How do you follow one of the best-received albums across any genre in the past decade? Kendrick Lamar had to answer that question with his next release. When he put out 2015’s To Pimp A Butterfly, music critics far and wide praised its density, innovation, and sound. And THAT release was coming off of another quickly-dubbed “classic,” good kid, m.A.A.d city, Lamar’s second major release. Kendrick has quickly risen to the top of the rap game thanks to his cunning wordplay, intricate storytelling and skillful use of collaboration. In an era of mainstream (see “pop-rap”) hip-hop, fans of the genre’s heart are looking to find more life in some of its stars. Lamar has filled that void while simultaneously challenging all the greats that have come before him.
So, when DAMN., his latest LP released this Friday, at a mere 14 tracks and 55 minutes long, fans were left wondering…is this it? A concise, complex project with 3 total features? Seems very unlike Lamar, whose previous albums have been something of an epic. Both his previous albums clocked in at over an hour, and have long lists of credits and contributors. DAMN. is no different in that regard, though you wouldn’t hear it just by listening. Somehow, Lamar’s storytelling on this album is tighter than ever, and he packs more into this shorter album, whose dissection has already begun.
Dropping a week and a half before the album, “HUMBLE.,” was the highest charting rap song since 2010, when Eminem and Rihanna dropped “Love the Way You Lie.” This feat provides some introspection into Lamar’s place in the rap world at the moment, while also showing how he somehow was able to make a splash despite having already dropped another single and an album less than a year ago, Untitled Unmastered. Kendrick’s fanbase (and music media as a whole) has always placed him as a non-mainstream, lyrical rapper.
The type of hip-hop that many are convinced can’t sell when compared to trap anthems that have radio potential, or the ever label-avoidant Drake, whose last project was the best-selling debut of the year (so far). One of Lamar’s compatriots in the conscious-rap-revival, Joey Badass, dropped his incredibly solid album a week before Lamar’s, and was almost entirely outshone by the Chainsmokers of all people. DAMN. is poised to sell a half a million copies in its first week, contending with Drake for largest debut. Anyway, the rollout to the album left fans wanting more.
So much more, in fact, that they believe Kendrick is poised to drop another album on Easter Sunday to coincide with the holiday itself, given the biblical themes of his work. This weekend was full of articles breaking down everything from the colors shown in specific scenes for “HUMBLE.” to the way the song titles on the back of the album spell out all sorts of acronyms. The shadow of To Pimp a Butterfly left many perplexed, making DAMN. seem rather curt in comparison.
It is hard to tell whether the double album theories come from a place of trend (Future and Frank Ocean are both two superstar artists to have done so recently) or a last-ditch attempt for fans to see the new album compare to the old. The weekend was full of articles titled something like “Exploring the Old Testament in Kendrick Lamar’s New Album,” which is enough of a testament (pun intended) to Lamar’s artistry. Whether or not he actually expands on the increasingly-complex and enticing concept of releasing a companion project (the new/old testament, red and blue gang/political party metaphors strongest among ALL of Kendrick’s work), his new album certainly leaves a lot to unpack.