ISSUE #0: THE MUSIC ISSUE
By Ira Jeter
The perfect word to describe how this album’s experience was. Having experienced Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City and To Pimp A Butterfly with a relatively good understanding of Kendrick, I was ready to listen to how things have changed for him. From BLOOD. to DUCKWORTH., I felt like I was encapsulated in Kendrick’s mind. The production is different from TPAB, which is a common theme for Kendrick, with TPAB’s production being worlds away from GKMC. The production is very versatile between tracks, swinging from a more recent hip-hop sound to boom bap to a super funky feel. It gives the album a vibe that fits what he’s talking about. As far as lyrics, I want to play off of the concept that theneedledrop’s (Anthony Fantano AKA The BEST TEETH IN THE GAME) review touched on (link below.)
For those who don’t know, Kendrick Lamar (born Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, June 17, 1987) is a rapper from Compton, CA. He started rapping as a teenager under the alias K. Dot. He gained a local following and the attention of Top Dawg (Anthony Tiffith), which led to him being signed to Top Dawg Entertainment. After releasing his first retail release ‘Overly Dedicated’ and his first album ‘Section.80’, he was finally called up to the main roster with the release of his industry debut album ‘Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City’.
Starting with Kendrick’s debut album, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, we see a very hopeful Kendrick. Fresh in the music industry, but knowing enough of the game from working under Top Dawg (Anthony Tiffith), Kendrick is living life as usual (as told by the skits included in the album’s songs.) I like to think of it as a prequel; he’s still directly dealing with hardships of a black man living in Compton, but he’s’ still hopeful for his music career. Fast forward to To Pimp A Butterfly. Kendrick is well established as a top artist, but this is the album we see his slow descent into his own mind. He struggles with self love and self worth, which could be a result of his newfound fame and not only what it’s doing to him, but to those around him (i.e. For Free?) Diverging from Fantano’s theory, I want to include untitled unmastered. This pseudo-album is comprised of things that didn’t make it to TPAB, but I suggest you give it a listen. It shows a part of the descent we didn’t get to see on TPAB. You can see he’s still struggling with himself, but you also see the beginning of him questioning his faith, which is prevalent on DAMN.
And now to deconstruct DAMN. He’s somewhat gotten on top of his conflicts with himself, but his questions about his faith and where he stands morally and politically speaks volumes throughout this album. In tracks like FEEL., he clearly states that he feels no one is praying for him, which can definitely present itself as a fork in his spiritual road. I think he’s more in tune with himself because he’s given a deeper backstory into his life (i.e. FEAR. and DUCKWORTH.), illustrating to the listener key points in his life that led him to where he is. One concept that I enjoyed from DAMN. (which was outed by his own fans) is the fact that the album can be played in reverse. That in itself gives you 2 ways to experience the album: from start to finish or in “reverse”, which I feel is how he intended us to hear it (I’ll explain at the end.) In a technical sense, it’s not his best work, but as far as lyrical impact, it’s the clearest picture of Kendrick’s mind we’ve seen so far.
To close, I want to quote one of Fantano’s closing statements, then explain why I feel the “reverse” is the best way to experience DAMN. Fantano remarks, ” I do see the value of releasing an album where you essentially document the war that goes on in one’s mind when you’re tackling issues like love and lust and fear and God, and what role these play in the world we’re living in today. But I think that Kendrick could’ve done a better job of just sitting on these ideas, mulling them over more, and possibly stringing together a more central idea to tie it all together just to give this album more impact.” The messages hit hard, but giving it a more central theme like his previous albums would’ve had a harder impact than it did. By no means did it make it a terrible album; it’s execution could’ve been better, but it still feels like Kendrick.
To explain why I think the “reverse” version is the album’s truest form, I’m gonna describe it in it’s current state. Kendrick dies in the introductory track and every track after is theoretically his life flashing before his eyes, ending with DUCKWORTH. This track had the most impact on me because the story wasn’t about him. It was about how Top Dawg and Ducky (Kendrick’s father) became good friends. Top planned on robbing the KFC that Ducky worked at. To keep his own head above water, every time Top would come in, Ducky would hook him up with free food. Top grew to like Ducky, and Ducky remained in young Kendrick’s life. Kendrick closes the album with the lines, “Because if Anthony killed Ducky, Top Dawg could be servin’ life while I grew up without a father and die in a gunf…” We then hear the gunshot from the first track and the album playing in reverse and the first words he spoke on the album. I believe the “reverse” version is how the album is intended to be heard because the original release is already reversed. Listening to the album in “reverse” puts DUCKWORTH. as the intro, basically foreshadowing his own story with how Top Dawg indirectly entered his life, and BLOOD. being how he dies. But the impact of the album being his life flashing before his eyes culminating to his accidental ‘origin story’ is almost ground shattering.
Favorite Song: DUCKWORTH.
Least Favorite: GOD.
Link to theneedledrop’s DAMN. review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RIGINiBYxis
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