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DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar

“I got, I got, I got, I got
Loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA
Cocaine quarter piece, got war and peace inside my DNA
I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA
I got hustle though, ambition, flow, inside my DNA”

 

‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ was about the trials and tribulations of African American society. ‘DAMN.’ is about the trials and tribulations of being Kendrick Lamar, the number one rapper in the world.

Every track here has a one word title, all in caps, with a full stop at the end; Kendrick has a point with each one, and he’s keeping that point sharp. Themes of religion are intermixed with experiences in the music industry, along with themes of humanity explored through Kendrick’s experiences.

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In the intro skit, ‘BLOOD.’  Kendrick is shot by an old blind woman he tries to help. I imagine the old woman represents the old blind music industry. Kendrick wants to help it find what it has lost; credibility, legitimacy and true talent; but the industry responds kills him.

The next track, ‘DNA.’ , is an exploration of Kendrick’s roots; what lies in his DNA. This is a personal album for Kendrick, we’re exploring his DNA. The song highlights duality, another theme explored throughout the album. Kendrick’s flow here is immaculate, this is Kendrick the rapper at his very best; just two verses, broken by a bridge. No hook, but catchy as hell.

Sampled at the end of ‘BLOOD.’ and during ‘DNA.’ is a Geraldo Rivera Fox News segment criticising Kendrick’s performance of ‘Alright’ at the BET awards. The second verse of the third track, ‘YAH.’ also addresses the segment, where Geraldo claimed that Kendrick is an example of why “hip-hop has done more damage to young African-Americans than racism”. Geraldo is whitesplaining why young African-Americans cause their own problems, and has no idea what he is talking about. Kendrick’s skill is in portraying the struggles of his community better than anyone. Geraldo and those like him need to shut up and listen.

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Kendrick’s relationship to God is explored through his relationship to music and the industry.

In ‘YAH.’  he sees inspiration as God talking to him, expressed as blips on his radar that go, “Yah” (Yahweh).

‘PRIDE.’,  depicts Kendrick’s success distancing him from God, enjoying it gets in the way of being the human he wants to be.

And finally on the track ‘GOD.’ Kendrick explains how the adulation he recieves makes him feel like a God, that everything he does is divine, before reminding himself that he is just a man and what he does is a tribute to the divine.

Each of these songs have very chilled beats with slower, ‘everyday talking’ type rapping, Kendrick uses this style of beat and rapping when he is coming from an internal place on the album.

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The three songs that follow ‘YAH.’  explore Kendrick’s relationship with the music industry, and have heavier beats and faster rapping.

‘ELEMENT.’ is Kendrick’s  declaration that he is the best at what he does, and reflects on how the trials he endured took him here.

On ‘FEEL.’ Kendrick explores the isolation his success elicits in him, he dominates an industry he considers toxic and no amount of success can drive away his depression.

He teams up with Rhianna on ‘LOYALTY.’ to explore how it so important and so difficult to surround yourself with loyal people, to the point where loyalty is the most desirable trait in a relationship.

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The hardest hitting beat on the album comes directly after the chill of ‘PRIDE.’, and differs both in feel and lyric.

‘HUMBLE.’ is the first single from the album and one of the songs of the year; bound to be near the top of all the year end countdowns.

It’s Kendrick telling all those who are constantly trying to take his place at the top of the hip-hop heap, that he got to where he is by being humble, and now he’s arrived, he doesn’t need to be humble, they do.

He takes aim at the frauds perpetuated by the media and the industry, recounts his own story and demands his due respect.

Everything works in this song: the beat is infectious, Kendrick’s flow and wordplay are as awesome, and the hook, simply “Bitch be humble, Sit down” repeated ad nauseam, works as it shouldn’t.

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The following two tracks, ‘LUST.’ and ‘LOVE.’ explore two contrasting sides of human relationships.

‘LUST.’ depicts using short term satisfaction to drive away the monotony of the everyday as ultimately a waste of one’s time and effort.

‘LOVE.’ explores a deeper relationship, most probably the one with his fiance Whitney Alford, that reveals the flaws in his character and offers opportunity for growth and a connection with the divine.

Once again the music and rap flow contrasts, heavy, fast and chaotic on ‘LUST.’, slow, genuine and chilled on ‘LOVE.’

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The remaining three songs use stories from Kendrick’s life to demonstrate definitive human themes.

‘XXX.’ recounts the death of a friend’s son and his inability to offer forgiveness, lusting for revenge. It’s about how love can make us do the most terrible things.

‘FEAR’. explores Kendrick’s relationship with fear throughout life. At seven, fear of getting in trouble and experiencing his mother’s wrath. At 17, fear of a gang-related death. At 27 he fear of not being good enough as a rapper, having his inspiration dry up and opportunity pass him by.

The final track, ‘DUCKWORTH.’, explores coincidence through the curious tale of how an act of self-preservation by his father towards his eventual label boss not only may have saved his father’s life and ensured he steered Kendrick away from gangs, but also ensured there was someone to start the label than catapulted Kendrick’s career.

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In ‘DAMN.’ Kendrick Lamar has created yet another Hip-Hop masterpiece. It’s a personal record that proves Kendrick is one of the best, not only of his generation, but of all time. It’s a lesson to every other rapper in the game of how hip-hop is done right.

Humanz – Gorillaz

“The sky’s falling baby, Drop that ass ‘fore it crash”

Everyone’s favourite Blur front man is back with his band of animated primates.

It’s been seven years since the last proper Gorillaz album, 2010’s ‘Plastic Beach’ (although there was a studio album released for free to fans on Christmas that year, a singles compilation in 2011 and a promotional single with Andre 3000 and James Murphy in 2012).

For a while there it looked like it might not happen, but Noodles, 2D, Murdoc and Russel have returned with a Double Album, Humanz, and as always they’ve brought a bunch of famous friends along.

Humanz isn’t as immediately catching as 2005’s Demon Days, and isn’t likely to be quite as successful, but it did impress on me enough to warrant subsequent listens, and as I listened I started to get what Damon and his all-star collaborators have created.

Vince Staples guests on the opening track; the bouncy dance number, Ascension, and the hook reveals the theme of this album, “The sky’s falling, baby Drop that ass ‘fore it crash”, it’s all gonna be over soon,  let’s party while we can. They call it a party album for the end of the world.

It’s catchy alt-pop with a message that isn’t immediately apparent, but is no less powerful; a concept album that tells the story of the decline of humanity, but leaves with a message of hope.

We’re taken on a journey from humanities loss of connection (‘Strobelite’ and ‘Saturn Barz’) and control (‘Submission’ and ‘Charger’), finding reprieve, as so many of us do, in a Nightclub (‘Andromeda’) before we explore humanities effort to distract itself, through the Internet (‘Busted and Blue’ ) and consumerism (‘Carnival’), finally falling to despair (‘Let Me Out’). The first track released from the album, ‘Hallelujah Money’ is a slow gospel inspired track worshiping Humanities new God, the dollar. The album then turns a corner and turns up the energy with the intensely positive ‘We’ve Got the Power’. ‘Out of Body’ finds the connection humanity has been missing on the dance floor, whilst ‘Ticker Tape’ eschews the advantage and risks of our technological drive. The final track, ‘Circle of Friendz’ offers humanity a way out of their peril, through maintaining and finding strength in a close circle of friends.

Musically, the album is far more varied than previous releases, highlighted by the sudden transition from the slow, haunting “Hallelujah Money’ to the high energy positivity of ‘We Got The Power’. Gorillaz are representing the dualistic nature of our current society. On the one hand we are richer and more capable than any point in history, whilst on the other we are destroying our planet at an alarming rate.  The melancholy Daman Albarns puts into his voice when singing as 2D, contrasted with the powerful vocalists that helped make this album, forthing highlights this duality.

Highlights on the album for me include the motown style party jam ‘Strobelite’ with Peven Everrett, the chilled out electronica of ‘Andromeda’ and Grace Jones’ commanding vocals over the driving synth rock of ‘Charger’.

De La Soul, who featured on Gorillaz biggest hit, the classic ‘Feel Good Inc’, return for the manic boom bap of ‘Moments’. This track is all over the place, De La Soul rap about sexual conquest, whilst 2D sings of race issues, but somehow it works, maybe because it’s all over the place.

When I first heard ‘Hallelujah Money’ I was worried. Sure, the sentiment was spot on, but it is just so very unGorillaz, but on this album it fits perfect, especially transitioning to ‘We Got the Power’.


My favourite song on the album though, would have to be “Saturnz Barz (Spirit House)” featuring Popcaan. It’s a wonderfully clean, catchy Gorillaz song inspired by reggae roots of the creators.

Humanz is a protest against the current state of American and world politics, but it does it without getting angry. ‘Aint nobody going to kill their vibe.

I don’t think it’s Gorillaz best album (I give ‘Demon Days’ that honor), but I’d say it’s their most mature. I’d put it around about on par with the raw energy of their 2001 self-titled debut, and above ‘Plastic Beach’.

Humanz tells the tail of our times. Informing the listener whilst remaining as detached as possible, it remains hopeful, but realistic. It keeps moving, so as not to get bogged down in the emotion of it all, all the while keeping the listener moving.