Black Panther: The Album review: Kendrick Lamar curates this worthy companion to the film


By now it’s no surprise that Black Panther is a worldwide cultural phenomenon. It received massive critical acclaim with many praising as one of the best films in the MCU and the superhero genre in general. It broke several box office records and is fast on track to making $1 billion in just 3 weeks since its release. It’s also no surprise that Kendrick Lamar is on the soundtrack. What is surprising however is that Kendrick Lamar along with his record label, Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE), founder Anthony Tiffith curated and executively produced the album. The album features many of Kendrick’s fellow artists signed to TDE including SZA, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock and Zacari but excluding Isaiah Rashad, SiR and Lance Skiiiwalker. Kendrick was initially only going to work on a few songs for the film, but after he watched a majority of the film, he decided to create the album which he mostly recorded while touring DAMN. (his latest album) around North America.

This soundtrack album can be classified as a solo Kendrick album in the same way as Prince’s Batman (1989) soundtrack is regarded as a Prince album. Kendrick is credited on all fourteen tracks on the album however he only features heavily on five tracks while making minor contributions to the rest of the album. So while the album can be seen as a Kendrick Lamar project it can’t be judged to the same high standards of his studio concept albums. But DAMN if the album isn’t also so good. Kendrick absolutely works well within the limitations of the album and makes it a unique, fresh-sounding and energetic companion piece to the biggest film of 2018 so far and one of the biggest Black cultural events in recent memory. The title track “Black Panther” immediately sets the tone for the album. We hear the sounds of matches being struck and ominous whispering and Kendrick begins to rap “King of my city, king of my country, king of my homeland / King of the filthy, king of the fallen, we livin’ again / King of the shooters, looters, boosters, and ghettos poppin’.” Kendrick makes the song relevant to themes of the film whilst simultaneously relating it to themes in his own personal music – the gang warfare going on in the streets of Compton. Of course, the film is partly set in Oakland, California a city suffering from similar issues making it relevant.

“All The Stars” the lead single from the album featuring SZA is one of only three tracks actually featured in the film, the others being “Opps” and “Pray for Me.” I’ll admit at first I was very lukewarm on the track. I thought the production by Sounwave was too poppy and that Kendrick’s lyrics weren’t his sharpest. I still think SZA absolutely outshines Kendrick on this track, as other collaborators do on this album, and I now love the production. The pulsating beat, subtle sounds, orchestrated strings it sounds incredibly beautiful. When I saw the music video, a visually inventive treat celebrating the diverse cultures in Africa it finally clicked. SZA’s hook is an absolute earworm and the song is so catchy. The album is chock full of bangers. “X” featuring Schoolboy Q, 2 Chainz and Saudi sounds far too good for an album soundtrack. Although Kendrick has a verse he allows his guests to take the spotlight with Schoolboy Q delivering the best verse. On “Opps” he delivers a great verse backed by pounding West African drums, Vince Staples gives a punchy short verse but South African rapper Yugen Blakrok steals the show with her biting flow and hoarse aggressive voice.

Tracks such as “The Ways”, “I Am”, “Redemption Interlude” and “Redemption” along with “All The Stars” are the poppier tracks on the album but the production is still excellent. “The Ways” features pop singer, Khalid, and Rae Sremmurd member Swae Lee who both harmonise with sweet vocals. “I Am” features British breakthrough artist Jorja Smith who adds a British soul flair to the album. “Redemption” and “Redemption Interlude” both feature Zacari with the interlude featuring South African singer Babes Wodumo. “Paramedic!” features California Bay Area group SOB x RBE who dominate the track with unique regional flows and cadences while Kendrick plays background. Kendrick’s hook is however infectious “I wish a nigga would / I wish a nigga would, I wish a nigga would / I wish a bitch would.” “King’s Dead” features James Blake, Jay Rock as well as Kendrick of course. While I really enjoy both Kendrick and Jay Rock’s verses I absolutely love Future’s for how hilariously absurd his falsetto singing of “La di da di da, slob on me knob” is. This album is not only great as a soundtrack album connecting the themes of the film but works as an album on its own. Kendrick Lamar and his collaborators have created a very diverse album full of fresh sounds, bangers and pop tracks, popular and unknown rappers, local West Coast and American and South African artists. As he continues to push boundaries Kendrick Lamar has raised the standards for future soundtrack albums.

Kendrick Lamar at the O2 review: the king makes a stunning return to London on the biggest stage

By now you should be familiar with how much of a superstar Kendrick Lamar is. If you aren’t, where have you been? His latest album DAMN. was both critically acclaimed and his most commercially successful yet including his first number one single as a lead artist “HUMBLE.” and was Billboard’s Year-End number one album of 2017. He won four out of seven Grammys he was nominated for at this year’s ceremony making a total of twelve Grammys under his belt. He is the undisputed king of hip-hop and he proved it to a crowd of 20, 000 adoring fans this Tuesday at the O2 arena in London. Coming off the back of the massive success that DAMN. had Kendrick couldn’t stop there. He had been working on the official Black Panther soundtrack album while touring DAMN. around North America, which he curated and executive produced and appears on most of the tracks. The hype was real.

I’m a huge Kendrick fan. Like embarrassingly huge. Like I’ve had him as my phone wallpaper for months. Like I cried the first time I saw him perform live. I first saw him in 2015, he didn’t tour To Pimp a Butterfly but he did make festival rounds. I caught him at Leeds Festival and I was blown away by how much of an incredible experience it was. To Pimp a Butterfly is still my favourite album, ever. For the Leeds Festival performance, he had a live band and they sounded so great. When I saw him again at British Summer Time Festival it was a similar experience not as emotional but an even better performance. Third time lucky because he gave the best performance that I’ve seen live on Tuesday, the second date of a two-day London stop on the European leg of The DAMN. Tour. DAMN. has a much more minimalist approach in its production than To Pimp a Butterfly. That isn’t to say the production isn’t also incredible but whereas To Pimp a Butterfly had jazz and funk production and live instrumentation the production on DAMN. is much more stripped back and bass-heavy. There was no live band or DJ on stage just Kendrick.

Supporting Kendrick was James Blake who had collaborated with Kendrick on “ELEMENT.” and the recently released track from the Black Panther soundtrack “King’s Dead.” I missed most of James Blake but I managed to get to my seat and catch a couple of songs. I wasn’t too gutted as I had already seen James Blake headline Field Day Festival in 2016. When James Blake finished his set the anticipation was palpable. A huge black curtain with the words “DAMN. THE DAMN. TOUR” covered the stage and fans eagerly hurried to their seats. Before long the curtains lifted and on a large screen on stage played the short film which accompanied the album “The Legend of Kung Fu Kenny.” A slightly tongue-in-cheek take on Chinese martial arts films featuring Kendrick as a Kung Fu warrior on a quest it played at different times during the set. Kendrick appeared on stage resplendent in a regal white robe looking angelic, godly even. He began with a bang performing the fiery “DNA.” a track which blew my mind when I first heard it. He didn’t quite match the studio version considering the vocal effects and editing involved in making that track a Molotov cocktail but he spat the bars with incredible dexterity and breath control.

The set was expertly constructed. There were brief interludes where pre-recorded vocals repeated “ain’t nobody praying for me” a recurring line on the album. He didn’t just perform tracks from DAMN. he also performed “Goosebumps” a track he features on by Travis Scott and “Collard Greens” by label-mate ScHoolboy Q. He also performed songs from his back catalogue including “King Kunta”, “Backseat Freestyle” and “Money Trees.” For “FEEL.” He simply had a performer dressed as a ninja with a blade performing incredible dances moves to the instrumental. When that ended he appeared on another stage, the golden circle, and performed “LUST.” with lucky fans surrounding him, while he performed the stage rose and a cage formed around him. For one of my favourite tracks on DAMN., “PRIDE.” he performed on the main stage but lying down on the stage. My favourite moment of the entire night, however, was after he performed “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe.” The energy in the crowd was at its peak and the entire arena erupted in woos, cheers, applause and shouts. It lasted for several minutes, Kendrick watching on stage in awe. Every time I’ve seen Kendrick he seems incredibly humble you know he still can’t believe he’s performing in front of 20, 000 thousands of miles from his hometown. He expressed his gratitude calling London “his second home.” The set concluded with “Alright”, my personal favourite track by him and “HUMBLE.” which he had the crowd perform the hook and then performed it a second time. What an end to the night…but wait no, not without an encore performance of “GOD.” He absolutely commanded the crowd on that night. The king’s not dead he’s very much alive and the greatest living rapper.


Top 10 favourite albums of 2017

2017 has been a very eventful year for music. Kendrick Lamar continued his dominance of the rap game releasing another critically acclaimed and commercially successful album, DAMN., and taking the charts by storm. Drake released a “playlist” called More Life which introduced the world to UK rap legend Giggs and further confused those with his ever changing accent. UK actor and comedian, Michael Dapaah in character as Big Shaq became one of the biggest memes of 2017 and released the biggest UK rap song ever “Man’s Not Hot” after the success of his viral Fire in the Booth freestyle with Charlie Sloth. Sampha finally released his debut album Process, which won the Mercury Prize, and captured the world with his beautiful soulful voice. SZA, Syd, Kelela, Daniel Caesar, Brent Faiyaz and more released some of the smoothest alternative R&B albums in a while. JAY-Z got everyone talking when he admitted he cheated on Beyonce (stupid) and released some of his best music in a while and some incredible music videos. And throughout the year, there was so much amazing black British music. J Hus, Stormzy, Skepta, Dave, Little Simz, Krept & Konan, MoStack, Giggs, AJ Tracey, Kojey Radical, Wiley, Not3s, Nadia Rose, Chip, 67, Kojo Funds and more all released amazing projects and songs this year. So let’s get into it. These are my top 10 favourite albums released in 2017 from favourite to slightly less favourite.



Moses Sumney — Aromanticism

One might be tempted to label Moses Sumney as an R&B or alternative R&B artist because he’s a black singer but he’s much more similar to an Elliot Smith than say Chris Brown. On his debut album Aromanticism, Sumney softly coos in his falsetto about loneliness and isolation backed by ambient and indie folk instrumentation. Think Dirty Projectors or Arca. His voice is often a quiet whisper a perfect vessel for delivering his beautifully written poetic lyrics. Sumney joins other current soulful black singers like Sampha and Benjamin Clementine who are creating some of the most unique music melding the genres of electronic, indie, soul, baroque, folk and R&B music in a distinctly black style.



LCD Soundsystem — American Dream

In February 2011 LCD Soundsystem disbanded and it was made official following a large farewell concert at Madison Square Garden. The farewell concert was chronicled in the documentary film Shut Up and Play the Hits. So it came as surprise when in January 2016 the band announced their reunion and a day later their fourth studio album American Dream. LCD Soundsystem return without a hitch with American Dream, still sounding like quintessential LCD but with some bells and whistles. They return with their distinct dance-punk and new wave sound but updated and refreshed for 2017. Frontman James Murphy muses on the current turbulent political climate with his unique brand of lyricism. It’s a great return to form and shows that no one does dance-punk/rock better than LCD Soundsystem but nice try Arcade Fire.



Slowdive — Slowdive

Legendary English shoegazing and dream pop band reunited in 2017 for the first time in 22 years since the release of their last album Pygmalion in 1995. Along with My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive are regarded as one of the best and most influential dream pop and shoegazing bands ever. Their latest, self-titled, album after more than two decades proves why they’re so critically acclaimed. When an album is self-titled it sets very high expectations and Slowdive definitely exceeded them on this album. They sound as dreamy as ever but their new songs are even more vibrant and fresh, the wash of guitars and reverb entrancing you in bittersweet memories and nostalgia.



Jay-Z — 4:44

After the disappointments that were Magna Carta Holy Grail and The Blueprint 3 Jay-Z is back to prove why he’s still considered one of the greatest rappers of all time. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Jay-Z, I got into hip-hop when I was around 13/14 so the first Jay-Z album I remember coming out and listening to was Magna Carta Holy Grail which massively disappointed me. I always preferred Nas and Biggie to Jay. 4:44 is Hov going back to basics, leaving behind the braggadocio and ego and being more vulnerable and honest than he’s ever been. The album is brief and the production is stripped back solely handled by long-time collaborator, No I.D. and Jay-Z himself. The album succeeds immensely with tracks like “The Story of O.J.” being among the best this year.



SZA — Ctrl

SZA’s debut album could have come a few years earlier but because of issues with her confidence and lack of control it didn’t. But it came this year which was the perfect time because this has been SZA’s year. Almost every black woman I know has loved SZA’s album and related to it in some way. As the sole female member of indepedent hip-hop label TDE, which has produced some of the biggest artists in hip-hop including Kendrick Lamar, she’s an odd fit. But like most members of TDE she’s incredibly talented. The production on Ctrl is very smooth and reminiscent of 90s neo-soul yet simultaneously contemporary and unique. The album also has an indie spirit with dreamy guitar riffs such as the one on “Drew Barrymore” the anthem for misfit girls everywhere. Her voice is expressive and her lyrics are poignant as they are relatable for weird, awkward black girls.


Vince Staples — Big Fish Theory

After the critical acclaim of his debut album Summertime ’06 Vince Staples could have easily played it safe with his sophomore album and repeated the success. However, Vince does the opposite on Big Fish TheoryBig Fish Theory is one of the most unique hip-hop albums in recent years and as experimental as a relatively mainstream hip-hop artist gets. Of course Vince is not going to be topping charts any time soon but with his infamous interviews and hilarious Twitter account he’s increasingly popular. Big Fish Theory is a very unique album, it’s production is totally electronic there isn’t a single beat I could call traditional hip-hop. The album has a mix of different electronic genres including UK garage, house, techno and EDM. Vince flows incredibly well on these unconventional beats and enlists Kendrick Lamar on “Yeah Right” one of the best bangers of the year.



Tyler, the Creator — Flower Boy

Flower Boy also known as Scum Fuck Flower Boy is I wanted Tyler to make after Cherry Bomb. While Cherry Bomb wasn’t a bad album, Tyler’s experimentation with production meant it was often a difficult listen and he didn’t always pull it off. But he showed glimpses of the greatness that appears on Flower Boy. When Flower Boy leaked it started a lot of speculations about Tyler’s sexuality referring to some not so subtle lyrics on the album. Tyler has still not confirmed these rumours despite some who point to tweets he’s made in the past. The thing about Tyler is that no one takes him seriously because he’s sometimes too much of a joker. But I think Tyler wants us to take him seriously  on Flower Boy and let the music speak for itself because he doesn’t use the persona of Wolf Haley on this album it’s just Tyler Okonma. And Tyler Okonma is very talented. Flower Boy has some of the most beautiful production, soulful singing and honest poignant lyrics on any album this year. It’s been great watching Tyler grow into a mature artist and I can’t wait to see what he does next.



J Hus — Common Sense

2017 has been an incredible year for black British music as I mentioned in my introduction and J Hus’ Common Sense is a stand out. J Hus has been making massive waves since he broke out in 2015 and it’s great to see that he’s been able to turn that talent into a great album. Common Sense is the perfect encapsulation of young black Britain in 2017, it captures the mad raves, the dance-hall and afrobeats hall parties, the roads; the essence of young black British African and Caribbean life. The production on Common Sense (most of which is handled by JAE5) is fantastic, from the jazzy title track “Common Sense” to a grime rave banger “Clartin” and UK garage tunes like “Plottin.” J Hus is undeniably one of the most talented artists in the UK and I’m so excited to see what he does next.



Sampha — Process

I’m so glad to have another black British artist not just in my top 10 but in the top 3. Not to go on about it but it really has been an incredible for black British music. In any other year, Process could be my number one but a certain someone had to release another masterpiece. But what an incredible album Process is and well worth the wait. Sampha has caught people’s attention since appearing throughout SBTRKT’s self-titled debut album in 2011 stunning everyone with his angelic soulful voice. I’ve seen Sampha live and honestly he sounds even more incredible live like that’s even possible. By having literally one of the most beautiful voices ever Process could have had average production and I would have loved listening to it. Thankfully that’s not the case as the production is also great handled by Sampha himself and Rodaidh McDonald. It’s production is electronic similar to James Blake but it’s also very soulful. He bares his soul on this album singing about his anxiety, fear, loneliness and grief. A standout track is the piano ballad “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” dedicated to his late mother it’s the most emotional, touching song in an album full of heartwarming moments.



Kendrick Lamar — DAMN.

And it’s no surprise that my number one album of 2017 is a Kendrick Lamar album. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a Kendrick Stan but this pick is only slightly biased because I genuinely think DAMN. is the best album of 2017. It had some fierce competition and I’ve had Process over it a few times but in the end I think I made the best decision. No other album in 2017 affected me as much as DAMN. After To Pimp a Butterfly which is my favourite album ever I eagerly anticipated what Kendrick would do next. I don’t think  he will ever top To Pimp a Butterfly, at least for me but he came pretty DAMN. close. On DAMN. whose concept I still haven’t fully begun to unpack yet, Kendrick goes internal examining his now messianic status, his fears and anxieties and the state of the world we’re living in with excellent results. “FEAR.” the album’s centrepiece is one of the best Kendrick Lamar songs ever, a 7-minute epic detailing his life from the age of 7 to now. “HUMBLE.” proves that he’s capable of making of chart-topping bangers without sacrificing lyricism. On “DNA.” he goes in on his critics and does lyrical acrobatics. The album is full of highlights and while there are some more poppy songs like “LOYALTY.” and “LOVE.” Kendrick continues to prove that he’s the greatest active living hip-hop artist. After To Pimp a Butterfly was released there was not doubt Kendrick Lamar was one of the greatest rappers of all time (and my personal number one) there’s no absolutely reason why anyone should think otherwise after DAMN.

Kendrick Lamar: DAMN. review – still powerful but smaller in scope DAMN. looks inward and finds a boundary-pushing artist fearful and anxious


I’ve been a huge fan of Kendrick Lamar since I first heard Section.80 in 2011 and was blown away not only by his technical rapping skills but also his artistic vision. When Kendrick released Good Kid, M.A.A.D City in 2012 I thought “there is no way he can top this.” It was an incredible album. A conceptual album which told the story of the now legendary rapper and artist, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth growing up in the notorious city of Compton, California. On the record Kendrick told touching personal anecdotes of a life we’ve seen depicted in films such as Boyz n the Hood and Menace II Society and heard about in the gangsta rap of the late 80s and early 90s from hip-hop artists such as N.W.A., Ice Cube and 2pac – the latter of which is Kendrick’s biggest influence. The album was very critically and commercially successful earning Kendrick five Grammy Award nominations and giving him the worldwide fame and recognition he deserved. The world eagerly (and anxiously) awaited what he would do next but no one could have predicted it would be 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly. Although, it was still a concept album as his past two albums had been Butterfly was radically different in sound from anything Kendrick had released before. The album drew its sonic influences largely from the dance-able politically charged jazz and funk of the 70s such as The Isley Brothers, James Brown, Fela Kuti and George Clinton, the latter of which was featured on the opening track “Wesley’s Theory.” The album was instantly hailed as a masterpiece, it earned Kendrick 11 Grammy Award nominations (five of which he won!) and one of its singles “Alright” became the protest anthem for Black Lives Matter marches across the globe.

Two years on from Butterfly and Kendrick Lamar has released DAMN., his fourth (third major) studio album. The album received very little build-up in promotion, Kendrick was already one of the biggest rappers in the game only really competing with Drake. On  March 23, 2017 he released The Heart Part 4, the latest in his series of hard-hitting songs which asserted his dominance as the king of hip-hop. On March 30, 2017 he released “HUMBLE.along with an amazing music video, a braggadocious banger produced by Mike Will Made It. But I have to admit when I first heard “HUMBLE.”, I was a little worried that Kendrick would be going too broad and commercial with this album. I knew I would love it regardless because I’m a shameless Kendrick stan but I was still a little anxious. To Pimp a Butterfly had become my favourite album of all time (yes I really mean it) that album changed my life and opened my mind, made me alert, angry, sad yet hopeful. I also wanted more of the jazz and funk and more of the spoken word and poetry. But Kendrick never does the same thing twice. He’s always pushing himself to new creative directions and that’s what makes him one of the most important and talented artists alive. I shouldn’t have doubted at all, after two weeks of listening almost constantly I can say confidently that DAMN. is an exceptional album.

DAMN. opens with “BLOOD.”, it has some haunting vocals from Bēkon, who appears throughout the album. He sings “Is it wickedness? Is it weakness? You decide. Are we gonna live or die?” and this line recurs throughout the album and forms the premise of the album. The meaning I got from this line is that we all have the innate traits of wickedness and weakness inside of us that motivate us to do things and guide our emotions. And will it be wickedness or weakness which cause our ultimate demise, we the listener are encouraged to decide. Whether Kendrick is talking about all of humanity or black people specifically is ambiguous. Like the poem in Butterfly, this line makes the listener think deeper about the album’s themes however unlike the poem we don’t get an interview with 2pac at the end of the album explaining what it means. While, Butterfly was a really complex, intricate album which explored big socio-political themes and there’s a lot which can still be learnt from it, DAMN. albeit smaller in scope is an even more complex and perplexing album because it’s themes are more personal and internal, it’s lyrics often cryptic and ambiguous.  Two years on from Butterfly, there are finer details of the album I still discover or hear afresh even after countless listens but I’ve got a good grasp on the album, with DAMN. I suspect it will take even longer. After two weeks there’s no way I will be able to unpack all the themes and meanings in DAMN. but I will try my best to touch on some of them. On “BLOOD.” Kendrick tells the story of how he was shot by a blind woman perhaps representing Lady Justice, a personification of justice. This I argue may suggest the betrayal of the criminal justice system against African-Americans as the track ends with a sample from FOX News reporters quoting Kendrick’s performance of “Alright” at the 2015 BET awards: “Lamar stated his views on police brutality with that line in the song, quote: “and we hate the popo, wanna kill us in the street fo’ sho’…” which leads into “DNA.”.



DAMN, K-Dot you straight snapped on this one!! Kung Fu Kenny fly kicked this beat in the head. This is bombbbbb!! 🔥🔥🔥💯💯💯 Who got you mad, huh? 🤔 Sorry I had to do that haha. But DAMN indeed. This track produced by Mike WiLL Made-It is an absolute scorcher and Kendrick repeats the line “I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA.” He deems himself as loyal and celebrates the African genetics in his blood, the royalty of black people as he did on I” on Butterfly. He viciously attacks FOX news reporter, Geraldo Rivera on the bridge, a sample of Rivera saying “this is why I say that hip hop has done more damage to young African Americans than racism in recent years” before launching into a fiery second verse in a rapid fire machine-gun flow “tell me somethin’ you motherfuckers can’t tell me nothin’.” It is absolutely jaw-dropping.

“YAH.” is a chill track as Kendrick raps in a slow cadence and has some Jamaican sounding background vocals. He again attacks Fox news directly calling them out “somebody tell Geraldo this nigga got some ambition” however the lines that follow are more interesting. “I’m not a politician, I’m not ’bout a religion / I’m a Israelite, don’t call me Black no mo.” Throughout the album Kendrick is struggling with his faith, Kendrick is a Christian and his faith in God has been explored on his previous albums but on DAMN. Kendrick is struggling to believe in God because he’s suffering so much. It doesn’t mean he’s not religious anymore but as someone who was religious but lost faith as I started to question it I completely understand why he feels like this. I don’t think Kendrick is denouncing religion or his black identity but his black identity has been attacked so he feels like identifying with the Israelites and his faith in God is shaken because he is struggling with so much fear and anxiety. Kendrick showed that he was conflicted and struggled with the temptations of fame especially on black artists in the music industry on Butterfly. On DAMN. Kendrick really reflects on the stress, fear and anxiety which he feels because the world is looking up to him as a (black) messiah.

This is fully explored on the track “FEEL.”, one of the most emotional tracks on the album. Thundercat’s bass and the production on this song gives the lyrics all the emotional power they needs. Like “U” on Butterfly, Kendrick is crying for help on “FEEL.” “I feel like the whole world want me to pray for ’em. But who the fuck prayin’ for me?” this line hits hard because it shows just how vulnerable he is despite being seen by the world as a messiah. He is brutally honest on this track, listing all the ways he feels vulnerable. The line “I feel like this gotta be the feelin’ what ‘Pac was. The feelin’ of an apocalypse happenin'” while there isn’t an interview with 2pac on this album Kendrick clearly still has 2pac in mind. On DAMN., Kendrick goes back and forth between bangers, poppy tracks and emotional tracks. Almost every track has a counterpart, “PRIDE.” and “HUMBLE.”, “LOVE.” and “LUST.”, “FEAR.” and “GOD..” “ELEMENT.” comes before “FEEL.” but is tonally very different. On “ELEMENT.”, co-produced by James Blake, Kendrick boastfully raps “If I gotta slap a pussy-ass nigga, I’ma make it look sexy”, it’s a really catchy hook. On “LOYALTY. FEAT. RIHANNA.”, “LOVE. FEAT. ZACARI.” and “GOD.”, three of the most commercial sounding songs on the album Kendrick proves that he can make pop songs as well as rap better than anyone in the game. With DAMN.‘s already stellar commercial and critical success he’s proved himself right. Although these are the weakest tracks on the album, there are still enjoyable songs with great production.

“PRIDE.” and “LUST.” has some of the most interesting production on the album. “PRIDE.”  is co-produced by 18-year old The Internet (the band) bassist, Steve Lacy. “PRIDE.”‘s watery guitar make it sound like an lo-fi indie rock song (Kendrick Lamar and Sufjan Stevens collab anyone?) and frequent collaborator, Anna Wise’s sweet vocals on the hook are welcome. On “LUST.” co-produced by Canadian jazz quartet BADBADNOTGOOD, Kendrick raps in a soft smooth cadence and flow reminiscent of OutKast’s Andre 3000. Kendrick raps “I need some water” this could have the metaphorically meaning of needing some water for his thirst (lust) or it could also mean water representing spiritual cleansing and baptism.

As well as “DNA.” the two other standouts on DAMN. are “XXX. FEAT. U2” (I know) and “FEAR.” “XXX.” begins with Bono singing “America, God bless you if it’s good to you /  America, please take my hand / Can you help me underst-” and DJ Kid Capri’s recurring tag “New Kung Fu Kenny.” The production on this track is ridiculously great! Co-produced by Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, DJ Dahi, Sounwave & Mike WiLL Made-It, the song has so many different parts and layers. It begins with Kendrick rapping in a sinister cadence almost sounding like 21 Savage with a bass-heavy beat and scratching, then he switches into a more aggressive voice and police sirens become part of the beat. “I’ll chip a nigga, then throw the blower in his lap / Walk myself to the court like, “Bitch, I did that!” / Ain’t no Black Power when your baby killed by a coward” these few lines shows the violence and aggression that Kendrick lived in his youth but on this track he almost threatens it because America has disappointed him and he would be forced to resort to violence.  This track and these lines also reflect on black-on-black violence , Kendrick has come under fire before for talking about black people respecting ourselves but I think this is often misunderstood. What Kendrick is talking about is self-love and community and in his community black people kill each other because of a system that has failed them. The second verse finds Kendrick talking explicitly about America, the line “America’s reflections of me, that’s what a mirror does” perfectly sums it up and Bono’s outro is honestly beautiful.

“FEAR.” is possibly my favourite track on the entire album. It is also the longest track at 7 minutes. It samples 70s soul/funk group 24-Carat Black’s song “Poverty’s Paradise” and is produced by The Alchemist, it sounds more than any song on DAMN. like Butterfly. It begins with a voicemail from Kendrick’s cousin Carl who gives some advice and quotes scripture “Deuteronomy 28:28 says, “The Lord shall smite thee with madness, and blindness, and astonishment of heart.” The bridge from Charles Edward Sydney Isom Jr. has the lines “Why God, why God do I gotta suffer? / Pain in my heart carry burdens full of struggle” which perfect describes how Kendrick has felt throughout this album. The entire track perfectly encapsulates the themes and emotions explored on the album. The second verse is truly incredible. Kendrick shows so much vulnerability and it’s seriously affecting. Like he did on “FEEL.” Kendrick repeats a phrase at the beginning of several lines “I’ll prolly die anonymous / I’ll prolly die with promises / I’ll prolly die walkin’ back home from the candy house.” With the line “I’ll prolly die from one of these bats and blue badges” Kendrick raps about his fear of dying from police brutality, a serious issue in the United States disproportionately affecting African-Americans. The line “I’ll prolly die ’cause that’s what you do when you’re 17” hits really hard because it’s just so depressing Kendrick thinks he will die just because he’s a young black male because as statistics show the leading cause of death for black males between ages 15-19 was homicide (45.3%) in the United States.  As a young black man living in the United Kingdom who was once 17, I’ve felt (sometimes still feel) the same way, though police brutality is much less on an issue here statistics show that a disproportionate number of those who die in or following police custody following the use of force are from black and minority ethnic communities. And as a nervous young black boy who had recently moved to the country I was very fearful for my life during the first few years of secondary school. I thought I’d die before I made it to 20 and now I’m 20 I’m fearful I’ll die before 30. That’s why this line affects me so much. In the third verse Kendrick then raps about how he felt when he was 27 and “at 27 years old, my biggest fear was bein’ judged / How they look at me reflect on myself, my family, my city” this was after releasing To Pimp a Butterfly and the spotlight being on him and Compton. In the fourth verse, Kendrick raps about how he feels now “I’m talkin’ fear, fear of losin’ creativity” and at his current age of 29 Kendrick feels fear even more because as 2pac said in the interview on “Mortal Man” on Butterfly “once you turn 30 it’s like they take the heart and soul out of a [black] man.” The track ends with another voicemail from his cousin Carl and he talks about how “Blacks, Hispanics, and Native American Indians, are the true children of Israel” and “until we come back to these laws, statutes, and commandments, and do what the Lord said, these curses are gonna be upon us.” This statement has proved to be controversial online and I’m not going to unpack it but it isn’t clear it’s something Kendrick agrees with but it’s definitely something he’s thought about.

Finally, the last track on DAMN. is “DUCKWORTH.” which tells the riveting tale of how Kendrick’s father “Ducky” narrowly escaped death because he offered Anthony “Top Dawg”, the co-president of TDE (Top Dawg Entertainment) Kendrick’s label, free chicken and two extra biscuits. It’s an incredible well told story with great production from 9th Wonder, the beat switch is great and the vocal samples give it a really satisfying concluding feel. The last lines encapsulates the premise of wickedness and weakness “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.” It was weakness that meant Anthony spared Ducky’s life and wickedness would have meant Kendrick would grow up without a father and likely die in a homicide. I’m grateful that Anthony offered Ducky free chicken and biscuits because it allowed me a young black man from England to relate to the music of another black man from America, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, the greatest rapper of all time.