever regurgitated, only winning some admiration by shining a spotlight on Rihanna, who (all things considered), is the most painfully obvious choice on the planet if you want to snatch some extra radio play. I was also intrigued to find that XXX was a fan favourite, when it sounded like a jagged mess to me, featuring an awkward U2 sample that seemed to be included just for name dropping rights, in that “wow he features U2” hype-y type of way. Simply, these songs grated my fur the wrong way. And yet, they were not even the guiltiest parties involved here. Not even close.

In some ways, I consider God to be the class president here, the figurehead of problem children with below average grades. It’s not a terrible track, granted, but the trouble is this: Kendrick Lamar made a trap rap song.

If you’ve been paying attention this decade, you’ll know that this simple genre of music has become a forerunner of what mainstream audiences have developed a craving for. From Future to Gucci Mane to Young Thug to T.I., it is unmistakably a trend that has mustered an excess of momentum in recent times, and because of this, it often seems to be the escape route for artists trying to get higher up on the food chain. If a record label boardroom meeting hasn’t featured the phrase “maybe you should try a trap song” before, then I don’t know who to blame for what has happened in the charts today. Gangsta rapper Freddie Gibbs made the change in 2015. Electropop princess Charli XCX has slowly started to flirt with that path since last year. 2 Chainz shamelessly called his album Pretty Girls Like Trap Music this year. Hell, even Danielle Bregoli AKA Bhad Bhabie (the girl who went viral at the beginning of this year with her Cash Me Ousside meme slogan) released a trap rap single last August, which has already hit #77 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and lead to a multi-album contract deal with Atlantic Records. Connect these dots, and it seems to me that if you want something to be “right now”, trap rap is the way to go. And I see nothing fundamentally wrong with that.

What is wrong is that Kendrick was never the one to follow the flavour of the month. He was an innovator. He paved the way. And while God still manages to pull off the catchy trap much better than most of its representatives (a testament to his holiest of talents), it still reflects badly on where the man is at in comparison to his usual pioneering ventures. Sometimes I wonder if people are so lost in Kendrick’s haze that they might even hear God and think Kendrick is doing something new, like he invented trap or something. Dismally, this wouldn’t surprise me.

But wait, there’s more! I have another really big bone to pick with the song Fear. The old school flows going on over here are an enjoyable casual ride, but at nearly 8 minutes long, it better have some advanced rhymes to keep it afloat, right? Unfortunately, it achieved the opposite, featuring some of the worst lyrics that have ever come out of Kendrick’s mouth. Observe:

Exhibit A:
I'll probably die anonymous
I'll probably die with promises
I'll probably die walkin' back home from the candy house
I'll probably die because these colors are standin' out
I'll probably die because I ain't know Demarcus was snitchin'
I'll probably die at these house parties, fuckin' with bitches
I'll probably die from witnesses leavin' me falsed accused
I'll probably die from thinkin' that me and your hood was cool
Or maybe die from pressin' the line, actin' too extra
Or maybe die because these smokers are more than desperate
I'll probably die from one of these bats and blue badges
Body slammed on black and white paint, my bones snappin'
Or maybe die from panic or die from bein' too lax
Or die from waitin' on it, die 'cause I'm movin' too fast
I'll probably die tryna buy weed at the apartments
I'll probably die tryna defuse two homies arguin'
I'll probably die 'cause that's what you do when you're 17
All worries in a hurry, I wish I controlled things

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of “probably” is as follows: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell.
With that in mind, according to Kendrick, he will almost certainly die walking home, but also at a house party, but also from the cops, but also from the gangs, to mention only a few probabilities listed above. It’s contradictory, an insult to the language and, above all else, inattentive repetitive writing.

Was that too nitpicky for you? Ok, how about this, same song.

Exhibit B:
If I can smoke fear away, I roll that motherfucker up
And then I take two puffs
I'm high now, I'm high now
I'm high now, I'm high now
Life's a bitch, pull them panties to the side now

Rad, Kendrick. Deep. Real deep.

The final nuisance songs that I’d like to speak about would be the intro (Blood) and the outro (Duckworth). In both of these examples, Kendrick gets shot in a surprising manner, very sudden, interrupting the flow, in a flash I imagine was intended to provoke the listener into saying “oh, he got shot!”, I’m not sure. And this would be great, if it wasn’t that Kendrick has already pulled this trick before.

Remember Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst? Good Kid, M.A.A.D City? There was a line that went “and if I die before your album drop, I hope—” which is cut short by unexpected gunshots, stopping Kendrick’s verse immediately with a literal bang. I remember the first time I heard this just like I remember the first time I heard the male/female vocals swap over on Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe. I remember this just like I remember how a poem slowly unraveled itself, piece by piece, over the course of the entire To Pimp a Butterfly record. I remember you was conflicted. I still get goosebumps thinking about these techniques. Little stabs that I had never heard anyone do before nor even considered that someone ever would. These were the true quirks which made Kendrick a genius to me. It was never the conscious flows nor the well selected beats, because many artists can boast these badges. It was the little manoeuvres he pulled off like these examples which set him apart, and made him king. And so please, I beg of you, tell me where is Damn’s special trick? The surprise gunshots? Again? Twice on one album this time? The last one to actually end the whole record, unlike the arbitrary casual placement on Remember Sing About Me? In my opinion, this rehash was the greatest sin the album pulled.

Why Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. Was Not That Good


At some point during my struggle, I received some very hopeful news. “Dude!” the news said. “You’re listening to the album wrong! It’s supposed to be listened to BACKWARDS!” Omg, why didn’t I think of that? It all seems so obvious now!

In fairness to the theory, there were some little indicators which supported it. For example, at the very end, the tape sounds like it is suddenly reversing (a very common technique popularised by the Beatles in the 60s, but who’s counting) with a snippet of DNA and the intro thrown in for good measure. Some could consider that a clue. Personally, I had a thought that maybe Kendrick wants us to literally reverse the whole album and listen to every track playing backwards because maybe that would sound better? I’m not sure, I haven’t tried it.

Recently in an interview with MTV, Kendrick went on record stating that there is some truth to this pretentious lunacy, with the following:

“I think like a week after the album came out, [fans] realised you can play the album backwards. It plays as a full story and even a better rhythm. It’s one of my favourite rhythms and tempos within the album. It’s something that we definitely premeditate while we’re in the studio. I don’t think the story necessarily changes, I think the feel changes. The initial vibe listening from the top all the way to the bottom is this aggression and this attitude. You know, DNA, and exposing who I really am. You listen from the back end, and it’s almost the duality and the contrast of the intricate Kendrick Lamar. Both of these pieces are who I am.”

Talk about some wanky nonsense coming from the head of a man who has truly gone to it, but regardless, there are a few things I noticed which punches holes into the hypothesis, regardless of what the man himself claims to be true.

Duckworth definitely works as an opener, that much is true, except for one small overlooked issue: it ends at 3:57, with a customary 11 seconds of silence at the end of the album. This is a common technique. Many artists decide against ending their album’s finale abruptly, rather granting a brief period of breathing time for the listener to digest the project before their playlist jumps straight into the next unrelated song. It allows the music to settle, and leaves the experience harder to forget. The concern here, of course, is that this doesn’t quite gel with the backwards theory. Why would there be an 11 second gap of silence between the first and second song? What purpose would it serve? Is it “arty” and “cool”? Perhaps. But what seems more likely to me, is that Damn was primarily ordered to be played the way God intended it: forward. If the backwards run was on Kendrick’s mind as he said it was, it would still appear to me that he favoured the forward motion anyway, and refused to let the mischievous backwards idea get in the way of regular album formatting. Otherwise he would have, I dunno, put 11 seconds at the end of the first track too? Now that would have been something!

Ok, so let’s ignore this relatively forgivable neglect, because maybe this was the mixer’s fault? Or even those pesky CD printing companies who were just following standard procedure? Perhaps Kendrick is even furious about it, who knows? Instead, I’d like to announce my all important opinion that my participation with the backwards Damn was less inspiring than others have reported. Something you may have noticed (especially back in the day) is that albums traditionally start with their best tracks, and all too often, suffer by slowly going downhill, song by song, especially during the midsection. The reason for this is pure business: when someone picks up your album at the record store and gives it a spin to decide whether or not to purchase it, you want them to be hit hard and hit quick, so that by the time the fourth amazing song comes into play, they are already getting their money out of their pocket.

When looking at Damn played forwards (or “normally” as it has come to be known), our initial run is as solid as fuck. The uninspired (but definitely suitable) intro aside, when you hear DNA to the Yah to the Element, the album already has your on your knees with its fly down, as you scream “Kendrick has done it again, put your penis in my mouth!” which is exactly what I did. However, when listening to it backwards, some of the first songs we meet are God (hardly an accurate summary of the album’s overall sound, quite the opposite, in fact), the lacklustre Fear (with the worst lyrics he has ever written, as previously addressed) and the haphazard XXX. If these are treated as the album’s forerunners, it’s a very wobbly and inconsistent beginning, as if desperately trying to find its footing, except sounding more like an album winding down which we have dug out of the grave and slapped on stage first. Where are the coherent and punchy opening acts who set the tone? I’ll tell you. They are there when you play it forward. And that is my main stance of opposition.

I have my own philosophy when it comes to all of this, hear me out. When DAMN. dropped on Good Friday, there were an abundance of rumours that there would be a second companion album coming out two days later, on Easter Sunday. It even had a name, NATION. Together, these two albums would work as DAMN-NATION., and reflect the religious story of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Ok, now that would have been the Kendrick I remember! That would have been so Kendrick! However, when this didn’t happen, I started to realise that Kendrick’s fans had now surpassed the man’s own creative depths, as we were looking so intensely at the star to save hip hop, that he could no longer keep up with our collective ideas. I feel sorry for the guy, even.

The buzz and then anticlimactic absence of a second album should have been an early warning sign that Damn did not fill the bucket that his followers lusted for, but instead his fans were so blinded and undeterred that they started to look in other places for what they may have missed. This eventually surfaced in a headline that went something like “Kendrick Lamar did release two albums, but you were all too stupid to notice it”. And before you knew it, everyone was now listening to the thing back to front, reporting it was better that way or they had found a whole new perspective on hip hop or that they had visions of the Holy Spirit or something, while I only wondered how many albums you could listen to backwards to much the same effect. Regardless, once the news reached Kendrick, what was he supposed to do? Deny his genius? Deny his fans this joy that they had proudly discovered all by themselves? Or should he take credit for something he didn't exactly intend, with no additional cost, no harm done, and his brilliance still in tact? While this is all based on assumptions, I know what I would have done.

For arguments sake, let’s say I am being overly cynical and this was indeed his indulgent motive all along. If so, then he didn’t exactly execute it to the best of his ability, did he? How about ending a track with the beginning of the song that came before it? That way, in reverse order, two tracks would run into each other seamlessly, and that I would bow down to. Or how about an album with only palindromic titles? Or how about calling the album DAM without the “n” so that when you read it backwards it says MAD because that’s what you’ve all become.

You want to know my technique of making Damn sound better? Do this: reorder the songs backwards like before, except move every odd number forward two places. With that line-up, re-reverse tracks 4 - 9, then remove tracks 1 -14, and replace them with songs from To Pimp a Butterfly instead. I’m pretty sure that’s what he meant us to do all along. It’s genius.

(I am joking about that by the way, but it would make for a superior album, you know this to be true).

Why Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. Was Not That Good


Hello. We have arrived at the part of this essay which matters the most. You can just about ignore everything that came before this point, and only start paying attention now, because this is where my beef with Damn truly lies in agony.

As I’ve said before, Damn is a fine album. It’s fine! I like it! Certainly, as Kendrick’s most recent offering, I was blatantly let down, but as time goes on, I’m sure I’ll welcome it as another neat inclusion to his varied catalogue. If someone else made Damn I would be like “Damn! Where did this come from?”, but Kendrick Lamar made Damn, and as a follow up to two of the most important hip hop records in recent decades (read: ever), it fell short, in my humble (geddit?) opinion. Which isn't great, but also isn’t the worth getting too upset about. A lesser impressive Kendrick output was inevitably going to happen eventually. It happens to everyone. And even if I consider this album to be a stumble, I would never call it a fall whatsoever. I know I’ve been slating it for the past forever, but this was only intended to illustrate my biggest headache of them all: as rad as Damn is, the critical response was far too overblown.

According to review score aggregator site Metacritic, Damn holds the Universal Acclaim score of a 95% success rate. This is 1% below Butterfly, fine, whatever. But this is also 4% higher than Good Kid. Let me repeat that: according to this rating, which takes into account ratings from all walks of publications, on average, Damn is considered to be 4% better than Good Kid. Good Kid! M.A.A.D City! What type of unlawful atrocity is this!? I don’t even know how to type my reaction without the longest spew of expletives the internet has ever seen. Am I hearing different albums to everyone else? Damn better than Good Kid? How??

Let’s break this down further, and highlight those blasphemous heathens by name:

Spin Magazine gave Good Kid 8/10 and gave Damn 9/10. Equally, Rolling Stone Magazine gave Good Kid 4/5 Stars, and gave Damn 4.5/5 Stars. According to these two magazines, Damn is 10% better than Good Kid.
The Observer gave Good Kid 4/5 Stars and gave Damn 5/5. According to The Observer, Damn is 20% better than Good Kid.
And, finally, The Guardian gave Good Kid and Butterfly 4/5 Stars each. It gave Damn 5/5 Stars. According to The Guardian, this is the best album Kendrick has ever made. Do I laugh?

The list goes on and on and on, and that’s when I was reminded of this Tweet that goes:

Kendrick Lamar: "Hey"
RapGenius: "In this layered hypothesis, Kendrick attempts to discern the nature of fifth dimensional particle physics"

Really funny, but also a sadly accurate observation, and entirely the point of this article. Basically put, it feels to me that when Good Kid came out, those early listening suits who are deemed deserving enough to critique the music world, weren’t exactly sure what to make of it, and rated it with some decent score just to be safe. However, as time has passed on and the worship did not wane but instead grew louder and more widespread (globally hailing Good Kid as the genre defining classic we already knew it was), those same writers panicked that they may be losing touch. And now they are simply too afraid to call Kendrick anything but the Lord Saviour of Rap, all the while the clueless mass majority follow. The whole world is so dazzled by Kendrick as some messianic figure that anything he releases (just so long as it's somewhat above the average benchmark), will be automatically be kissed on the top shelf like some groundbreaking new entity. In the case of Damn, it even eventually went on to chart better than anything Kendrick’s ever done before, as the longest running Billboard #1 of 2017. And what’s worse... even Kendrick believes his own hype now, openly declaring Damn as his best work too in a recent radio interview with Big Boy.

In fact, the only notable publication who had the audacity to tell it exactly like it is, was Exclaim! who wrote the following:

“DAMN. is the first time in Lamar's career that he hasn't broken new ground, explored old themes in new ways or exhibited sonic growth. That said, it's a small blemish on an otherwise spotless catalogue.”

They gave it a 6/10 and I respect them for pointing out the absolute, undeniable truth. And I couldn’t agree more.

Why Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. Was Not That Good


I want to summarise by once again, ensuring that you fully understand what I have said here. I like Damn. It’s better than what most rappers could ever dream of achieving in a lifetime, and that goes for the really rich ones on TV too. It has done nothing to tarnish my opinion of Lamar. I still love him and will continue to praise his name most high as the greatest rapper on the planet to anyone who is willing to listen to my opinion. The previous harsh words do not mean I have betrayed my faith. I writhe in excitement to hear what he does next.

However, in the grand scheme of Kendrick Lamar, it’s honestly a pathetic album. Damn is a less unified contribution, a mere collection of disconnected songs which don’t compliment one another or even follow the same vibe. They feel sloppy, rushed, boring, and even thrown together as if he just had them lying around. The daring plunge into re-flavouring old school techniques or pairing fast flows with experimental jazz licks are gone, replaced in favour of treading the surface of trap, RnB, and pop trends, leaving behind the most commercially viable and unchallenging piece of work he’s ever done. I tried everything I could to appreciate it. I read all the reviews. I spoke to the rabid fans foaming from their mouths. I played it over and over and over again. I even listened to the fucking thing backwards. And each and every time, I was more convinced that Kendrick got lazy, and nobody noticed.

The finish line of 2017 is coming, and I doubt there will be a single end of year list (other than mine) which doesn’t feature this album. I am even more certain that a large percentage of these critics will place it right at #1, because Kendrick Kendrick omg Kendrick. And when they do, I will knowingly nod in a surrender that I have completely lost touch with what the mainstream media and general music loving public consider to be brilliant. Because I have personally heard 50 albums this year which are better than Damn. And that’s coming from one of his biggest fans in the world.

Read This Next Maybe

10 Reasons to Become Vegetarian
Mensvreters: The Death of 2017