If “The Blacker The Berry” was agitprop with a lineage that stretches back to Public Enemy and Fear Of A Black Planet, “DNA” is emo-rap that owes its existence to Kanye West and 808s And Heartbreak, it is Drake without the hooks but with vastly superior rapping. And that’s the point with Kendrick Lamar, he doesn’t work on his hooks because, he has proven time and again, he has an innate sense of space, he finds holes where none exist. He has such a great ear and such a great sense of pace, Lamar is so great that he made polymath jazz wiz DJ Flying Lotus a go to guy, he is so good that he is overrated.
Kendrick is so good that his new release Damn. is a disappointment. By anybody else, you’d forgive its self-pitying silliness, its arguments with Fox News, its nobody prays me for cloying twittiness: Drake does that stuff better and much better and for just about as valid a reason. I always got off on Jay Z’s lavish self-reverence as a reflection of his joy in having escaped his childhood in the projects, but if Kendrick has got out of hell on earth Compton to complain how nobody loves him, why bother? To wrap it around a non-existence concept given credence by a not remotely resonant metaphor (he asks a blind woman if he can help her and she shoots him at the beginning and the action repeats at the end of the album), compare this to Untitled Unmastered. The man has gone from one of the most sampled albums in recent history to a manic depression and he can’t shake it off, and so while the black rap community wait for the sermon on the mount (Vince Staples called him the best rapper in the world), they get an hour with his therapist .
But how can you really deny Kendrick? “Humble.” (produced by the always masterful Mike Will Made-It) is a masterpiece of ego inflation where the proof is in the song’s very being and “Duckworth” (his given name) is a true story song about how his dad nearly got killed fifteen years before by Top Dawg, the very same man signed him to his first recording contract and is a superb ending to the album. U2 are on the most violent song on the album, the brutal “XXX.” a wrongheaded charge ahead into violence, that Lamar spits with venom –the verse is the best rap here. Those are the highlights, but everything sounds great, an army of producers all answered the call to arms and if any one of them had challenged Lamar it would’ve been a masterpiece.
They didn’t, it isn’t, his rhyming isn’t up to his own standards, the songs are pushed too hard by the production, the hooks are weak and the stickiness non-existence. Rumor has it Kendrick has another album ready for release, he better hurry because this won’t last the week.