Rather than a steady stream of output like most artists, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth – a prodigy from Compton in South Central Los Angeles – prefers to focus on quality over quantity and has released three masterpieces since 2012.
There are rumors (I might be creating them from wishful thinking, who knows) that Kendrick Lamar is working on new music for 2020. Thus, he begins to become more relevant.
Here, I’m going to take a closer look at his last two albums (ignoring for the moment the Black Panther soundtrack that he put together): To Pimp A Butterfly in 2015 and DAMN. from 2017.
In the summer of 2015, I was sitting in the back of my dad’s Dodge Journey on the way to a camping trip. We were listening to Kendrick Lamar’s new album To Pimp A Butterfly and I, being an awkward 12-year-old whiteboy who only really listened to The Strokes, was completely shocked at all of the explicit content. I don’t think we listened past the For Free? Interlude that day. When I was about to graduate 8th grade, I had just started becoming more educated about this genre, which was a very convenient time for Kendrick Lamar to drop DAMN. Before school every day for about two weeks straight I would get up an hour early to try to listen to as much of DAMN. as I could. Soon enough I went back to To Pimp A Butterfly and discovered an entirely different soundscape. Modern Jazz to ‘70s R&B. While the two albums sound completely different, they are the exact same in how they deliver their message.
Kendrick Lamar has always been a man of great vision. A man with a message.
In the end, everything that he does with his music is to serve the purpose of his lyrics and his message. To Pimp A Butterfly delivered his message woven into a beautiful tapestry of sound- complex intricate music largely composed by masterminds such as Robert Glasper and Thundercat, and featuring other modern jazz artists including Kamasi Washington.
The lyrics often contain hidden meanings further than a casual listen. The album is sprinkled with thoughtful poetry and even a recreation of an interview with the legend Tupac. If TPAB is a woven tapestry, DAMN. is a bullet. Cold, hard, unforgiving, and straight to the point. Disguised as a commercial pop/trap album, with the trap style piano hook of HUMBLE and the memorable catchy lyrics of DNA, some of the songs such as these were played at every party and school dance across the country. Others, like FEAR, were largely ignored.
People would be mistaken to dismiss DAMN. as simply fun dance music. They’d be missing out on the lyrics. On an album as direct and intentional as DAMN. – it is ironic that the lyrical significance would be so easily overlooked. In general, it feels like people liked this album for the wrong reasons. Overall, the lyrics on DAMN. are just as thoughtful, deep, and insightful as TPAB, just largely ignored due to the straightforward commercial easy-to-listen-to packaging. Between the two albums, Kendrick Lamar theorizes and discusses some of the most relevant features of human nature and society; systemic oppression, love, hatred, power, and so much more.
In the end, they’re both incredible pieces of work, and I wouldn’t expect anything less from K Dot. They both deliver incredibly thoughtful, important, and deep messages, just in different packages. Just because one album has more theoretically complicated music doesn’t mean the other album isn’t of equal quality. Both are musical masterpieces from the genius mind of Kendrick Lamar.
Let’s see what 2020 brings!