The rapper makes following up one of the strongest albums of our time look easy
"'DAMN.' would be the idea I can't change the world until I change myself."
In saying that, Kendrick Lamar probably gave the most accurate review of his new album, 'DAMN'.
Whether he felt it or not, the pressure was on the Compton-rapper, now well-established as one of the leaders in the genre. Emerging from the shadow cast by one of the most stunning albums of this century, 'To Pimp A Butterfly', he set out to continue his address to the nation, but is not in the habit of repeating himself.
So, after discussing black incarceration, institutionalised discrimination and the oppressive class system, where does one go? For Kendrick, it was inward.
'To Pimp A Butterfly' works as a stand-alone commentary largely focused on social issues - immediately, 'DAMN.' is a more emotive, personal run-through.
It's introspective, but in no way does that make it restrained or indulgent - this is best seen on visceral opener BLOOD., exploring duality, personal conscience and breaking the chain of history long associated with young black men.
Coupled with the album's closer DUCKWORTH., - the true story of when Anthony 'Top Dawg' Tiffith nearly killed Kendrick's father, Ducky, at a drive-thru KFC - sees Kendrick solidify his status as a master storyteller. ('Top Dawg' would go on to sign a 15-year-old Kendrick to his label Top Dawg Entertainment).
It's these subtleties that make this record as impressionable as it is - the lilting vocal pitch throughout the verses of PRIDE.; the reversed beat on LUST.
He reserves the nuclear energy that anchored 'To Pimp ...' for two tracks. It resurfaces on the biting second half of FEAR. - a dark look at the terror which seized him as he grew up in Compton. He's also venomous on DNA., adopting a multi-faceted outlook on his own black heritage.
Lead single HUMBLE. almost doesn't fit among the other tracks. The Mike Will Made It beat is instantly recognisable, and though it lends itself to K Dot's verses, it's a cookie-cutter rap track because of the simplistic production.
And despite promising that a feminist thread would run through this album, his only reference to the issue is calling out photo-retouching and shouting out natural beauty. Not ground-breaking, and slightly disappointing - given his platform, he could have gone a long way in changing societal views of women and women's issues among his audience.
"I’ve been attached to this piece of art for the last year and some change, I’ve indulged so much I don’t even want to hear it," he said in the same interview mentioned above. "I just want to give it to the people and let them take it and live with it and breathe it. Then when I come back on that stage, that’s when I want to feel it."
'DAMN.' is a declaration from Kendrick Lamar - to himself, and to the people - that he is but a mere mortal attempting to live in the world he sees. And even though he might not be shouting as he loudly as he was on previous efforts, Kendrick still demands to be listened to.