What it is: The fourth studio album from rapper Kendrick Lamar.
In a way, Kendrick Lamar achieved rap dominance the same way Kanye West did: By bringing together both its gangsta side and its more conscious, self-aware threads. (Kendrick’s* 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly mixed anti-cop death threats with Sufjan Stevens samples and appeals to the ghost of Nelson Mandela.) But Kanye’s style is more cerebral, which makes sense for a middle-class producer whose street cred came pretty much entirely from co-signs and collaborations with other artists like Jay Z. On the other hand, Kendrick grew up on the notoriously tough streets of Compton, and his style is more physical, with a lot of energetic and technically breathtaking verses as well as production that has an organic and cohesive sound rather than one that calls attention to its own source material.
*I’m going to refer to him as “Kendrick” instead of “Lamar” because “Lamar” isn’t actually his last name (his full name is “Kendrick Lamar Duckworth”), so I don’t know if referring to him as “Lamar” would be like calling Stevie Ray Vaughn “Ray,” and also because Kendrick and I are good friends.
Like Kanye, though, Kendrick can capably handle a bunch of different tones. DAMN. features hard-hitting, angry tracks like “DNA.” and “HUMBLE.” alongside sweet pop songs like “LOVE.” and more relaxed chill-out sessions like “YAH.” He’s never been one of my personal favorite rappers–I’m more of a Kanye guy at heart–but I’m happy to see such a smart and ambitious artist succeeding in the mainstream, and this might be my favorite record of his so far.