Album review: Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.”

With hype building up after two surprise song drops, including an enigmatic concluding message of a potential album release date, Kendrick Lamar chose Good Friday to give his fans a new album entitled “DAMN.”Adding a 4th LP to his collection of highly praised and critically acclaimed albums, “DAMN.” has been well received by both fans and critics alike, and helps to solidify his position as one of the top rappers among his contemporaries.

Following the format of the title, each track consists of a single capital-lettered word and period combination, giving a sense of boldness to the album as Kendrick breaks away from conventional track list title formatting.

Many know Kendrick for his socially conscious lyrics, dynamic vocals, and calm confidence as he raps about his experiences, finding a formula for telling extremely vivid stories through his lyrics and skits on each album. Although “DAMN.” does not feature the frequent voice changes from past albums “Section 80” (2011), “good kid, m.A.A.d city” (2012), or “To Pimp a Butterfly” (2015), listeners can still hear Kendrick’s internal and external struggles being told expressively through the lyrics and his passion as he raps.

With a small list of features including Rihanna, Zacari and U2, this album seems more personal to Kendrick, as he invites listeners to view his inner conflicts, unpackaging many contrasting ideas through his lyrics and music in a dichotomous manner. Looking at the track list alone shows some conflicts that he is dealing with like “LOVE.” versus “LUST.,” or being “PROUD.” versus “HUMBLE.”

Kendrick also often shows us juxtapositions that he struggles with via his lyrics, and this album is no different, showing contrasts between life and death, found in the first track, or calling himself a savage and a king on the same line in another song. It is clear that Kendrick does not pretend the world is black and white, and often finds himself dealing with a gray area that is hard to define.

The underlying theme of Kendrick showing wickedness or weakness, morphing into a boastful or vulnerable attitude, also flows through many songs, as listeners hear him him bragging about his accomplishments or a shortcoming of him falling into temptation. Another apparent clash in the album is the music changes that are found on many of Lamar’s albums. Though he stepped away from the jazz roots that were so prevalent in “To Pimp a Butterfly,” “DAMN.” features both aggressive trap beats containing provocative, yelled-out lyrics paired alongside slower, intimate songs with soothing choruses, giving off a strong sense of contrast between every other track.

By the end of the album, listeners can tell that Kendrick is searching for answers to life’s questions along with us, and often times it seems he has not found them yet.

One thing that makes Kendrick and his music so intriguing is that his lyrics blur the line of simple rap rhymes and literary works. Many fans spend endless hours on forums or websites discussing the meaning of his lyrics, finding regularly that one word can have multiple meanings depending on which line it appears in or one line actually meaning the antithesis of its face value in the context of the song. “DAMN.” has helped provide evidence that Kendrick Lamar is just as good at storytelling as he is at rapping, both of which deserve high recognition; as he’s mastered both lyrical depth and rhyme delivery making it hard to deny his adequacy as an artist.

Kendrick gives listeners intimate insights into things he struggles with, rapping passionately about religion, race, lust, alcohol and depression, which most of us can relate to on some level, and what I think is so important about listening to Kendrick and his music is the connection that we gain access to through him. Though many listeners have not personally struggled explicitly with some of the experiences he raps about, we see his passion and connection to the struggles, and can empathize with these feelings and trials, helping listeners find a sense of humanity in the connection, which seems to be an artist’s goal all along.

“DAMN.” works as an album both to build Kendrick’s impressive repertoire by delivering genuine music that listeners can take inspiration from, while also giving an effective platform for Kendrick to express his inner struggles with current social issues and personal shortcomings to the audience.