kendrick lamar - damn. / by Zack Free

the heart-stopping apex of kendrick lamar's warped masterpiece, to pimp a butterfly, is an unsettling moment of inner clarity: "why did I weep when trayvon martin was in the street, when gang banging make me kill a n**** blacker than me?" "hypocrite," he growls, and you can feel him staring himself down. it's the kind of self-realization that artists dream of, and it's all over his fourth studio album, damn. musically, damn. is a jolting departure from the rich, wailing jazz of butterfly, focusing instead on the marriage of mammoth 808s and grim, twisted samples. there are also notable elements of psychedelia, a quality that gives parts of the album a gauzy, dreamlike atmosphere. lyrically, kendrick is in rare form, invoking the heady violence of some of compton's greatest disciples, but not without examining its cost. this album's "blacker the berry" moment is sandwiched within the stunning two-parter, "xxx." "ain't no black power when your baby killed by a coward," he grimaces, advising a mourning friend to get even. moments later, he halts the song to discuss the importance of gun control with a group of children. "pray for me," he pleads, and kendrick's conflict comes into blinding focus. damn. ends up acting as an indefinite bridge between lamar's bildungsroman, good kid m.a.a.d city, and his world-tackling to pimp a butterfly, a struggle to reconcile what he knows with what he knows is right. it's just as socially relevant as butterfly, and an essential piece of the kendrick puzzle A


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