Kendrick Lamar, a versatile rapper who is known both for his guest appearance on pop hits from the likes of Sia, Maroon 5, and Taylor Swift as well as a fiery, politically tinged performance on the 2016 Grammys, splits the difference between popular and more experimental hip hop on his fourth studio album.
“FEEL.” is the story of a man conflicted by his fame, and those looking to take advantage of it: “I feel like the whole world want me to pray for ’em / But who the fuck prayin’ for me?” The backing track has a bossa nova lilt and is reminiscent of both Enigma and Burial.
The minimal soul/gospel-led “FEAR.” is particularly gripping, taking the point of view of a parent stretched thin by the pressures of life
A guitar riff straight off a classic Lush album or more recent Mac Demarco is the backdrop for ruminations on pride as sin on “PRIDE.” “Sick venom in men and women overcome with pride/a perfect world is never perfect, only filled with lies.”
The minimal soul/gospel-led “FEAR.” is particularly gripping, taking the point of view of a parent stretched thin by the pressures of life, threatening to take it all out on seven-year-old Kendrick at the start. It ends with the worries of a grown man: “At 27, my biggest fear was losin’ it all.”
“XXX.” is a mini-suite. It starts with a chorus of “America, God bless you if it’s good to you”, moving into spacey beats, followed by Lamar spitting over police sirens. It finally settles into a jazz lounge groove featuring U2, of all people, Bono as background singer. Later, a particularly poignant couplet states: “But is America honest, or do we bask in sin?”
Lamar’s DAMN. is a worthy addition to the hip hop cannon.