Kendrick Lamar's New Album Proves He's More Than Just A 'Woke' Rapper


When Kendrick Lamar's Damn. dropped on Thursday night, a familiar and common joke reappeared on social media.

Fans sarcastically reacted to all the people who thought they could give an accurate review of a new album within 24 hours.


It's obvious why this criticism exists, too.

It takes time and multiple listens to evaluate albums. Reviews are only possible days after a release, and even then, perception of music can change, depending on current events.

Kendrick's "Alright" is a perfect example in this regard. The track's importance seems to increase with every passing protest that has black people at the center of it.

It's an anthem for the struggle, point blank, which makes it no surprise that people chant the chorus during different marches.

Chants of @kendricklamar's "Alright" echoes down 7th street downtown. #JusticeOrElse pic.twitter.com/f1R62P0bIi — The Hilltop (@TheHilltopHU) October 10, 2015

That being said, there's a difference between reviewing an album and noting an obvious shift in style.

Damn. certainly features the latter. It doesn't take a genius to recognize that, nor does it require a week to let the album marinate.

It's just sounds different from To Pimp A Butterfly. Of course, Damn. does reference politics. In fact, it literally takes less than a minute for Fox News to make a cameo.

Kendrick Lamar himself is woke, and he clearly shows that in many of Damn.'s tracks. But it seems pretty clear that the album won't be defined by that one word -- that is, whenever we do get around to defining it.

None of this is a surprise, by the way. The artist himself hinted that this album would be just a little bit different in tone.

He told the New York Times,

To Pimp a Butterfly was addressing the problem. I'm in a space now where I'm not addressing the problem any more.

Damn. features more braggadocio, less anger and more tracks you can simply bump too. Plus, he clearly seems like he's going out of his way to separate himself from his competition (as if the separation wasn't clear already) on tracks like "Element."

Last LP I tried to uplift the black artists. But there's a difference between black artists and wack artists.

So, no, Damn. doesn't look like it has any material that will have Kendrick performing at the BET Awards on top of a police car. The next Black Lives Matter probably won't be quoting any of this new album's lyrics, either.

In a weird way though, that fact makes Kendrick's previous much more worth appreciating. If he wanted to, he could probably deliver way more "hits" and records that make people feel comfortable.

If he wanted to, he could probably have the whole crowd at the Grammys bobbing their heads to his cuddly music, off-beat claps and all. But instead, he's done thing like go out onto that same stage in a prisoner's outfit and chains and pulled no punches on national TV.

You hate me, don't you? You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture.

Simply put, in a time where it seems more convenient for rappers to generate more commercially acceptable music, it feels really good to know that Kendrick Lamar opted to make so much of his work about themes important to our culture.

Perhaps it's weird appreciate that more today, as he puts out a project that is absent of those themes.

But you know what they say: Absence does make the heart grow fonder.