Following Kendrick Lamar's critically acclaimed, genre-bending LP, To Pimp A Butterfly, many wondered what Lamar would do as an encore. Would he even be able to follow a performance of such magnitude? With the release of his 4th full length studio album, Kendrick Lamar has once again proved that it's more important to zig, while others comfortably zag; to seek out your creative voice; to experiment with new styles and push beyond your percieved limits.
To review DAMN., I talked with friend of the blog, and Kendrick stan, Kevin, aka Cliche_Kev on Twitter. Here's our conversation:
A "stan" is a stalking or avid fan, and is used frequently throughout the conversation. This is not a reference to me, Stanley.
Stanley: What was your hot-take, initial reaction to hearing DAMN.?
Kevin: "Initial" means so many things to me. Initially while I was listening to it I felt overwhelmed by the content and trying to figure out what he was talking about, but at the same time being blasted by the beats/production. I was also just trying to wrap my head around this album sounding little to nothing like TPAB. But my initial reaction once I completed my first listen, was that of wow Kendrick is Black Israelite, and also "I told y'all so!" I told people not to worry about Kendrick falling off, and after my first listen I knew I was correct and that I loved this project. That could have just been the Kendrick stan in me talking but I was honestly in awe of the versatility, bars, emotion and progression Kendrick has shown as an artist. So much so that I just stared at the ceiling trying to comprehend what I just heard until I ran it back.
S: Yeah - I think I noticed how starkly different the production was from TPAB, too. Kinda saw that coming with HUMBLE. And like you, after my first listen, I had this overwhelming feeling of trying to figure out what just happened. But I think my biggest takeaway after the first listen was simply, Kendrick did it again lol. He pushed himself in another direction and you can see him experimenting more, I really appreciated that.
S: It hasn't been that long, but how has your opinion/perspective evolved since first listening?
K: I really appreciate the experimentation too. He's always pushing himself creatively while other artists stay comfy in their lane (reasons why I hate Drake and have to take a shot at the low hanging fruit when I can). But my perspective has shifted. I moved from the "I told y'all" stage to the "where does he rank in the pantheon of greats in hip-hop" stage. I can go all hyperbole here and say he is the greatest, trust me it's waiting to come out. But honestly when I listen to the album and compare it to his previous works, I can see the growth and risks he takes, I realize we are living in the time of a true great. I don't know the history of rap like a 35-40 year old boom bap rap purist from NYC but I find myself really just enjoying the project and enjoying the fact that Kendrick will go down as one of the greats. So tell me, is he the GOAT of GOATS? Lol
When I listen to the album and compare it to his previous works, I can see the growth and risks he takes...-Kevin
S:..and there it is! So, here's how my evolutions gone: 1. "WOW, this is amazing" fanboy mode 2. What/who the hell is he talking about 3. Did Kendrick "sell out" for commercial success, and radio play? and 4. This as a larger, more aggressive body of work . Visually: music videos, live show. He's lyrically destroying the game on this album, and he's evolved with production.
So, a couple of things on the GOAT discussion. I think the rollout for DAMN. has been incredible, from the lead single, to the music videos that he's dropping periodically, and now the evolution of his live show. I think the one thing Kendrick was missing, that other rappers that are typically brought up in these conversations have, was the commercial success - the widespread notoriety. He's building a catalog that'll be hard to challenge. I mean, if he stopped rapping right now, like never made another song, he's easily top 5. He's my GOAT.
K: And I think that is a great way to phrase it--"He's my GOAT." GOAT's are generational to each individual. It is a product of the time that they grew into adulthood. Reasons why Jordan is the GOAT to some and Wilt is to others, etc. Kendrick, if he continues on this trajectory, will be the GOAT to the people who grew with him.
Tell me what you think (loose idea). Rap beef lol. Kendrick started out the promotion for this album by blasting his peers (Drake And Big Sean?) on the Heart IV. It was the start of a great string of promotion for DAMN. What do you think about the hip hop fans thirst for blood and rappers to come for each other. How much do you think that played in the sales for this project, if any? I think it played some factor and I think in 2017 (different than the 90s when beef was personal and sometimes deadly) rap beef can be even bigger than it was in the past. Kendrick is carrying the tradition of competition and wants to be seen as an all time great but no one wants to beef with him lol. I'm not sure what I'm trying to say lol but in 2017 with our desire for drama, reality tv, omnipresent nature of social media...I think drama like in the Heart IV and Control can push sales even higher for hip hop in 2017.
Narratives are important, and in a narrative you need protagonists and an antagonists -- Kendrick did just that with the Heart IV. -Stanley
You're absolutely right! I think the Heart IV made for good theatre, and a nice build up to the album. Narratives are important, and in a narrative you need protagonists and an antagonists -- Kendrick did just that with the Heart IV. He made Drake and Big Sean the antagonist. Though Drake and Big Sean were the antagonists on the single(s), on the album his antagonist is a combination of himself, Geraldo Rivera/Fox News, systemic racism, etc.
So, yeah, I think the hype, and in some sense, manufactured beef, completely fed into the sale and interest of the album. I think Kendrick needs/needed a Beef, because no rapper -- whether it's Biggie, Jay, Pac, Nas, -- has gone through their career without a beef, and that's what people remember most. Who Shot Ya, Ether, whatever. Theatre is what people remember.
S: DAMN. is charting really well. Humble, the lead single, is sitting at the #1 spot on the Hot 100, the album is sitting in the #1 spot, and Kendrick just headlined Coachella. As a Kendrick fan, in some sense, do you feel vindicated by Kendrick's recent commercial success of DAMN.?
K: As a Kendrick stan who has followed his ascension since Overly Dedicated, I feel 100% vindicated by Kendrick's recent commercial success and I never miss an opportunity to let people know this. At the same time though, I feel a little uneasy about his commercial success after people labeled TPAB "boring" or "having no replay value" and the radio barely played songs from the project despite it being critically acclaimed/amazing. I often found myself in a battle royal with J Cole and Drake fans trying to tell them Kendrick doesn't need the radio but can be on there if he actually wanted. And now I'm pointing to the fact that he has done so with DAMN. and commercially it is succeeding where TPAB didn't. After having to battle for Kendrick Lamar's status against other artist's stans then to have him to be so openly fawned over now (DAMN. being played in its entirety on a local radio station for example) just feels weird. But I'm coming to grips with it...So yes, yes I do vindicated.
Favorite/Least songs from DAMN.:
Kev: FEEL, LUST
Stanley: FEEL, LUST
Stanley: GOD, HUMBLE, LOVE
Ranking Kendrick Lamar's Albums:
1. To Pimp A Butterfly
3. Good Kid, MA.A.D. City (Money Trees almost pushed it to #2 by itself)
4. Section .80
5. Untitled Unmastered
1. To Pimp A Butterfly
2. Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City
4. Untitled Unmastered