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With an incendiary beginning and deeply personal social commentary, Lamar’s fourth album reveals an artist at his real and metaphorical peak
‘The feeling of an apocalypse happening, but nothing is awkward”: one line from Kendrick Lamar that perhaps sums up 2017 more than any other in the year’s pop music. We know that the Earth is warming to apocalyptic levels, and yet in the west we can still generally go about our business unimpeded; Trump can still make apocalyptic pronouncements and yet their lunacy can obscure their seriousness. Lamar is possibly also referring to how black Americans feel under siege while many white Americans ignore their plight.
Broad social commentary like this is what made Lamar’s previous album, To Pimp a Butterfly, so powerful, with its howl that black lives matter: “You hate my people / Your plan is to terminate my culture.” But his most mesmerising skill is telescoping between these macro observations and closeups on himself and his community, something he does with incredible power on his fourth full-length release, Damn. One minute he’s pondering God or his ethnic heritage – “I’m an Israelite, don’t call me black no more.” The next he’s parroting his mother: “Better not hear ’bout you humping on Keisha’s daughter!”