Can “DAMN” be considered the album of the year?

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PRO: SOMENTHING DAMN GOOD

In 2010, a young man rose from low-income housing in Compton, rapping his perspective as a “good kid.” Inventing a metaphor for his narrative, “To Pimp a Butterfly” would go platinum. “Untitled Unmastered.” is celebrated as genius, and 2017’s “DAMN.” is Kendrick Lamar’s most popular and acclaimed release so far.

At the 2018 Grammys, “DAMN.” won best rap album. The song “HUMBLE.” collected three awards. “LOYALTY.” earned another for collaboration.

“HUMBLE.” has been played over 700 million times on Spotify; its music video has amassed over 430 million views on YouTube since the album’s release in April 2017.

Lamar draws the world’s attention. “Be humble” is the message he reminds his listeners.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Kendrick admitted “HUMBLE.” speaks to his own ego saying, “When you look at the song titles on this album … I’m telling the listener ‘You can’t fuck with me.’ But, ultimately, I’m looking in the mirror.”

With the success of “DAMN.” Lamar has solidified the title of the greatest rapper alive. Rooted in crime-ridden Compton, his life as a rap superstar and millionaire mogul was unlikely. His obsessive work ethic, presence and outward focus led him to mainstream stardom, but no listener can forget Lamar’s humble beginnings.

“It’s not just about a specific struggle of one type of person, it’s the struggle of all of us … it’s very intellectual,” said Ariq Manzur, 19, business administration major.

Lamar connects with fans through creative analysis, inciting thought and emotion. His consistent popularity with conscious rap hits is an accomplishment no other artist can bear.

“DAMN.” is an explicit album that stylized violence, drugs, poverty, racism, love and sex. It bears themes of profound inner conflict with lines like “damned if I do, damned if I don’t,” “what happens on Earth stays on Earth,” while constantly referencing the Almighty.

Kendrick Lamar thoughtfully made the arrangement from his most fortunate position, still looking to embrace pain in music. Contrast is a key element of every work.

Thankfully, Lamar remains focused on maintaining the quality of his songs. Inspiration comes easily through Lamar’s eyes, who seems able to focus on anything and relate it lyrically.

Rap music is not for everyone, but “DAMN.” and the man behind the statement will be remembered as game-changing successes.

 

CON: I DON’T GIVE A DAMN

Across the internet, Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.” is praised as the best album of 2017. Complex and Rolling Stone place it at the top of their Top 50 lists, and it won a Grammy for “Best Rap Album.”

Although “DAMN.” has a few high points, it lacks in production quality and is poorly structured—an underwhelming mess.

The album opens with “BLOOD.” The spoken word piece serves its purpose well, arresting Lamar’s sleepy vocals with a gunshot, leaving listeners on edge as the album flows into “DNA.”

Lamar sets a lyrical flow in the first half of the track, then launching into explosive triplets, making it the most dynamic in the album.

Confusingly, Lamar ruins the momentum built by “DNA.” with “YAH.” If this track built into anything near the end, its slow start could be forgiven, but it remains at a nap-inducing pace throughout.

Then the album moves into “ELEMENT.,” the most overrated track on the album. Although it starts with a little more urgency than “YAH.,” Lamar fails this track with his childish, shallow lyrics.

The next track, “FEEL.,” delivers on what “YAH.” could have been: a showcase of lo-fi production and a heartfelt performance from Lamar that builds throughout the song.

“LOYALTY.” is decent. Rihanna’s feature complements Lamar well, but the track does not amount to anything spectacular.

“PRIDE.” is the one track I can’t stand on the album. Every time I hear the abrasive guitars behind Lamar’s strange vocals, I skip it.

Midway through the album is “HUMBLE.” Lamar’s flow is charismatic, and the piano is catchy, but the lyrics don’t impress. Every time I hear the track, I imagine how much more interesting would have been to display humility instead of telling others to “sit down.”

“LOVE.” is the best song in the album. Zacari’s sugary lyrics in the hook contrast beautifully with Lamar’s, who for once, raps something catchy. The synth’s arpeggios and playful beat complement each other just as much as vocals do.

The remaining tracks are mixed successes. “XXX.” and “FEAR.” have gripping first halves, only to grow dull near the end. “LUST.,” “GOD.,” and “DUCKWORTH.” are unremarkable too.

Overall, “DAMN.” has some great moments. Several tracks throughout do not fulfill their potential, while others seemed to never have any. Despite its popularity and critical acclaim, “DAMN.” is not the best album of 2017.

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