Album Review: Kendrick Lamar Reclaims Rap’s Throne with DAMN.

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock since 2010, you may have a decent idea of who Kendrick Lamar is. Since his official label debut good kid, m.A.A.d city, Lamar has earned himself worldwide appeal as both a popular and conscious rapper. Now, two years since his genre-shattering To Pimp A Butterfly, Lamar has returned to the spotlight with DAMN., a record dense with personal reflection and exemplary production that once again establishes him as one of the all-time greats.

“So I was taking a walk the other day…” Kendrick starts DAMN. off with a short narrative in which he describes his own death. It seems that the remainder of the album revolves around Lamar contemplating his own life, considering if his life would have been worthy of living had he actually died. The album even reverses on “DUCKWORTH.”, the final track, and returns to where DAMN. started off. The song titles cut no corners; each previews the song’s subject matter. “HUMBLE.”, for example, delicately balances on Lamar’s own bravado and the constant reminder to “sit down” and “be humble.” Other tracks cut deeper. “FEAR.” outlines Lamar’s fears, including death’s unpredictability and of losing the fame and wealth he’s earned. The mood throughout the album sways between vulnerable and confident; it’s a blend of what made both To Pimp A Butterfly and good kid, m.A.A.d city unique. Despite relying on similar tones, Lamar delves into new topics and makes DAMN. feel just as unique as his previous two works.

Unlike To Pimp A Butterfly, DAMN. features a departure from jazz rap, rather fusing pop, electronic, alternative, and trap music into a refreshing sound that caters to Lamar’s versatility. The production credits are indicative of such; to name a few, James Blake, 9th Wonder, James Blake, Steve Lacy, and BADBADNOTGOOD all lend their production talents on DAMN. Each song is an otherworldly experience on its own, yet listened to side by side reveal the narrative of Lamar’s latest work. “XXX.” features perhaps the wildest beat switch (one of many) on the album, exploding from a dark, bass-driven beat into a flurry of sirens. Other highlights include “LUST.”, a song empowered by a delayed entry of the drums, and “PRIDE.”, whose guitar chords slow the pace to a melodic crawl.

To Pimp A Butterfly took some time to grow on me when I first heard it. I was initially disappointed because I was hoping to hear more tracks reminiscent of good kid, m.A.A.d city, but instead what I got was vastly opposite. Once I had come around to it, however, I learned that artists aren’t supposed to rely on formulaic music to become successful. Real artists grow and change; they learn and evolve to create new, exceptional music that keeps them one step ahead of the competition. Lamar’s competition, Drake, has fallen victim to this and chosen to stick to what works rather than take risks and mature as an artist. Lamar, on the other hand, continues to grow and surprise his fans, with each new album being more unprecedented than the last. DAMN. is a shining example of such. An album inspired by Lamar’s own life and attitude, it stands alone as a masterpiece and singular experience. Lamar continues to solidify his placement upon the Mount Rushmore of rap, and he will most certainly surprise us all with whatever he has planned next. Listen to DAMN. here.

Archie O’Dell

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Not-Bad-Not-Bad-Pretty-Good: Belated Coverage of BADBADNOTGOOD (Show Review)


BBNG jamming out somewhere. Image ripped from google.

On Tuesday October 14th, the jazzy hip-hop trio BADBADNOTGOOD performed at Neumo’s for their first time in Seattle. Yes this date has passed. Long passed. Too many days have gone in its wake for a quick-response review. This Tuesday can no longer be looked forward to. Well, maybe I needed time to digest, catch the flu, get distracted, and figure it out. You cannot attend this show unless you have a time machine in between the washer and dryer in the basement. Neglect your laundry. Let’s use this imaginative machine to relive the experience watching three young guns approach jam-virtuosity.

Jazz is all about unspoken communication. Using instruments as vocal apparatus and notes as words and phrases. You’ve heard the concept of phrasing in music if you watched any documentaries or wielded something brass in high school. Now then, you know the insanity of a well-spoken jazz ensemble in the height of improvisation. Jack Kerouac wrote about this in the 40’s. He would dig on these all-night wild be-bop musicians covered in sweat and blood and cigarette smoke in dark and airless clubs in San Francisco or New York. Whooping and cheering at the musicians, acknowledging moments when they had it, man. The whole audience shot glances at each other and simultaneously agreed: the band’s got it.

BADBADNOTGOOD have got it. I swear. They jammed too hard, clearly testing the limits of their musicianship through crescendos in volume and tempo. Their unspoken communication was amazing and apparent during extended solo sections for the jams “Hedron,” “Triangle,” as well as a silky smooth new track called “Velvet.” Conversation was killed, we were all swept off. They clearly lost themselves and we cheered them on, losing ourselves in the process. There was a subconscious agreement in the audience that up there, flooded in the river of lights and smoke, the band had achieved some kind of clarity.

One of their last tunes seemed an experiment in dexterity. There was a section that built and rose, swelling up like all of those 64th note electronic snare clacks before the predictable bass drop, though live, this intensity is more obvious and felt than the slow turning of knob. Every player attempted to burst beyond their comfort zone of their instrument. This cacophony, growing wide with the clashing of voices, the speed of flying fingers and drumsticks, was passionate and intense. This was the lifting of a weight over their collective heads heavier than they have previously lifted.

This sounds exaggerated. But hell. I’ve seen jazz gigs and the audience often appears as though they are trapped in an elevator. My generation of 20-somethings and jazz music don’t seem to go too well together. Sure, as a musician, I love jazz. I whoop and holler. But the crowd responded to BADBADNOTGOOD’s tunes in such a spirit as a punk rock show.

I caught up with Chester, the bassist, after the show and he gave a word of advice to the modern day aspiring artist, “It is about making connections. Meeting people. Saying hello and seeing how far that hello will take you.”

Check out the band’s latest music video for “CAN’T LEAVE THE NIGHT” below:

You never know who you will meet and how they can change your life forever. I know this rings true for the trio as their cover songs of popular rap cuts (Kanye West, A Tribe Called Quest, Gucchi Mane, etc.) introduced them to the absurd artistry of the Odd Future world.

The band will be back. They already have a committed, youthful, following and this is a hopeful advancement in the arts. Also, good on you Seattle for giving them such a warm welcome.

Nate Anderson