I'm so fuckin' sick and tired of the Photoshop show me somethin' natural like afro on Richard Pryor show me somethin' natural like ass with some stret
Storytelling has been Lamar’s greatest skill and most primary mission, to put into (lots of) words what it’s like to grow up as he did—to articulate, in human terms, the intimate specifics of daily self-defense from your surroundings.
Somehow, he’s gotten better. The raps on his fourth studio album DAMN. Jab mercilessly like a sewing machine. His boyish nasal instrument is distinct and inimitable as it slithers up and down in pitch on “PRIDE.” Even when Lamar sounds like sounds like various Pop and Rap kings he still manages to sound like himself, and he arguably outpaces most of them all as a writer.
On “FEAR.,” he relays daily threats from his mom (“I’ll beat your ass, keep talking back/I’ll beat your ass, who bought you that? You stole it”) and from his neighbors (“I’ll probably die because I ain’t know Demarcus was snitching/I’ll probably die at these house parties fucking with bitches”) over low-slung blues stirred by The Alchemist. Lamar’s recitation is so effortless you wonder where he breathes, or if he does at all.
After years of such releases, Kendrick dropped a self-titled EP in 2009 that featured Big Pooh from Little Brother and elicited such Nah Right comments as “I like the beats on this” and “who da fuk?” Accolades swelled with each project; by 2011, he was considering signing with Dr. Dre; by 2013, he was playing “SNL” and touring with Kanye West. He came of age with his fans, and by 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly, he put to music their chest-clenched frustrations.
Ever the curtain-puller, he released an album of untitled and unmastered drafts and grew his hair out. His short absence, even after lending Taylor Swift a verse, has been made to feel longer by his media shyness and a surging tide of new rappers shuttled out daily.
DAMN. is best in these philosophical spaces. It lags slightly around the center, where the concept loosens: “LOYALTY.,” with Rihanna, has all the makings of a radio mainstay this summer, and is as low-stakes as the platform demands; it’s always fun to hear Rih rap, and her presence is its most interesting aspect. “LUST.” would sound better if it weren’t next to an ear-worm as tender as “LOVE.,” which slow-dances between Zacari falsettos and Lamar’s sheepish read of the girl who fills him up. Between the two tracks, it’s easy to tell which force is tugging at him harder.