Originally posted March 2, 2019.
Released: April 14, 2017
Peak: #14 US, #2 UK, #13 CN, #2 AU
Sales (in millions): 3.0 US, 0.1 UK, 3.45 world (includes US and UK)
Quotable: “The work of a supremely confident artist at the top of his game.” – Alex Petridis, The Guardian
Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.)
“If Kendrick Lamar felt pressure to continue living up to his previous output,” AMG “there’s no evidence on Damn.,” AMG his fourth studio effort. “He’s too occupied tracing the spectrum of his mental states” AMG and examining “most of the seven deadly sins, aware all along that his existence is threatened by anyone who objects to the color of his skin or clothes – or, in the case of the blind stranger who shoots him during the album’s opener, nothing that is apparent.” AMG
Compared to his previous efforts, Damn. “seems like a comparatively simple rap album that demands less from the listener. There’s relative concision in the track titles and material, and a greater emphasis on commercial sounds – such as Mike Will’s lean and piano-laced trap beat for the strong-arming Humble.” AMG Will originally developed the beat for Gucci Mane, but then he showed it to Lamar. Then it was going to be released on Will’s debut album, but Lamar was convinced to keep it for himself. WK The result was his first #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 as a lead artist.
The pair also worked on DNA, again starting with a beat Will had already prepared. Lamar rapped the second verse a cappella and asked Will to build the beat around the rap. Will did so, intending to make it “sound like he’s battling the beat.” WK The song was supported by a video and entered the Billboard Hot 100 at #4, making it Lamar’s second-highest charting song as a solo artist. WK
Other official singles included Love and Loyalty, both of which were top 20 pop hits in the U.S. featuring guest turns by Zacari and Rihanna respectively. The former was a #1 R&B airplay hit and the latter was a top 10. “Love” was certified by the RIAA for more than 4 million units; “Loyalty” garned 2 million.
“In a way, however, Damn. is just as lavish and singular as the preceding albums, its quantity and weight of thoughts and connected concepts condensed into a considerably tighter space. It contains some of Lamar’s best writing and performances, revealing his evolving complexity and versatility as a soul-baring lyricist and dynamic rapper. Although it’s occasionally distorted, stretched, smeared, and reversed to compelling and imagination-fueling effect, his voice is at its most affecting in its many untreated forms. Take Fear, in which he switches between echoing hot-blooded parental threats to enumerating, with a 40-acre stare, various death scenarios.” AMG
“His storytelling hits an astonishing new high on Duckworth, the album’s finale. Over ethereal funk sewn by 9th Wonder, Lamar details a potentially tragic encounter between his father and future Top Dawg CEO Anthony Tiffith – and the conditions leading to it – that occurred long before Kung Fu Kenny was known as K.Dot.” AMG
The album received widespread critical acclaim. In Rolling Stone, Christopher R. Weingarten called it “a brilliant combination of the timeless and the modern, the old school and the next level.” WK Entertainment Weekly’s Eric Renner Brown said the album yieled some of Lamar’s “most emotionally resonant music yet.” WK and The Guardian’s Alex Petridis said “it sounds like the work of a supremely confident artist at the top of his game.” WK
It earned Lamar a Grammy for Best Rap Album and a nomination for Album of the Year. It was named album of the year by several publications, including Billboard, Q magazine, Rolling Stone, and Spin. Even more impressive, though, is that it won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music, the first non-jazz or classical work to score such an honor. WK