Kendrick Lamar provokes thought

Sam Malone

Nominated for Album of the Year along with six other categories, “DAMN” by Kendrick Lamar is a clearly motivated and thought-provoking album.

Lamar has always displayed different vocal personas in his albums, and “DAMN” is no different as he opens with “BLOOD,” delivering a suckerpunch to listeners. Lamar speaks rhythmically as a symphony of music swells behind him, and his oral story builds to a climax, timing perfectly with the jarring “pop” of a gunshot in the background, silencing everything and everyone for a moment.

Turning inward with this album, Lamar poses questions on the duality of human nature but often refers to his own struggles, giving the album its own duality. With Bible scriptures cited throughout, Lamar uses his lyrics to push uncomfortable conversations about things like “LOYALTY,” “LUST,” and “FEAR,” all tracks on the album.

“Tell me who you loyal to. Is it money, is it fame, is it weed, is it drink,” Lamar asks as the music stops in the bridge of “LOYALTY,” which features Rihanna. “Is it comin’ down with the loud pipes and the rain? Big chillin’ only for the power in your name.”

The universal theme pokes its head as Lamar prompts questions of his listeners’ loyalty, while using his own shortcomings to do so. Lamar’s lyrics and music align like the planets, allowing for silences when needed and blasts of color when appropriate, giving him an advantage.

Using techniques like panning and playing in reverse, Lamar is able to add an intense interest to the music production, spiking the album with little hits of excitement. “LUST,” the album’s ninth track, highlights both of these techniques, demonstrating his ability to stylize his music as well as his lyrics.

A musically driven song, “LUST” provides insight into Lamar’s musical world as he again raps about his own personal struggles with temptation. The combination of poetic lyrics and driving music add to the personal spin Lamar is able to produce on this album, inside and out.

While the album successfully does many of these things, at times Lamar’s intense rapping can be a headache. While some may appreciate the 90 mile an hour lyrics, it sometimes feels like too much is going on and the world is going to cave in.

There is a likelihood this is Lamar’s intention as he feels overwhelmed by his sins, but in any case, it is a bit too over-the-top, as his vocal melodies become screams and the music becomes a storm of unbearable beats.

Weaving his two talents together, the only thing “DAMN” suffers from is its raw and intense passion, which can sometimes be too much.

“DAMN,” a commentary on human existence, exemplifies Lamar’s ability to fuse together each part of an album and create a whole, working machine. From punchy lyrics to swelling instrumentation, the album is a knock out to anyone who thought they knew hip-hop. Using music for impact as often as words, Lamar’s album is an example of what new music can be in its totality.