Good Friday: Kendrick Lamar’s Damn. drops, to rise again on Sunday?

Words Oisin Fogarty Graveson  

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Today’s feature comes in two parts. Why? A month or so ago rumours were stirred: Kendrick Lamar was releasing what he called a “very urgent” album. Well, the appositely-titled Damn., a follow-up to 2015’s To Pimp A Butterfly and .5 album Untitled Unmastered dropped today. It’s tough to resist the temptation to send out an equally monosyllabic review right after it: Damn. But we won’t, we’ll do it properly – so that’s part one. Part two? The rumours are stirring once again. Could there be a follow up on Easter Sunday?

Deep, heavy, submerged. Like Eastern trap walked into a room full of out-of-tune instruments, Damn. has come. It’s clear we’re in a very different time. With Trump in Washington, no longer is this a world where a photograph of a group of black people throwing money around in front of the White House (like on To Pimp A Butterfly’s cover) can have the same meaning. We’re in a more severe time even than 2015 for black people in America. And with the title “Damn” comes a sense of defeat.

Where To Pimp a Butterfly, the canonized masterpiece, brought Flying Lotus, Dr Dre and Thundercat together for production and spawned a piece of both modern jazz and hip hop history in one fell swoop; Damn. offers what could be called an anti-Butterfly. Instrumentally we’re back in the more traditional rap sphere of 808 beats, rough vinyl cuts, combined with modern-day trap production. The jazz virtuosity is gone, the likes of The Alchemist, James Blake, BADBADNOTGOOD and DJ Dahi are on the sound desk. And sonically, we’re in the world of diss-albums and compton gang rivalry.

What does remain from To Pimp a Butterfly is the vocal experimentation, with Kendrick moving from a (recently controversial) Jamaican-accented Drake style on ‘LOVE.(feat. Zacari)’, to his own signature mumblings on ‘LOYALTY.(feat. Rihanna)’ and ‘PRIDE.’, the latter set over a psychedelic, dreamy guitar riff, very reminiscent of Connan Mockasin. Every vocal is a stylistic choice which compliments the mood of each song.

And we’ve still got the flow, each track running creatively into each other with violent re-wind effects or stuttering cuts, spoken word, instrumental sections. Once again we have a concept driven whole, rather than the array of singles stapled together at random that the shuffle-era demands. Most interesting of these transitions is the final line of the record: “So I was taking a walk the other day…” He rewinds the entire record and begins with the first line again. Illuminati hat on: could this be a hint for a second coming? For a second release?

This brings us neatly onto part two of this feature. Like the album title, every track on Damn., is a single word with a full-stop. A definitive ending. But should we perhaps not take the full-stops to heart. That’s what some fans on Reddit seem to think. A fan theory has emerged just hours after the drop of Damn. that Kendrick will be offering a follow-up as soon as this Sunday.

Briefly, the theory goes like this: When Kendrick first announced his “very urgent” album – before we had a title, tracklist and cover-art – he dropped a single called ‘The Heart Part 4’. In this track Kendrick sings “dropped one classic, came right back”, which could refer to To Pimp a Butterfly, OR it could refer to another record – yet to be released. The lyrics continue: “My next album, the whole industry on a ice pack [the music industry is frozen in awe]…with TOC, you see the flames.” Fans say TOC means “The Other Colour”.

Simply: Damn. opens with track ‘Blood.’, and the album cover is red like the bloods’ gang colours. The other colour would therefore be blue, representing the crips’ gang colours. Since ‘The Heart Part 4′ is nowhere to be found on Damn. we are left to question where it will show up? The answer would be on a second record, the blue to Damn.‘s red. The fire to Damn.’s “ice pack.”

But this album could come at any time. Were it not for the religious symmetry in both its release schedule and aesthetics. Take the opening of Damn. where somebody is shot (there’s that gang warfare theme again). Theorists say that gunshot marks Kendrick death at the beginning of Damn. and, with it’s release date falling on Good Friday (when Jesus died on the cross), it’s difficult not to draw the religious comparisons (He wouldn’t be the first hip hop artist to compare himself to Jesus).

Especially since the second single we got before Damn.’s release was ‘Humble.’, complete with a cinematic sensation in which Kendrick is literally pictured as Jesus Christ at the last supper. This single was the final offering before the record dropped, and so fits nicely into that Christian narrative, with the next chapter being a second album dropped on Easter Sunday, complete with ‘The Heart Part 4’. And if it’s on this second record that we will “see the flames”, might he continue the Christian vibe and title this double-album DAMN-NATION?

Okay, perhaps it’s a bit of a stretch. Except for the fact that Damn. producer Sounwave just tweeted a picture of Morpheus from the Matrix, at the exact moment he delivers the Red Pill vs Blue Pill monologue. Since his last record, To Pimp a Butterfly, was Harvard canonized, it’s not unrealistic to think a theory like this could be all part of Kendrick Lamar’s master plan.