After the massive critical and financial success that was To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar had two options for his next album: make something worse or make something different. Thankfully, Lamar chose the latter, creating an album just as politically charged and just as intricately produced but wholly different from the jazz and funk sound of Butterfly. For one thing, DAMN. is almost a third shorter than Cornrow Kenny’s previous outing, illustrating the differing paces of the two albums; Butterfly, although never failing to be engaging, is languid and unhurried for the majority of its runtime while DAMN., on the other hand, is immediate and demanding. Aided by their contrasting velocities, the two albums’ ideologies diverge, Butterfly preaching “loving yourself” and hope and DAMN. crying in anguish at the condemnation of the human race.
Nevertheless, there is a song for everyone on this album, from the passive to the active listener. “DNA.” and “XXX.” are particular highlights with their distinctive flow and gutsy beats. “PRIDE.” and “DUCKWORTH.” exemplify Lamar’s lyrical prowess. And longtime K-Dot fans will enjoy “FEAR.,” an extended, conceptual song that is reminiscent of the classics “Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst” and “Mortal Man.”
DAMN. might not be quite as groundbreaking as To Pimp a Butterfly, but that does not mean the album is not an essential listen. Lamar’s latest, a vociferous, pseudo-concept rap album, delves deeper into the his mind than ever before, an adamantly-stated mind map of one of the best rappers alive.