Replay: ‘DAMN.’ Proves Music is in Kendrick Lamar’s ‘DNA.’

Sorce listened to Lamar’s album after preparing to attend Lollapalooza — and was initially unimpressed.

I’ve never been the biggest fan of rap. Growing up, my household was enveloped in the sounds of ‘80s and ‘90s rock music. 

This changed in July when I was preparing to attend Lollapalooza with a friend whose sole request was to see Kendrick Lamar — an artist I embarrassingly had no intention of seeing.

I listened to Lamar’s fourth studio album “DAMN.” a few weeks before the festival. I was aware of its acclaimed reputation, so I figured it’d give me a good background of Lamar as an artist.

I was initially unimpressed.

Giving Lamar another chance, I listened to his 2022 album “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers.”

The album’s beats were captivating and Lamar’s lyricism focused passionately on self-growth and generational trauma. The record cemented Lamar in my mind as an artist worth listening to, and my appreciation for rap was born.

Still, I felt I was too harsh on “DAMN.” — how could I hate the first rap winner of the Pulitzer Prize? Such a huge step for Black hip-hop artists didn’t deserve to be overlooked by an uninformed teenager.

As I started my first year of college, I revisited the album and I’m proud to say I was wrong — while it’s not my favorite Lamar album, “DAMN.” is one of the best records I’ve ever listened to.

“DAMN.” is an insightful album that places Lamar’s personal struggles within the context of America and Black communities. The album is more than a collection of songs — it’s a think piece urging listeners to understand the world around them.

“BLOOD.” is an enigmatically powerful opening track for “DAMN.” Its eerie production and Lamar’s chilling narration never fail to captivate me. Lyrically, the track is a commentary on violence, human nature and hypocrisy.

“DNA.” is a jarring successor with its intense beat and delivery, conveying Lamar’s thoughts on cultural identity. What distinguishes “DNA.” is its uncompromising energy and brutal honesty, boldly featuring a sample of a Fox News segment criticizing Lamar’s lyrics.

Its opening lyrics are painfully catchy and I routinely catch myself belting it out — and it isn’t the only earworm with themes of loyalty on the album.

“I got, I got, I got, I got / Loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA / Cocaine quarter piece, got war and peace inside my DNA,” Lamar raps.

“YAH.” is an introspective journey. The track’s mellow instrumentation crafts a reflective atmosphere, allowing Lamar’s candid portrayal of inner struggles to take center stage. The song feels eerily reminiscent of “good kid,” my all-time favorite Lamar track from his album “good kid, m.A.A.d city.” 

“FEEL.” is a track I deeply empathize with. Its lyrics depict feelings of isolation and disillusionment and are a moving experience. 

“LOYALTY. FEAT RIHANNA.” serves as Lamar’s first collaboration with the Grammy Award-winning artist — a testament to their chemistry as musicians. As they trade verses, the song’s infectious nature builds, making it one of the album’s strongest features.

At times, “PRIDE.” sounds more like a Steve Lacy song — and not just because Lacy produced and is featured on it.

The guitar used in the backing track always reminds me of “Dark Red” from Lacy’s 2017 album “Steve Lacy’s Demo,” which has the same sound, just slightly muffled. 

Hearing “HUMBLE.” live at Lollapalooza was truly a life-altering experience. I vividly remember the sharp pain in my legs from standing all day disappearing as the intro played — it felt like I was ascending.

Although I initially felt “DAMN.” fell flat, “HUMBLE.” always stood steadfast in my mind. On my first listen, it seemed like the sheer volume boasted by “HUMBLE.” was enough to suppress the previous seven tracks from my consciousness, making this the only one worth remembering.

The lyricism in “LUST.” is top-notch. The beat is monotonous for most of the song, leaving it omitted from any of my playlists. Still, it’s the only song on “DAMN.” I can definitively say I don’t listen to, demonstrating the record’s overall quality. 

“XXX. FEAT. U2” is a politically charged anthem reflecting the state of America and the problems of gun violence and late-stage capitalism Americans grapple with in their day-to-day lives.

Lamar excels on this track, showcasing his undeniable vocal talents and lyrical abilities. I appreciate when artists tackle real-world issues, and Lamar did a praise-worthy job.

“The great American flag is wrapped and dragged with explosives / Compulsive disorder, sons and daughters / Barricaded blocks and borders — look what you taught us,” Lamar raps.

Starting the album with a bang, Lamar delivers an outro with a bang — literally. 

“DUCKWORTH.” is a storytelling masterpiece narrating a chance encounter between Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, the CEO of Lamar’s record label Interscope Records, and Lamar’s father “Ducky.” The song explores fate and how a series of small events can culminate to have a profound impact.

“DUCKWORTH.” is undoubtedly the album’s most touching and personal track, tying the narrative told throughout “DAMN.” together.

“Whoever thought the greatest rapper would be from coincidence? / Because if Anthony killed Ducky, Top Dawg could be servin’ life / While I grew up without a father and die in a gunfight,” Lamar raps.

“DAMN.” is available to stream on all major platforms.

Featured image courtesy of Top Dawg Entertainment.

Matt Sorce

Matt Sorce