His latest work is Duckworth checking out…
By Alvin Halimwidjaya
Staff Rap Reviewer
The first time I saw Kendrick Lamar rap was his appearance on the 2013 BET cypher. It was October and Kendrick was a year removed from bursting into the big leagues of the rap industry with his debut album Good kid, m.A.A.d city, and he was a month removed from dropping a bucket of hydrochloric acid on his peers with his verse on Big Sean’s “Control.” Having issued an unexpected statement of dominance for the world to see, he followed up with an encore when no one else had seen the main act coming.
Though the TDE crew was out in full force, with standouts like ScHoolboy Q, Jay Rock, and Isaiah Rashad present, everyone tuned in for Kendrick, and boy, did he deliver. From threats like “you know I’m a killer,” to the always relevant, “your career ain’t shit unless you got some Kendrick in it,” he capped off his rapid-fire flex moment with, “you’re scared to death, you’re scared to look in the mirror when Kendrick is near you/ King Kendrick.”
When looking at Kendrick’s newest album, DAMN., it’s important to see where he came from. After weaving a story in GKMC and building discourse in To Pimp a Butterfly, his third album, crafts a collection holding pieces of his identity inside. Some are delicately placed inside introspective, wandering narratives like “FEAR.” or “DUCKWORTH.”, while others are chiseled into defiant slabs of braggadocio like “DNA.” and “ELEMENT.” Though this album is not as nuanced and thoughtful as the other two, it’s a blatant, obstructive reminder of how exciting Kendrick Lamar’s music can be.
From the constant allusions to being godlike to his varied, light shots across the bow at both ambiguous and specific targets in the rap industry (sorry Big Sean, you’re career is dead), Kendrick’s tone is back in full “Backseat Freestyle” mode, and he’s ready to tangle with anyone who dares mouth quietly to themselves in a corner that he isn’t the best in the rap game.
One defining feature of DAMN. is the who’s who list of producer credits on the album, which combine to create a stream that can easily shift from brash to haunting. One of my favorite tracks is “LUST.” The smooth undertones and the beat slipping in and out of consciousness suits the murmur Kung Fu Kenny adopts on the track, and his quick variations of verse keep the audience on their toes as they try to anticipate which way the story will turn. Meanwhile, outspoken, upbeat tracks like “DNA.” and “HUMBLE.” prove their worth as notable tracks on the record with Kendrick Lamar pulling out all the stops: from prominent producer Mike Will Made-It orchestrating the dissonant, jarring piano on the latter track to an elaborate music video of the former featuring Don Cheadle.
However, all of the bells and whistles on the album can be cast aside when you boil this album down to Kendrick’s lyrical prowess. He takes each track to wax poetic on his identity in relation to core ideals like love, pride and loyalty. However, his most stunning tale is woven in the final track “DUCKWORTH.” In the song, he tells the story of how Anthony Tiffith, a gangbanger in his youth, spared a fry cook named Kenny from robbery and a possible shooting because he always gave Tiffith free chicken when he was in line. Years later, Tiffith is now the head of TDE, and Kenny became the father of a man that, through TDE, has forced his way into the position of greatest rapper alive. Kendrick’s strength is using his past to frame his present, and combined with his verses laced with nitroglycerin and disses at Drake, DAMN. has given Kendrick Lamar a three-peat of timeless albums in a incandescent career.