Music under the microscope: one student’s take on DAMN by Kendrick Lamar

Ramon Perez, Arts Editor

The album DAMN is the culmination of Kendrick Lamar’s work; with intense vocals, eccentric beats, and a powerful message it is not to be soon forgotten as Pitchfork music magazine reviewed, “A widescreen masterpiece of rap”.

Lamar begins the album with a young Kendrick narrating his death, a monotonous nasally voice recites in such a way that the listener feels what Kendrick is experiencing psychologically. As the album progresses, the songs and their subjects become less morbid and hyperbolic: LUST, an intricate beat that begins in reverse accompanied by surreal diction is followed by LOVE, a slower song where Kendrick is pouring his heart out to who owns it. The somber toned – almost crying – vocals of PRIDE transform into the tempered HUMBLE with Lamar yelling at the mic. Kendrick goes from living in FEAR, reciting his anxieties as a teenager “I’ll probably die anonymous/I’ll probably die because that’s what you do when you’re 17.” to feeling like a GOD, and rather than be defined by the BLOOD that runs in his veins he shows who he is from his DNA. This is where Kendrick thrives – he is an excellent storyteller – by showing progression of character and morals, he is subliminally calming down over the course of the album. From the fiery beat of DNA and the vivid imagery of HUMBLE to the poetic justice of FEAR and the symphonic choirs of DUCKWORTH, Lamar takes a path of maturity throughout the duration of the album.

In his recent albums Lamar has shown a great concern over subjects that some may consider hard to tackle. He has bewildered critics with his powerful words and brass instruments in To Pimp a Butterfly., spitting in racism’s face with a certain intensity that is unattainable by other rappers. He has cried for the people of Compton in his (arguably) debut album “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. city”, showing America the true national issues that are being completely overlooked. In DAMN Kendrick is speaking to America and it’s justice system, the beginning of the album begins with a blind woman, who has lost something and can’t find it. When Kendrick offers his hand in help, he is shot, presumably by the blind woman. This blind woman represents Lady Justice; Kendrick is using her as a metaphor to explain that Justice has lost her way. Lady Justice used to turn a blind eye to race, origin, and ethical orientation; She only weighed the crimes done. But recently, Justice has lost her scale, and uses her eyes to come to a verdict.

Not only is Lamar speaking to America, he is also telling a beautiful story in this album, that of a young black male growing up without his father. With the polarity of each song and their names, he is describing what is going on in young Lamar’s mind. LUST and LOVE are put directly next to each other on purpose, the songs are so different from each other yet they are on such similar subjects; it’s to show their mental pulls on Lamar, this is why during the first half of the album the fast-paced songs are LUST and FEEL while in the latter half the more exciting songs are HUMBLE and GOD. Kendrick is changing his viewpoint! All of these songs and stories lead up to the final song, DUCKWORTH, the finale of the album. A beautiful beat, vocals, recitation, and a sample from Ted Taylor tell the ballad of Anthony and Ducky. Anthony was a classic hustler, “His family history: pimpin’ and bangin’ He was meant to be dangerous” Anthony got in the big leagues at a young age, “Seen his first mil twenty years old,” Conversely, we have Ducky; A man that has a woman and child at home, working at KFC and taking his kid out in the Seville on weekends. The story tells of how Ducky did what he needed to do to get on Anthony’s good side as he was dangerous; And how it saved his life, this let Kendrick have his father AND a record producer (Anthony ended up publishing Lamar’s debut album “Section 80” from Top Dawg Entertainment). The song ends with the lines:

“Whoever thought the greatest rapper would be from coincidence?
Because if Anthony killed Ducky, Top Dawg could be servin’ life
While I grew up without a father and die in a gunfight”

When Lamar says “gunfight” he is interrupted by a gunshot. The same gunshot that kills young Kendrick in the beginning of the album, as the audience is left with the silence of death, they are taken with Lamar back to the blind woman, where he is to be judged.