Most Anticipated Music of 2020: Kendrick Lamar Continues His Streak

In case you missed it, Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar spent the 2010s crafting one of the greatest three-album stretches in recorded music history, capped in 2017 with the Pulitzer Prize-winning DAMN. So essentially, it was a pretty great decade for Lamar – and hip hop music in general. But what comes next?

Rumor has it that he has put the finishing touches on album number five, which will likely drop this year. Lamar has explored a variety of sounds across his previous work, at times blending a variety of genres, such as jazz, funk, and soul. A tweet from one Billboard columnist suggests that rock could be added to the mix on this latest effort.

No matter what it sounds like, one can rest assured that Lamar has plenty left to say. In 2015, To Pimp a Butterfly became a piercing exposition of institutional racism, full of deep reflections on the black experience in America. DAMN. followed suit while taking an internal detour into Lamar’s own pysche. Whatever is to follow is sure to kick the decade off right and continue the artistic trajectory of one of the most powerful voices in music.

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 pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

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.

Most Anticipated of 2017: #8 Kendrick Lamar Defends the Crown

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Just to be clear – there’s no rush for Kendrick Lamar to follow up on 2015’s acclaimed To Pimp a Butterfly, especially not after last year’s surprise untitled unmastered compilation. Nevertheless, it feels fair to dream of what might come next from hip hop’s current undisputed champion.

At age 29, Kendrick Lamar has firmly positioned himself among the hip hop greats, proving to be one of the most innovative and exciting artists of his generation. Whether it be the undeniable beauty and breathtaking vision of his first three studio albums or his ability to own every single guest appearance he makes, Lamar has executed a perfect landing on every attempt he’s taken since calling his own shot on Big Sean’s “Control”.

The proper follow up to Butterfly will likely take some time. That album, full of sonic and lyrical weight, still feels just as fresh and relevant as it did when it dropped two years ago. Whether Kendrick’s next move is another solo venture, a rumored project with J. Cole, or something else entirely, we’ll be waiting with bated breath for the next installment from the new king of rap.

“What is competition? / I’m tryna raise the bar high / Who tryna jump and get it? / You better off tryna skydive”

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.

Podcast: Kendrick Lamar’s Surprise Return

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Last month, Kendrick Lamar dropped a surprise collection of eight new songs: Untitled Unmastered. Brock Benefiel joins Kiel Hauck on this episode of the podcast to break down the release and discuss some of its finer moments. The two also reflect on Kendrick’s career arc, his influence on hip hop, and whether he has a chance to hold the genre’s title belt in 2016. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here. Share your thoughts in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

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Kendrick Lamar excels as a rapper with restraint. A lyricist with seemingly endless talent, he thrived under the self-imposed limits of good kid, m.a.a.d. city. Confined to the day-in-the-life of Kendrick in Compton circa 2005, the concept album offers a clean coming-of-age redemption arc. His previous work—the mixtape masterpiece Section .80—is a limited narration of a few home city characters that shed light on the struggles of an entire generation born into the 1980’s crack epidemic.

To Pimp a Butterfly is a decidedly less focused album, anchored only to an introspective look at the Compton rapper in his post-good kid fame. The result is almost 80 minutes of wandering emotions over disparate sounds that are always surprising, mostly fascinating but sometimes frustrating.

On To Pimp, Lamar dumps his Pandora’s Box of feelings onto a soundboard and spends 16 tracks sorting through it. The manic swings between self-loathing and self-worship, depression and elation, offer a sonic whiplash in the album’s best moments. His bipolar companion pieces “i” and “u” juxtapose Lamar’s competing desires to wield internal strength for absolution while being equally capable of turning that violent power on himself.

He’s astonishingly honest, exploring depression and grandiosity alike. On “King Kunta”—the album’s strongest track—Lamar is brash in sporting his championship belt, unafraid of offending while on the throne. The scorching “The Blacker the Berry” is poetic fire breathing—a look at Lamar as he absorbs external race atrocities and unleashes anger on his own contradictions, in addition to the culture that’s tolerated recent travesties. The 27-year-old gives listeners a myriad of different viewpoints, but never apologizes for being himself.

Nor is he afraid to push the music. The genre’s most influential lyricist, part of Lamar’s evolution on To Pimp includes an infusion of colorful sounds, moving from big jazz horns to psychedelic funk and even into easy R&B grooves. He bypasses the Dr. Dre-inspired beats of good kid and main-lines the genres his mentor used to slow down. Plenty of his contemporaries are eager to include different musical influences. Lamar is the most excited to abandon hip-hop sounds altogether.

He’s earned a lot of these indulgences. The groundswell of the early mixtapes, the shuttle launch of good kid, and the guest verses since have continuously cemented the Compton rapper’s position in the pop music zeitgeist. His internet shaking appearance on Big Sean’s “Control” in 2013 accomplished more in a verse than most rappers achieve on an entire album. On To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar is willing to spend the political capital he’s earned.

It’s one reason the album’s journey has all the ease of an exhausting therapy session. It’s hard to embark on some songs without taking a deep breath. Lamar doesn’t shy away from his meticulous, thorough nature on To Pimp but he’s not always effective. By the time he reaches “How Much A Dollar Cost”, the album starts to feel tired before the cannon shot to the finish line packed into the album’s final four tracks. When Lamar picks through the complexity of his personality, he’s most interesting when he chooses to break down these walls with a sledgehammer.

Lamar responded to burden of the unparalleled critical praise of good kid by mining the deepest trenches of his psyche on To Pimp. What bubbles up is the hard-hitting, blunt perspective that makes To Pimp a Butterfly another important step in his young career, but it doesn’t forgive his inability to reign in the tangential strings. On the second half of the otherwise brilliant “u”, the Compton rapper begins to dwindle into redundancy. It’s as if obliterating his opponents on “Control” has left him with more space to flex on the album. He needs to find that person to help him return to more restraint. No different than Kanye West handing over Yeezus to be Rick Rubin-ized or Paul Thomas Anderson tightening his films after Magnolia.

If it’s an isolated feeling on top, Lamar is conscious of it. “I’m the closest thing to a preacher they have,” he said of his fans to The New York Times. “I know that from being on tour—kids are living by my music.” Even if there is a strange divinity in his perspective on his craft (he’s not the only one, another guy compared him to Gandhi), there’s no denying his dominance.

On his quest for introspection, Lamar isn’t alone. Childish Gambino, J. Cole and Drake are all deftly pushing popular rap inward. But Lamar is always the most interesting amongst his peers due to his versatile delivery and unmatched ability to rhyme. On “Alright”, there’s no denying Kendrick is the genre’s most proficient talent.

Lamar is at the vanguard at a much-needed time for rap music. He is the genre’s most technically advanced craftsman. And it’s a superpower he uses for good. Recently, Lamar appeared in trailer for “Straight Outta Compton” talking to Dr. Dre and Ice Cube about the lasting influence of N.W.A. The spot was an unsubtle reminder that Lamar is the current torchbearer. But it was also a damning indication in the lingering themes of police brutality and racial injustice present in both the biopic and Lamar’s album that as much the new Compton rapper is evolving music, his country is much farther behind.

Lamar’s distaste for the stagnant political climate of 2015 America is on full display. “Ain’t nothin’ new but a flow of new DemoCrips and ReBloodlicans – Red state versus a blue state, which one you governin’?” he raps on “Hood Politics”. Lamar is skilled in his role as social commenter, reflecting personal experiences on the present day background and offering a unique perspective. He screams “hypocrite!” on “The Blacker The Berry” because he’s firmly rooted in a sense of personal responsibility. It makes his music more complicated—he isn’t always offering red meat protest songs to placate an angry audience. He doesn’t stand down from the fight either. Lamar handles complex issues and his own complicated feelings with a veteran’s competence.

To Pimp a Butterfly will be an album worth unpacking for a long time. It’s a trademark of Lamar’s work and his sophomore effort is his most dense. As a writer, his massive fanbase hangs on his every word and Lamar often delivers. Even when he wanders, he isn’t quite sloppy. In 2015, Lamar’s music matters, as much if not more than any other artist.

4/5

by Brock Benefiel

kiel_hauckBrock Benefiel is a writer from Indianapolis. In addition to his rap nerdom, he is currently writing a spec script for a “Love Monkey” reboot. You can follow him on Twitter.

Kendrick Lamar Set to Release “To Pimp a Butterfly” on March 23

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The time has come. Kendrick Lamar has announced the title of his new album – To Pimp a Butterfly. The album is set to drop on March 23 and is the follow-up to 2012’s acclaimed good kid, m.A.A.d city. The album artwork and a potential track list can be found below.

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01.Tenth Circle of Hell
02. Poisoned Youth
03. Watching the World Burn
04. Fade Away
05. i (Extended Version)
06. Purgatory
07. Blood in the Streets (Feat. Anna Wise)
08. Heaven’s Choir (Interlude)
09. Stranger
10. Black Mamba
11. Fall Through Time (Feat. George Clinton)
12. Prayers from Africa
13. The Blacker The Berry
14. Savior of The Tribes
15. King Kunta
16. The Revolution is Live (Feat. Pete Rock)

Are you excited for the new album? Share your thoughts in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck