On a road trip bumping an album is the gold stamp of approval. Between the beats and bass battling against the wind and “Oohing” and “Aahing” over lyrics. Then I’m rapping out loud while people stare through their car windows. That’s the power of Kendrick Lamar’s fourth studio album (not counting Untitled Unmastered) Damn.
He reinvents his style but still manages to display a level of authenticity that my 80s baby ears appreciate. You won’t hear me say, “I just like the beats.” In any of the 14 tracks (besides the skits) Kendrick Lamar delivers poetry. My favorite track on the album is “Duckworth,” for his ability to narrate a true story between his father Ducky and Top Dawg, the CEO of his label.
But let’s forget all that for a second. How is this album relevant to black America? Kendrick Lamar enters it right into police brutality with a clip of Fox News discussing his lyrics on “Alright” a motivational ballad from his 2015’s How to Pimp a Butterfly. Then in “Humble,” he raps, “I’m so fuckin’ sick and tired of the Photoshop, show me something natural like afro on Richard Pryor.” Black self-love has often been a challenge in the United States when beauty standards have often been portrayed as white or European.
Now am I going to write here Kendrick Lamar’s the best rapper alive. No. But he lays ground work for a debate launching quality albums. But what admire beyond the typical barbershop argument is what he shares of himself. On “Yah” he raps, “Fox News wanna use my name for percentage, my latest muse is my niece, she worth living.” He gives fans his motivation. Similar to that Mom or Dad looking in their child’s eyes before work. Meanwhile, other rappers limit their reach confined to just rap about the glamor and gilts of fame and drugs. His muse is a reminder any of us can find inspiration to achieve our heart’s desire.
Writing this piece, I found myself aiming to find a song I didn’t like. But it was a fool’s mission. After reading lyrics I ended up appreciating them more. Although I still place Good Kid, Madd City as my favorite Kendrick Lamar album. At least now I got my fix of new music.
Rashaun J. Allen (@rashaunjallen) received his MFA in Creative Writing and Literature from SUNY Stony Brook. He’s eyeing agents to help publish his coming of age story, Christine’s Dream – A Memoir of Love, Loss & Life. He is the author of A Walk Through Brooklyn & In The Moment and has been published in TSR: The South Hampton Review and is forthcoming in The Tishman Review. When not writing he runs for the thrill of crossing the finish line. Find more of his work at www.rashaunjallen.com.