Kendrick Lamar received overwhelming critical acclaim for his third album “To Pimp a Butterfly” in 2015 and made Grammy history with 11 nominations, more than any other rap artist in a single year, and second overall to Michael Jackson who had 12 bids in 1984 (Lamar won five that night, including Best Rap Album). So the pressure was on for his followup. “DAMN” was released on Friday, April 14, and that’s both the title of the album and an accurate summary of its reviews. As of this writing it has an astonishing MetaCritic score of 97.
The superlatives match that score. “DAMN” is being called a “widescreen masterpiece,” with “furious rhymes and peerless storytelling.” Lamar’s art is “substantial, vital and virtuosic.” The artist’s talent is “technically peerless,” and his latest effort, despite being described by some as less hopeful than previous hits like “Alright,” has the “ability to find humanity in desolate situations” and contains “stunning beauty.”
Will that translate to more Grammy victories next year? In 2017 the recording academy faced criticisms once again for its racial blind spot in general-field categories: artists like Lamar and Beyonce make culturally and commercially resonant music that earns raves from critics and Grammy victories in genre fields, but the top races are often reserved for more musically conservative (and usually white) acts. And even the genre fields can be contentious, as Drake objected to his “Hotline Bling” being categorized as a rap song in the first place. And Frank Ocean didn’t even submit his acclaimed music for consideration.
Check out some of the “DAMN” reviews below, and join the “DAMN” discussion with your fellow music fans in our forums.
Matthew Trammell (Pitchfork): “‘DAMN.’ is a widescreen masterpiece of rap, full of expensive beats, furious rhymes, and peerless storytelling about Kendrick’s destiny in America … Storytelling has been Lamar’s greatest skill and most primary mission, to put into (lots of) words what it’s like to grow up as he did—to articulate, in human terms, the intimate specifics of daily self-defense from your surroundings. Somehow, he’s gotten better.”
Evan Rytlewski (A.V. Club): “As on its predecessors, ‘Damn.’ is packed tight with thoughts, anxieties, and anecdotes, but this time Lamar doesn’t even try to shape them into a big picture … Lamar trusts every idea to stand on its own. When you’re making art this substantial, vital, and virtuosic, there’s no need to wrap a tidy bow around it.”
Alexis Petridis (Guardian): “If it seems a more straightforward listen than ‘To Pimp a Butterfly,’ there’s a cheering sense that this doesn’t equate to a lessening of musical ambition. There’s none of that album’s wilfully jarring quality … but the tracks on ‘Damn’ still feel episodic and expansive.”
Eric Renner Brown (Entertainment Weekly): “It’s old hat at this point to say that Lamar is technically peerless, and his astonishing flow on cuts like ‘DNA.’ and ‘FEEL.’ confirm that. But Lamar’s greatest poetic gift — and what elevates so many of ‘DAMN.’s’ verses — is his ability to find humanity in desolate situations. ‘DAMN.’ contains stunning beauty if you listen closely.”