Back to Kendrick Lamar today, and for my tastes, “DAMN.” is by far my favorite of the albums I have listened to in his catalog. The mix of songs is more aggressive, in many cases tapping into a heavier dose of bass, beats, and hooks. By most critic’s standards, this album is not as highly acclaimed as his last two albums, but it is much more in line with my preferences for hip-hop. It is rated as album #175 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Like many hip-hop albums, “DAMN.” opens with a subtle, somewhat haunting opening track, “BLOOD.”. However, that pace shifts dramatically with “DNA.”. This is one of two songs (naturally my two favorites) that just drop the bass, beat and vocal with reckless abandon, and it is a thunderous treat indeed.
My son tells me that his favorite sequence on the album is the trilogy of “DNA.”, “YAH.”, and “ELEMENT.”. It’s hard to push back on that concept. All three are among the best on the record. “YAH.” is a bit more low-fi and subtle, but it comes with a trance-like groove. “ELEMENT.” steps up the intensity level again, with some of Kendrick’s very best flow featured on this song.
Other highlights include “LOYALTY.”, featuring Rihanna. The second single on the album, these two are a perfect pairing and gel so wonderfully on this mid-tempo jam.
As much as I like this entire album, my number one favorite song is the first single from the album, “HUMBLE.”. Like “DNA.”, the intensity and power of this song are stunning. Kendrick is not only phenomenal, but the production around this track raises it to a level that justifies its success as a #1 single.
I can’t say I’m completely surprised to hear U2 on this album, as they and Kendrick have displayed a willingness to take on just about any unexpected collaboration. Even though their role on “XXX.” is somewhat limited, Larry Mullen Jr. kills it on his drumbeat, and Bono’s instantly recognizable voice again raises this song to a higher level. They add to a good song and make it great and serve as the power of talent from different genres making each other even more impactful.
More than ever, I now understand and respect why Kendrick Lamar is the unquestioned king of today’s hip-hop world. I don’t know at this point what, if any, role Dr. Dre contributed to the more concise and tighter structure of this album, as he is credited as Executive Producer, but this masterpiece definitely portrays the very best of current hip-hop.