The world’s great­est rap­per ™ ex­ceeds all ex­pec­ta­tions on his star-stud­ded fourth (right).

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Ken­drick La­mar’s un­stop­pable fourth al­bum be­gins with the clas­sic judo move of sam­pling en­emy voices. Here are Fox News blowhards such as Ger­aldo Rivera, claim­ing ab­surdly that “hip-hop has done more dam­age to young African-Amer­i­cans than racism in re­cent years”. DAMN. is, among other things, a stone-cold de­fence of the art form and a strong ar­gu­ment that no­body does it bet­ter than this 29- year-old Comp­ton MC. “I feel like de­bat­ing on who the great­est can stop it,” he snaps on Feel. Like Ken­drick says else­where, it’s hard be­ing hum­ble when you’re this good. To Pimp A But­ter­fly was big­ger than hip-hop. A mid- 2010s cul­tural mile­stone to rank alongside Moon­light, Ta-Ne­hisi Coates’s Be­tween The World And Me and the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment. Pure zeit­geist, which in­vited the kind of la­bels that drove Bob Dy­lan crazy 50 years ear­lier: poet, philoso­pher, voice of a gen­er­a­tion, all that jazz. Ken­drick couldn’t outdo But­ter­fly on those terms but nor has he sold him­self short, like his re­cent cheque-cash­ing guest verses for the likes of Ma­roon 5. DAMN. is an al­most flaw­less hip-hop mas­ter­class that crunches Ken­drick’s con­sum­ing con­cerns – life and death, pride and guilt, fate and freewill – into the tight­est, most explosive pack­age yet. The al­bum ti­tle is both an ex­cla­ma­tion and a verb with re­li­gious im­pli­ca­tions. Ken­drick’s ob­ses­sion with de­ci­sions and con­se­quences – his own and his coun­try’s – has ac­quired apoc­a­lyp­tic ur­gency (“The world is end­ing, I’m done pre­tend­ing”) so di­rect­ness is para­mount. You don’t have to ac­cli­ma­tise to DAMN. like you did to But­ter­fly. It comes straight at you, via Ken­drick’s vir­tu­osic com­mand of rap styles and a preacher’s arse­nal of rhetor­i­cal tech­niques, while pro­duc­ers in­clud­ing Mike WiLL MadeIt and James Blake craft tracks that are taut yet com­plex, full of thrilling twists and de­tails. Though not an overt con­cept al­bum such as But­ter­fly or his 2012 bil­dungsro­man good kid, m.A.A.d city, it tells a story. Guest vo­cal­ists, even ones as fa­mous as Bono and Rihanna, be­come char­ac­ters in an es­ca­lat­ing moral nar­ra­tive about how to be a good per­son in a hard world, and all the dif­fer­ent ways in which some­one can fall short. Ken­drick comes at his theme from sev­eral an­gles, from knock­out bat­tle


raps such as DNA and Hum­ble to the breath­tak­ing mem­oir Fear, which snap­shots Ken­drick’s anx­i­eties at three dif­fer­ent ages and wraps them in punishing verses from Deuteron­omy, the whole thing un­furl­ing like Funkadelic via OutKast. Tracks pivot on a dime. On XXX, Ken­drick’s bloody fan­tasy of aveng­ing the death of a friend’s son snaps into a mourn­ful panorama of Amer­i­can vi­o­lence fea­tur­ing an un­der­stated Bono as the voice of pained wis­dom. Lives pivot, too. On the ex­tra­or­di­nary fi­nale Duckworth, Ken­drick re­lates a nail-bit­ing en­counter be­tween a gang­banger and a KFC clerk 20 years ago. The clerk, we fi­nally learn, was Ken­drick’s fa­ther; the man who al­most killed him be­came Ken­drick’s men­tor, An­thony “Top Dawg” Tif­fith. “Who­ever thought the great­est rap­per would be from co­in­ci­dence?” In its fi­nal sec­onds, Duckworth loops back to the start of a record which now sounds like the story of a life that al­most didn’t hap­pen – a wind­ing ru­mi­na­tion on the pre­car­i­ous­ness of fate that’s ev­ery bit as bold and pro­found as To Pimp A But­ter­fly. In all its “power, poi­son, pain and joy”, DAMN. shows that there’s more than one way to make a mas­ter­piece. DO­RIAN LYNSKEY Lis­ten To: DNA | Pride | Hum­ble

Ken­drick La­mar: “his ob­ses­sion with de­ci­sions and con­se­quences has ac­quired apoc­a­lyp­tic ur­gency…”

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