Is Greatness in Kendrick Lamar’s “DNA?”

Kendrick Lamar’s latest album features violent, combative, and hard hitting tracks. Kendrick is regarded as the best rapper to date and attempts to assert his dominance yet again with his fourth studio album. But has Kendrick produced another classic or has he produced his first unsuccessful album?

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On April 14th, 2017, Kendrick Lamar released his fourth studio album, DAMN.

The Compton rapper has released successful albums in the past, namely “To Pimp a Butterfly” and “good kid, m.A.A.d city.” Critics gave both of these albums perfect scores. They regard “To Pimp a Butterfly” as the greatest rap album of the decade. After this, only a fool would deny that Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper.

All the hype around him has made for a highly anticipated album. He released two teaser tracks a month prior to the release of DAMN: “The Heart IV” and “HUMBLE.” Both of these tracks take a different approach from past songs. Kendrick typically laces songs with underlying themes about politics and social issues. For example, the song “Alright” talks about the never-ending struggle between African-Americans being blatantly slaughtered by racist police officers. Despite this, Kendrick claims that if the African-American culture stays together and rallies to make a change, then everything will be alright.

On the new tracks, his songs are combative and ridden with anxiety. The song “HUMBLE” repeatedly calls out an unnamed rapper, telling that rapper to “be humble, sit down.” Kendrick goes on to say that if he were to “quit the season, [he’ll] be the greatest.” Here he acknowledges his success and puts his music above other rappers. He continues this theme by saying — and I’m paraphrasing — “Who do you think you are? You think you’re better than me?” After that he says ,”Show me something that puts you above me” followed by “I’ll still take you down.” The overall message that Kendrick gets across is to realize that before you try to establish fame, realize that you’ve got work to do.

The track “DNA” is no different. “DNA” is the second track on the album, and it once again takes that aggressive approach which he took in “HUMBLE.” Kendrick talks about how his skill and his greatness is in his DNA. Meanwhile, everyone else lacks the ability to keep up with him.

One song that goes hand in hand with “DNA” is the song “BLOOD” — at least in terms of the titles. What Kendrick is trying to say is that his greatness and his ability to stand far above other artists is within him. It’s in his “DNA.” It’s in his “BLOOD.” Nobody else made him into the living legend he is today.

Throughout the album, Kendrick juxtaposes titles together to impose varying ideas. “HUMBLE” and “PRIDE” are the antithesis of each other, and yet each of those songs, ironically, has the opposite meanings of the other. In “PRIDE,” he sounds far more respectful than he does in “HUMBLE.” Kendrick even says,”I can’t fake humble,” and talks about his faults and his inability to love and trust people. That seems far more humble than telling someone that he’s better than them.

The songs “LOVE” and “LUST” also employ ideas that are contradictory. “LOVE” is a passionate song about Kendrick’s desire for a girl. He goes to great depths to show how much he cares about her, pushing other girls to the curb, outrunning other men to get to her. Above all, he wants to be with this girl. “LUST,” on the other hand, talks about how badly he wants to have a good time with a girl, not to mention how much he craves the fame, the money, and the feeling of being a top artist. He also uses sex as a metaphor, comparing it to the rush he gets from being famous.

The lyric “…it’s all contradiction” sums up a majority of these themes.

Overall, DAMN doesn’t hold up to its preceding albums. However, it’s still a quality album. DAMN doesn’t establish a theme; it constantly shifts back and forth between different themes. Kendrick typically doesn’t take this route in his albums, and always stays on point with his message. Like a broken record, he repeats his message over and over. It’s always clear what the point of his albums are. DAMN is scatterbrained, and many songs don’t flow with one another. As a whole, the album doesn’t make sense. If you split up various parts of the album, then his themes make sense.

But DAMN still succeeds in other aspects, such as in sound and writing. Kendrick’s producers nailed this album, and carried over that unique Kendrick sound. No song — not one — includes a generic drum beat or an overly synthesized melody like other rap songs do. What sets Kendrick apart from other artists is his uniqueness in sound. His songs introduce aspects of funk and jazz as well as unique rap beats. DAMN uses some of those same aspects; but what Kendrick does is rap against the beat, as opposed to rapping with it. This helped convey his anger and anxiety throughout the album.

The writing in this album shows Kendrick’s versatility as it shows an enraged version of who he is. Prior to the release of this album, several critics claimed that Lamar has no other style of writing and lacks other emotions. DAMN clearly goes against that, and shows how easily he can change his writing. He not only shows one emotion but instead shows anger, anxiety, love, and pride.  These emotions tell us more about who Kendrick is. We would not have known his anger towards other rap artists. We would not have known the anxiety he feels about fame. We would not have learned about his love of another person.

Final rating: 8/10

DAMN is no “To Pimp a Butterfly,” but it’s definitely a solid album. Has Kendrick cemented himself as the best rapper? Yes. This album doesn’t put his legacy into question; it only provides more evidence of what makes him a great rapper.