Two weeks after teasing fans and inspiring debate about Black women’s representation with a new single and video, Kendrick Lamar followed up today (April 14) with the release of his new album, “DAMN.”
The record’s 14 tracks feature minimalist beats that largely depart from ”To Pimp a Butterfly” and “untitled unmastered’s” grandiose jazz-influenced sound. But his lyrics explore many of the themes—spirituality, empowerment, violence, socio-political realities among them—that permeate his other albums.
And true to the reputation he established with tracks like “The Blacker the Berry” and “Alright,” the latter of which was embraced by Black anti-police violence activists as a protest chant, K-Dot tackles structural racism in all its forms on “DAMN.” Here are five of the moments where the Compton MC does this most clearly:
”BLOOD” features Rivera misquoting the “Alright” line, “and we hate popo/wanna kill us dead in the streets fo’ sho’.” ”DNA” samples his insistence that “hip-hop has done more damage to young African Americans than racism in recent years” while Lamar raps, “I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA/I live a better life, I’m rollin’ several dice, fuck your life.”
Sick venom in men and women overcome with pride,
A perfect world is never perfect, only filled with lies
Promises are broken and more resentment come alive,
Race barriers make inferior of you and I
This passage from the psychedelic “PRIDE” laments the way racism drags down humanity while clinging to hope of an impossible perfection.
”XXX (feat. U2)”
It’s nasty when you set us up
Then roll the dice, then bet us up
You overnight the big rifles, then tell Fox to be scared of us,
Gang members or terrorists, et cetera, et cetera
America’s reflections of me, that’s what a mirror does
On a track filled with contempt for jingoism, wealth disparity, Donald Trump and everyday violence, Lamar swipes back at Fox News and media bias against people of color who may turn to violence out of the desperate circumstances that oppression, police violence and military aggression create.
I’ll prolly die from witnesses leavin’ me false accused,
I’ll prolly die from thinkin’ that me and your hood was cool
Or maybe die from pressin’ the line, actin’ too extra,
Or maybe die because these smokers are more than desperate
I’ll prolly die from one of these bats and blue badges
Body slammed on black and white paint, my bones snappin’
This verse lists the various ways that the effects of racial and economic marginalization—police violence, gang crime, health disparities—threaten life in Black communities nationwide.
Pay attention, that one decision changed both of they lives,
One curse at a time, reverse the manifest
And good karma and I’ll tell you why,
You take two strangers and put ‘em in random predicaments
Give ‘em a soul so they can make their own choices and live with it
The album’s final track opens with a true story in which someone decides not to rob and possibly kill a restaurant employee. The characters are revealed to be Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, the creator of Lamar’s label, and the rapper’s own father. Their direction helped make Lamar the rap superstar he is today; if the crime had gone down, there’s a chance things would be much different for him today. While the song is a testament to Lamar’s storytelling prowess, the verse above is a reminder to treat disenfranchised people with humanity.