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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Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole remix each other’s hits on “Black Friday”

If you weren’t sure what to be thankful for by Thursday last
week, you definitely knew by the next day. And I’m not talking about weak deals
on TV’s or other stuff for you to take home and gift wrap. I’m talking about gift
rap

On Friday, Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole each blessed us with a
new song, both of which were called “Black Friday” and both of which were
remixes of each other’s hits from the past year: Cole went off on “Alright” and
Kendrick erupted on “A Tale of 2 Citiez.”

“I’m yelling Mr. Kanye West for president/He probably let me
get some head inside the residence/I’m in the White House going all out/Bumping
College Dropout, God-bless Americans,” Kendrick shouts on his remix.

If that isn’t the best lyric you’ve heard since “To Pimp A
Butterfly,” then congrats, you’re not putting Kendrick on a pedestal like I am.
But I’ll stop when he gives me a reason to.

While Kendrick’s “Black Friday” basically just a four-minute
verse, Cole’s version can more accurately be called a full song. The man loves
hooks – I’ve seen him come up with one on a freestyle. Rest assured though,
Cole’s affinity for singing doesn’t mean he’s lacking bars:

“Cause on the same day a nigga doing different shit/Spit
different flows, hit different chicks/Let my Brixton hoes feed me fish and
chips/Why I do a lot of shows? I’m the shit, that’s it/Got suicidal doors, I
just slit my wrists.”

The craziest thing about Cole’s “Black Friday” definitely
has to be the end though, when he teases something dropping in February before
being cut off by a censor tone. Could that something be the long-teased
collaboration album with Kendrick? The entirety of the Internet seems to think
so.

Coming off critical acclaim for both of their most recent
projects, Kendrick and Cole may just deliver the best collaborative album since
Jay and Kanye’s Watch the Throne in 2012. Because as much as we liked Drake
and Future’s
What a Time To Be Alive, both of their individual releases this
year were much better. 

But could a Kendrick/Cole collaboration possibly be better
than To Pimp A Butterfly? With Kendrick spitting on the same record, Cole is
much more likely to go harder than he did on 2014 Forest Hills Drive, which
was already an incredible effort on his behalf. But TPAB was on another level,
and I don’t think Kendrick would benefit as much as Cole from working together.
Cole could help him improve his singing?

Either way, both “Black Friday” tracks are good enough to
stand on their own and stave off our hunger for the mythical collaboration a
little longer. Let’s see how many times I can replay them between now and
February.

Check out more from Mohammed
Kloub, aka DJ
Mohtorious, on Rainy Dawg Radio every Thursday from 12-1pm! 

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The Jazz To Move Dat Ass

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Kendrick
Lamar’s
latest album, To Pimp a Butterfly,
was undeniably brilliant. It was both lyrically and sonically divine. One
of the album’s most beautiful aspects was its funky, jazz-infused sound. I
wasn’t a fan of jazz before To Pimp a
Butterfly,
but now I’m obsessed. Thank you based Kendrick.

Jazz,
as a genre, can be quite daunting. I had no idea where to start with it. So I
did the only thing I could do: I searched for “jazz” on Spotify.  There was so much to listen to! I found some
cool Spotify playlists (Shouts to “Late Night Jazz”) that helped narrow down my
choices.  

So, two months of jazz-capades
later, here are my three favorite albums. If you want to get started with jazz—and
you totally should, it’s dope—these albums would make for an ideal starting
point:

1) The
Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out
      

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Dave Brubeck sure can
play the hell out of a piano. This album’s sound is playful and sunny. Perfect music
for rolling down a grassy hill, or for a wine-soaked picnic on the beach. The
seven pieces on this album each elegantly swell to their euphoric peaks.
“Strange Meadow Lark” is my personal favorite on this album. It’s pure bliss
when the horns kick in:

2) John
Coltrane – A Love Supreme

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About six minutes into this glorious beast
of an album, Coltrane puts down his saxophone to chant “A Love Supreme.” The
other instruments carry on, providing a smooth backdrop for his chant. It’s a
simple and fleeting moment, lasting only about thirty seconds. But somehow, it’s
my favorite thirty seconds on this album. It’s amazing. It’s catchy. It’s
Coltrane:

This album is abundant with such
moments of wonder. The whole thing just swings into your ears. Tension
frantically rises and falls in a majestic tide of harmony. This album feels
like an insane action movie. Like Die Hard. A Love Supreme is the jazz
equivalent of Die Hard.

3)      Miles
Davis – Kind of Blue

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This is a phenomenal album. Miles
Davis
and his trumpet are a soothing balm to the ear. Also, the man himself,
John Coltrane, plays the tenor saxophone on this album.  

The album kicks off with pensive
piano notes, an oddball bassline and tentative bursts from the trumpet. It’s so chill:

This album makes me feel like I own a
yacht. That’s a great way to feel, no doubt about it. I listen to this album almost every day. I brush
my teeth to it. I fall asleep to it. I even ate pizza to it once. If you haven’t
heard anything on this album yet, get with the program.

But, don’t just take my word for it all. Venture into the wonderful world of jazz and experience the magic for yourself. In the words of the great jazz pianist, Bill Evans (He also played on Miles’s Kind of Blue. That album is straight up star-studded), “You can’t explain jazz to anyone without losing the experience. Because it’s feeling, not words.”

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Pranav Shivanna