Kendrick Lamar Shines Once Again on “Black Panther: The Album”

Like millions of others this past weekend, I made my way to the movie theater to take in “Black Panther”, a truly beautiful film. There’s no questioning the cultural significance of Black Panther’s arrival on the big screen, and although the long wait for such a film was absurd, it’s exciting and satisfying to see director Ryan Coogler and the cast handle the story with such care and power.

You can buy Black Panther: The Album on iTunes.

The track record of everyone involved in the film is one of excellence, so in many ways, it was delightfully fitting when Kendrick Lamar was announced to be handling the soundtrack earlier this year. The single that proceeded the release, “All the Stars” featuring SZA, was an immediate jam and set the stage for what was to come.

While I can’t say I’ve ever written about a soundtrack, I felt compelled to comment on Black Panther: The Album because it is easily my favorite release of 2018 so far, it’s another brilliant chapter in Kendrick Lamar’s ongoing dominance, and it speaks to the strength and beauty of the hip hop community to surround this film with a release of such magnitude.

After a few spins, I texted resident hip hop aficionado and podcast regular Brock Benefiel to question whether Kendrick might unexpectedly be vying for another hip hop title belt. While there’s no comparing Black Panther: The Album to recent solo releases like DAMN. or To Pimp a Butterfly, there’s certainly something to be said regarding Lamar’s gravity to draw in such a stellar supporting cast and his vision for a truly important project.

From The Weeknd to Vince Staples to Future to Jay Rock to Khalid to SZA, the album is unrelenting in star power and everyone’s voice shines. While the collection is meant to accompany the movie itself, and the placement of key songs within the film is excellent, it’s a compilation that stands alone just as well. It’s a soundtrack that could have been released under the guise of an unattached one-off project and its impact would still have felt relevant.

In early 2016, while we were all still digesting the scale and impact of To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick dropped Untitled Unmastered, a collection of unreleased songs that was met with immediate praise. Black Panther: The Album feels similar in a way – an unexpected but fully wonderful release that keeps Kendrick well in the zeitgeist and continues to solidify his status as an all-time great.

But perhaps even more important is that the soundtrack speaks to the great strengths of the hip hop community and why its music and voice are so vital.

Ryan Coogler knew full well the importance of this soundtrack and likely had little hesitation in handing the project to Kendrick Lamar. It’s a soundtrack of powerful black voices making a statement that couples well with the film while speaking to the heart of the genre. Whatever hip hop has in store for 2018, Black Panther: The Album was a truly unforgettable start.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Podcast: Who Won the 2017 Hip Hop Title Belt?

With another year in the books, Brock Benefiel joins Kiel Hauck to discuss who won the hip hop title belt in 2017 (surprise, it’s Kendrick). The duo also reflect on newcomers and movers and shakers in the genre that shaped the year, while looking ahead to predict what might come to pass in 2018, including possible albums from Kanye West, Childish Gambino, Chance the Rapper and more. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

What hip hop albums are you looking forward to in 2018? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Podcast: A Look Back at the Year in Music

As 2017 comes to a close, Kiel Hauck and Kyle Schultz take a look back at the year in music. During the discussion, the two share some of their favorite albums from 2017, including releases from Kendrick Lamar, AFI, Lucky Boys Confusion, Paramore and much more. They also talk about what could have been and reflect on recent music news that shaped the year. Listen in!

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What are some of your favorite albums of 2017? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

The Best Songs of 2017

You can view our list of The Best Albums of 2017 here.

In a year in which great albums were abundant, it goes without saying that great songs were aplenty. In just a matter of minutes, a great song can do a lot: It can take us somewhere blissful, it can make us think, it can change our perspective, it can help us forget. Our list of the Best Songs of 2017 have a little bit of everything.

Below, you’ll find songs from a variety of genres telling diverse stories. These tracks were anthems for overcoming, therapeutic outlets of emotion, ballads of love, and laments of the soul. No matter your druthers, we think you’ll find something to love. Take a look – and a listen.

15. Jake Bugg – “Southern Rain”

Jake Bugg is an extraordinary talent. Releasing almost an album a year since the start of his career, he has managed to tap into a multitude of genres while maintaining a distinct sound all his own. “Southern Rain” is a folksy ballad that manages to softly tell a story of grieving a fallen romance. However, the dreamlike soundscape and lyrics constantly remind that even in dark times, there is always something brighter just around the corner. For a song that sounds so light, it is dense with the sounds of mandolin, harmonica, keyboards, and the crisp tap of piano. Though Bugg’s lyrics stay melancholy, the music is so bright and hopeful that it promises relief. – Kyle Schultz

14. Harry Styles – “Woman”

“Woman” is one of the most enjoyable tracks on Harry Styles’ self-titled solo album. Regardless of the groovy sonic choice he made, the lyrics themselves follow a thematic trend in this year’s pop music of discussing a failed relationship. Styles’ vocal prowess shines all over the album but “Woman” is smoother than any other song. Reminiscent of psychedelic ‘70s rock, this track is easy on the ears and all around well-configured. It’s a lovely and promising example of what we can expect from post-One Direction Harry Styles. – Nadia Paiva

13. Dreamcar – “All of the Dead Girls”

DREAMCAR, the supergroup of AFI’s Davey Havok and the band from No Doubt, is a surreal project of pop and new wave rock. “All of the Dead Girls” is a true summer song dripping with beach-ready drumming and a bassline that slides beneath any 80’s montage of men playing volleyball. Havok’s sassy vocals describe the make-up clad “dead girls” that will “never blush” as he stalks the beach. For a singer known for delving into the darkest aspects of the psyche, Havok relishes in taking the haunted tangles of relationships into the sunlight for a stroll. Featuring a baritone sax and a cat’s howl, “All of the Dead Girls” is a truly unique song that never takes itself seriously from two bands that always are. – KS

12. Jay-Z – “The Story of O.J.”

Fans that waited with bated breath since the release of Beyoncé’s damning Lemonade would suffer little disappointment in Jay-Z’s 4:44. There’s a lot to parse through, but Jay makes each moment count, and such is the case with “The Story of O.J.” Jay uses clever samples and poignant lines to capture the struggle of blackness in a racist society, regardless of status, wealth or complexion. It’s an artful display of Jay-Z’s success viewed through the lens of a racist America and Jay’s own battle to push his wealth and progress into something even more lasting. It just might be the highlight of his surprising second act. – Kiel Hauck

11. Palisades – “Better Chemicals”

When Palisades left their electonicore leanings in the past for this year’s self-titled release, they didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater so much as they refined the best parts of their existing sound. On “Better Chemicals”, the band forgoes cheeky electronics and samples for tastefully placed programming that elevates the track to another level. Vocalist Louis Miceli Jr. uses the opportunity to showcase his transitional ability that explodes during a chorus of, “Need better chemicals, I know / Cause nothing helps anymore, oh no”. It’s a jarring movement into serious territory for the band and a perfectly crafted track that crackles with rock energy. – KH

10. The Early November – “In Currents (acoustic)”

As one of the first singles after the band’s reformation, “In Currents” was a nostalgic pop song that meshed minimalistic instrumentation before exploding in a torrent of sound in the chorus. It showcased almost every aspect of what made The Early November’s sound so iconic. The stripped-down version on Fifteen Years only features a bouncing guitar and a theremin-inspired synth line that turns the song into an inspirational ballad. The true star of the song, though, is Ace Enders. Enders pushes his voice as hard as he ever has, while maintaining an emotional weight that seems impossible. The result is an acoustic cover that not only surpasses the original, it deserves to be remembered among the top of The Early November’s achievements. – KS

9. PVRIS – “What’s Wrong”

“Don’t need a metaphor for you to know I’m miserable”. That crushing closing line during the chorus of “What’s Wrong” sets the stage for a sophomore follow-up from a band overwhelmed with responsibility and possibility. PVRIS harness the best of their synth-laced melodic pop rock as vocalist Lynn Gunn lays bare her fears in the face of the band’s rise to prominence. “When did I get so pitiful / Just a goddamn corpse in a centerfold”, she laments, vocalizing the struggle of a female lead in the midst of a misogynist scene. It is at once a monumental sonic step forward for a band full of potential and a dark look inside the mind of an artist in doubt. – KH

8. AFI –” So Beneath You”

While other AFI songs have mocked and questioned religion, “So Beneath You” is the most aggressive and militant. Punk rock at its purest, the song teases the band’s hardcore influence. Jade Puget can write some of the most mystifyingly beautiful guitar lines known to man, but sometimes he is at his best when strangling power chords as Davy Havok just shouts at the sky. Rather than mock the idea of religion, Havok instead issues a direct challenge as he croons, “I won’t kneel, I won’t bow / If you’re there God, strike me down, strike me down / You won’t”. Challenging standards and demanding more of their audience than most bands, “So Beneath You” exemplifies what makes AFI such a beloved band and manages to be one of the year’s best rock songs. – KS

7. Lorde – “Hard Feelings/Loveless”

Much of Lorde’s Melodrama is based on the toll fame takes on an artist, notably in their interpersonal relationships. One of the most poignant moments is found right at the end of the first portion of “Hard Feelings/Loveless”, in which she reminisces on a past relationship, stating “I’ll start letting go of little things / ‘Til I’m so far away from you / Far away from you”. What is so impressive about this song is how seamlessly she changes from the topic of her own relationship to the topic of relationships in general in our digital world, and how we don’t always place the value on them that they deserve. It’s relatable and one of the most memorable tracks on a beautiful album. – NP

6. Halsey – “Strangers”

Amidst a brave retelling of Romeo and Juliet, Halsey uses “Strangers” as an LGBTQ love song, dropping the pretense of well-worn pronouns. Here, she and Lauren Jauregui trade lines of longing atop richly-inspired 80s synthesizers. “She doesn’t kiss me on the mouth anymore / Cause it’s more intimate than she feels we should get”, Halsey opens, before Jauregui’s response of, “She doesn’t let me have control anymore / I must have crossed the line, I must have lost my mind”. It’s a delightfully sensual, deeply danceable track of star-crossed lovers and an example of Halsey’s feel for the pulse of modern pop. There aren’t many that do it better. – KH

5. Kesha – “Praying”

“I hope you’re somewhere praying / I hope your soul is changing”, Kesha belts at her abuser on one of the year’s most emotionally powerful tracks. It’s a stark pivot for the artist herself, but an even more powerful statement in a year in which our culture begins to fully realize the deep claws that sexual abuse holds in our society. As the song builds towards its crescendo, Kesha finds the strength to flip the power imbalance that held her hostage for so long: “Cause I can make it on my own / And I don’t need you, I found a strength I’ve never known / I’ll bring thunder, I’ll bring rain / And when I’m finished, they won’t even know your name”. If chills don’t run up your spine, you must have held your head in the sand for the entirety of 2017. – KH

4. Liam Gallagher – “Wall of Glass”

For fans of Oasis, there will always be the eternal argument of which Gallagher brother is the favorite. While Noel has experimented with his sound on his own solo venture, Liam Gallagher’s first solo single is the best song Oasis never wrote. The rich layers in “Wall of Glass” are mesmerizing – the dance club beat, the bobbing bass line, the show-stealing harmonica, the ghostly back-up singers, and the sizzling guitar all hide beneath some of the best vocals Liam Gallagher has ever recorded. It’s a testament that the best sounds aren’t always found by pushing for something new, but by tilling what has already been laid as the foundation of expectation and kicking the shit out of it. “Wall of Glass” sounds like it aimed to be the best rock song of any year in the last two decades and pulls it off with style to spare. – KS

3. Paramore – “Fake Happy”

It’s no secret that Paramore drew inspiration from their experience with mental illness with the track “Fake Happy” from After Laughter. What sets it apart from other songs on the topic is its accessibility. Undoubtedly, many listeners will identify with the lyrical themes but also find enjoyment in the musical quality, most especially in the infectious bridge which puts a smile on even the most downtrodden of us. The music video (directed by the band’s own Zac Farro) shows that idea perfectly, and is the cherry on top of an already beautifully displayed picture of humanity. – NP

2. Kendrick Lamar – “DNA.”

Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. begins with a chilling short story before audio from a Fox News broadcast admonishes the message of Kendrick’s 2015 Black Lives Matter anthem “Alright”. Before the clip can reach completion, Lamar bursts through the door with “DNA”’s opening lines of, “I’ve got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA”. Throughout the track, Kendrick flexes his varied vocal deliveries over a rattling bassline, juxtaposing earned braggadocio with self-deprecation as he inspects the inner workings of his soul. It’s the perfect opening to the year’s best record and an eardrum vibrating reminder that Kendrick’s talent surpasses his peers, both in execution and in content. – KH

1. Julien Baker – “Appointments”

It’s difficult to fully quantify the progression from Julien Baker’s debut to this year’s Turn Out the Lights, but if you were to point to a single track as an example, it would be “Appointments”. Atop a painfully lonesome guitar and piano, Baker lays out the private battle of depression and the strain it puts on relationships. Yet above all of the excruciating imagery is something more vital and more powerful – a will to overcome. When Baker lets loose with her belted vocals of, “Maybe it’s all gonna turn out alright / Oh, I know that it’s not, but I have to believe that it is” at the song’s conclusion, it’s a reminder that some small battles can be momentarily won – a perfectly humble message from one of music’s most exciting young voices. – KH

Honorable Mention:

Carly Rae Jepsen – “Cut to the Feeling”
Vince Staples – “Big Fish”
Taylor Swift – “…Ready for It?”
Acceptance – “Colliding by Design”
Haim – “Want You Back”

Posted by Kiel Hauck

The Best Albums of 2017

You can view our list of The Best Songs of 2017 here.

Another year is in the books, and while it’s easy to dwell on the negatives of one of the strangest years in recent memory, 2017 was certainly not wanting for incredible music. In fact, 2017 produced so many great albums, it’s hard to show end-of-the-year love to all that deserve it. But we’re going to try anyway.

Our list of the best albums of 2017 touched on a variety of powerful and important topics, from social injustice to mental illness to the strength it takes to shift power imbalances and overcome abuse. The artists below not only thoughtfully tackled important themes, but did so in a way that made us move and forced us to find hope in the mist of brokenness. Without further ado, take a look at some of the best albums of the year.

 

15. New Found Glory – Makes Me Sick

When New Found Glory release an album, there is a certain expectation for how it should sound. When they release an album that manages to branch out enough to rank as one of their more unique releases, it is something to pay attention to. Makes Me Sick is a true summer album that delves into cavity inducing pop while maintaining mosh-ready guitars (“Call Me Anti-Social”). The synth that make its way into the album make each song instantly recognizable, especially as the band take stabs at the world around them (“Party on Apocalypse”), and rarely has the band sounded so inspired (“Barbed Wire”). Makes Me Sick is the reason that after 20 years, New Found Glory are still as important as they were when they helped found the modern pop punk scene. – Kyle Schultz

14. Eisley – I’m Only Dreaming

The spirit of Eisley moves onward on I’m Only Dreaming, even in the absence of DuPree sisters Stacy and Chauntelle. In their stead, Sherri DuPree-Bemis carries the vocal load across an array of tracks that harken to the ambiguity and innocence of Room Noises. At once melodically gorgeous and sonically curious, I’m Only Dreaming offers the dream-like soundscape that put Eisley on the map well over a decade ago. DuPree-Bemis floats above her cousin Garron’s shoegaze guitar licks that range from grungier affairs “Louder Than a Lion” to indie pop numbers that stand as some of the band’s best work to date “Always Wrong”. – Kiel Hauck

13. The Early November – Fifteen Years

It’s hard to imagine an acoustic ‘best of’ album being one of the best of the year, but Ace Enders has always defied expectation. Fifteen Years not only finds a way to hit all of the band’s best songs, but in many ways, it surpasses the originals. Enders has always impressed with his acoustic songs, but the stripped-down versions of some of their biggest hits allows his vocals to truly shine like they never have before. What were some of the band’s biggest rock songs (“Decorations”, “In Currents” “Boxing Timelines”) become emotional ballads. It’s apparent that The Early November have spent their career deserving more credit than anyone ever suspected. – KS

12. Palisades – Palisades

Call it a progression, but reinvention works just as well. Palisades’ self-titled release finds the New Jersey post-hardcore act shedding the electronicore leanings they embraced across their first two records. On Palisades, the band finds a new voice within grunge and nu metal elements that serve as the perfect playground for vocalist Louis Miceli Jr. to display his new, commanding delivery. With the absence of party gimmicks, the band is free to cover fresh thematic territory, adding a welcome dose of levity to match their new style. It’s the kind of 180 turn that opens a variety of doors for a band that has a chance to make a splash in the alt rock waters. – KH

11. Neck Deep – The Peace and the Panic

Neck Deep are an endlessly fascinating band. They have managed to harness the best aspects of pop punk and continuously remind us why the genre matters. The guitars are harsh but sway with rich melody that make easycore bands envious. Every song on The Peace and the Panic demands to be sung along to as the band tackles every topic from rebellion against the government (“Don’t Wait”), depression (“The Grand Delusion”), or telling a story of romance (“19 Seventy Sumthin’”). Neck Deep are a shining example of what makes pop punk such a brilliant genre, and they do it with a sound that marches forward as much as it honors the bands of yesteryear. – KS

10. PVRIS – All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell

Shedding any notion of a sophomore slump, PVRIS delivered with their anticipated follow up to White Noise. All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell zeros in on the best parts of the band’s debut and expands on both sonic and thematic levels. Making use of dark synthesizers and deep, grooving basslines, the trio build dread-infused soundscapes that allow Lynn Gunn to explore an array of fears and regrets. Whether she’s powering through anthems like “Heaven” or growling across the chorus of “No Mercy”, Gunn has become one of the most exciting voices in the scene, and PVRIS appears to have the legs to reach the next level. – KH

9. Kesha – Rainbow

To use a most tired cliché, Rainbow is a roller coaster, driving us through the turbulent aftermath of abuse and the will and strength of a survivor. The album is varied and messy, but works beautifully as a therapeutic outlet of the highest order. From the fist-pumping fury of “Woman” to the tear-jerking pleas of “Praying”, Kesha provides a voice for the broken and a song for the redeemed. Amidst tears and laughter Kesha weaves the story of life on the other side and embraces the freedom in letting go. Rainbow is truly the brilliant comeback everyone was rooting for. – KH

8. Lorde – Melodrama

Lorde (Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor) risked becoming irrelevant by releasing her sophomore album three long years after her debut. “Melodrama”, however, is an absolute masterpiece and refuses to be ignored. This album meets even the highest of expectations that led up to Lorde’s second release. She used the past few years to grow vocally and artistically, and with help from another pop mastermind, Jack Antonoff, Lorde has (once again) completely changed the face of alt-pop. – Nadia Paiva

7. Lucky Boys Confusion – Stormchasers

Coming back from the dead, Lucky Boys Confusion have rarely sounded better. Stormchasers exceeds expectations for a band that hadn’t written a song together for a decade. Biting into the personal tragedies that have plagued the band for the last few years, LBC manage to make some of the most inspired rock songs of their career. “It’s After Midnight” picks up directly off of the sound of their last EP (released in 2006), while “Stormchaser” taps into the sounds of the band’s career to honor fallen band member, Joe Sell.  “Sun In My Eyes” looks towards a brighter future and “Good Luck”, celebrates the band’s past and tells the story of making it as a band. Lucky Boys Confusion is a continuous story of perseverance and honoring a fan base that refuses to quit. – KS

6. Glassjaw – Material Control

Fifteen years have passed since Long Island’s post-hardcore kings released an album, and yet, somehow, Material Control feels like the most Glassjaw record ever put to tape. Material Control is the visceral blend of aggression and melody that put the band on the map nearly two decades ago, yet sounds as fresh as any heavy record released in 2017. The dirty bassline on “Shira” will cause you to break a sweat while Daryl Palumbo’s vocal acrobatics on “Golgotha” will make your jaw drop. Material Control is the kind of relentless record that hard rock desperately needed, and a worthy successor to Worship and Tribute, even if the wait was far too long. – KH

5. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

With Big Fish Theory, Vince Staples remains one of the most coy (koi) rappers around (get it?) Across the album’s 12 tracks, Staples wrestles with the fame that has lifted him from his home and threatens to numb him of the pain and struggle that still plagues those around him. Doing it all atop beats that embrace club and house leanings, Staples invites his listeners to dance, even as the themes force you to stop and think. It’s a juxtaposition as profound as the rapper himself, and just another reason why Staples may be one of the most underappreciated artists of our time. – KH

4. AFI – The Blood Album

AFI (The Blood Album) was one of the first records released in 2017 and it is still among the year’s top contenders as the year comes to an end. The Blood Album picks up where the band left things on 2013’s Burials, and pushes forward to make the record one of the best they have ever released. Jade Puget’s dark guitar lines still manage to impress and blaze with the power that other bands require multiple musicians for. Having been the second of three albums that Davey Havok sang for within the span of a year (Blaqk Audio and DREAMCAR), the intensity of his voice is mesmerizing. AFI’s dark pop songs are a masterclass in musicianship. As an amalgamation of everything they have released over the course of a 20+ year career, AFI (The Blood Album) is worthy of being the band’s first self-titled effort, and standing among their best releases. – KS

3. Paramore – After Laughter

Paramore’s long-awaited return came with a release defining some of the most overarching topics plaguing young adults today: mental illness, hopelessness, loneliness, and the idea that we can find the light we’ve lost. Taking a sharp turn from their alternative roots and moving into an ‘80s synth direction, Paramore provided a dose of reality packaged in both fun and reflective ways. We’ve watched Hayley Williams and co. grow up and face some difficult times and, somehow, they’ve always portrayed it gracefully. “After Laughter” is no different. – NP

2. Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights

On Turn Out the Lights, Julien Baker does more than tug at our heartstrings, she dives deep into the crevices of depression without pulling punches. Whether accompanied by just her guitar or surrounded by organs and strings, Baker’s voice fluctuates from crackling despair to cries of strength, voicing a struggle familiar to many. What makes Baker’s songs so meaningful is her painful honesty – there is no sugarcoating – and when she searches for hope, she does so with every fiber of her being. At the end of the journey, her powerful final cry of ,“I wanted to stay”, is enough to shake any listener to the core. – KH

1. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

How do you follow up one of the most heralded and important hip hop releases in recent memory? Like this, apparently. Whereas To Pimp a Butterfly stretched outward into the systematic oppressions of our society, DAMN. worms its way into Kendrick Lamar’s psyche, revealing the inner workings of one of the most important artistic voices of our time. Oscillating between “Pride” and “Humble”, “Love” and “Lust”, “Fear” and “God”, Kendrick fights for truth and hope amidst brokenness.

From the rumbling bassline of “DNA” to the throwback samples and drums of “Duckworth”, Kendrick paints a canvas that opens new possibilities for his own rhyme schemes and vocal delivery. At once timeless and fresh, DAMN. is the new bench mark for modern hip hop. There is little room left for debate: Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper alive. – KH

Honorable Mention

Bleachers – Gone Now
Halsey – Hopeless Fountain Kingdom
Jay-Z – 4:44
Tigers Jaw – Spin
Tyler, The Creator – Flower Boy

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Podcast: Interview with Dissect’s Cole Cuchna

Now in its second season, Dissect has quickly become one of the most popular music podcasts in the country by offering a thoughtful, nuanced, track-by-track look at two classic hip hop albums. On our latest podcast, Kiel Hauck talked with its creator and host, Cole Cuchna, about his process for creating the show and his surprise at its rapid growth. Cuchna also shares some powerful thoughts on the importance of empathy, the legacy of Kanye West, and why hip hop is such a powerful art form. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here. If you haven’t listened to Dissect, you can check out this extremely compelling serialized music podcast here.

Posted by Kiel Hauck

(Lead photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

Podcast: Jay-Z’s Surprising Second Act

With the release of 4:44, Jay-Z has added to an impressive second half of his career. On our latest podcast, Kiel Hauck and Brock Benefiel discuss Jay-Z’s career since the release of The Black Album and how he has maintained massive cultural relevance and fame despite his missteps. The discussion also includes Jay’s best albums and songs and how current artists like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole have been impacted by Jay-Z’s legacy. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

What is your favorite Jay-Z album? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Podcast: The Brilliance of Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.”

A new Kendrick Lamar album has officially arrived! Brock Benefiel joins Kiel Hauck to discuss DAMN. and how it fits within Kendrick Lamar’s discography. The duo discuss Kendrick’s growing legacy, the absence of a true rival, and the variety of sonic and thematic ground covered on the new album. They also share their favorite tracks from DAMN. and rank Kendrick’s full length albums. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

What are your thoughts on DAMN.? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

As I type this, the internet is still debating whether a second Kendrick Lamar album will be arriving during his Sunday Coachella performance. Lost in the admittedly fun, but absurdly pointless discussion is that we have a new Kendrick Lamar album and it’s really, really good.

Not that anyone’s saying it’s not, but it’s almost as if the 29-year-old Compton rapper has ascended to such a level of excellence at his craft that we’ve run out of inspired responses. DAMN. is a complete sonic departure from Kendrick’s recent work, but every bit as compelling. It’s an easy listen, but it requires effort to fully appreciate.

You can buy DAMN. on iTunes.

With 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick created an instant classic and an album that will still be discussed in the coming decades as a hip hop masterpiece, both as a work of art and as affecting social commentary. And all of this as a follow up to good kid, M.A.A.D City, the 2012 album that thrust Kendrick into the pop culture spotlight and stands as a classic in its own right.

Is it too soon to place DAMN. upon the shelf next to these two goliath records? I don’t think so. As difficult as it’s become to repeatedly react in the moment as an unbiased music critic, sometimes a moment is all you need, because damn, this album is good.

On this latest release, Kendrick forgoes the overarching narratives that turned To Pimp and good kid into the best kind of concept records, but DAMN. is still just as cohesive. In fact, the purposeful juxtaposition of each track creates an equally captivating listen.

Throughout the course of DAMN., Lamar continues his examinations of race, religion and society at large, while constantly probing his own motivations. Amidst these musings, the greatest rapper alive continues to battle against himself, using self-deprecation to balance out his perceived prideful tendencies. It’s an exploration in duality that never grows old. “I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA”, he spits over a trunk-rattling beat on “DNA.”

On DAMN., these ponderings take on a more palpable tone simply because of the album’s makeup. Whether it be relationships (“LUST. and “LOVE.”), ego (“PRIDE.” and “HUMBLE.”), or religion, (“FEAR.” and “GOD.”), Kendrick continually offers his own counterpoints, never even allowing for one particular sound to drown out another. Lest early single “HUMBLE.” or the opening moments of “DNA.” lead you to believe DAMN. to be nothing but bangers, Kendrick has included a little something for everyone.

As fun as it is to hear Kendrick let loose on some of the album’s more aggressive tracks, it’s almost more engaging to hear him try new tricks. Songs like “YAH.” and “ELEMENT.” showcase a more relaxed Lamar, complete with moments that out-Drake Drake. “I don’t do it for the Gram, I do it for Compton”, he genuinely and effortlessly fires on the latter. Throw in a couple smoothly sung hooks and it’s hard to remember what all the fuss about More Life was about.

If you’re looking to vibe out, look no further than “LOYALTY.”, as Kendrick and Rihanna split the mic to examine the weight of honesty. Even U2’s appearance on “XXX.” lands right, as Kendrick and Bono examine the problematic nature of blending religion and politics, with Kendrick spitting, “Hail Mary, Jesus and Joseph / The great American flag is wrapped and dragged with explosives”. By the time he closes the album with “DUCKWORTH.”, a bone-chilling tale of how Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith almost killed Lamar’s father, Ducky, and how that would have dramatically altered his life course, you need a moment to gather yourself before hitting repeat.

It would be easy to fault Kendrick for the dizzying amount of topical ground covered across the 14 tracks of DAMN. if it weren’t for the underlying themes that tie these tracks together and make this album so much more than a new set of songs. Amidst the persistent changes of pace lies a vulnerable Lamar, constantly questioning whether anyone out there is praying for him. Not a petty cry for attention, Kendrick’s motive here is to express his fears – that money has changed him (or will), that he’s lost a part of who he was (or will), and that he’s not cut out to deliver the message he’s so passionate to share. Embedded voicemail interludes remind him (and us) that Kendrick’s community is present and united.

Kendrick Lamar is so compelling, not just because he truly is the greatest rapper alive, but because he unveils the fears that many share with uncomfortable honesty. It’s ironic that his very fears and uncertainties are what make his message all the more impactful. In many ways, DAMN. makes To Pimp a Butterfly even more meaningful and poignant simply by existing.

It’s going to take a few more months to fully unpack this album and have the types of conversations that it truly warrants. In the meantime, we know one thing for certain – DAMN. lives up to the hype by shedding preconceptions and targeting the motivations of one of music’s most important voices. I’m not sure about you, but I’m not quite ready for that second album just yet.

5/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Kendrick Lamar Drops “The Heart Part 4”

And just like that, Kendrick Lamar has returned. Not even a week after Drake took over the headlines with his More Life playlist, Kendrick has dropped a new single titled “The Heart Part 4” in preparation for the release of his new album. The final lines of the track hint that the album will arrive on April 7.

There’s no disputing Kendrick’s current hold on the hip hop crown. 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly was an immediate classic – an album that not only elevated Lamar as an artist, but also served as poignant and necessary commentary on race and social injustice in America. “The Heart Part 4” gives us reason to believe that Kendrick’s new body of work will continue the conversation.

There’s a lot to unpack in the nearly five minutes of music that feature no chorus, but one consistent stream of through. Perhaps the most discussed moments on the new track relate to perceived slights against Drake and Big Sean. Whether further barbs lie within the new album remains to be seen.

No matter what April 7 brings, we can rest assured that it will provide plenty to talk about and hopefully another full length album to dig into. Kendrick’s last two releases, To Pimp and good kid, m.A.A.d city, sound just as fresh as they did on the day of their respective releases. It could be a long two weeks, but I have confidence that it will be worth the wait.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.