DAMN. this is different.
This week I've been listening to DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar, this is the kind of thing that I started this blog to do. Until this week my knowledge of Kendrick Lamar has been limited to his work with Beyoncé on Lemonade, in fact my exposure to Hip-Hop/Rap in general has been pretty much non-existent. DAMN. couldn't have come at a better time, such a start contrast to last week's drag queen extravaganza and so painfully relevant for what's happening in the news.
To say that DAMN. is a highly political album seems like a redundant statement, but I'll say it anyway. The Ginger Snapped had only one real political moment with the gender-norm smashing cabaret tune Just Me (The Gender Binary Blues) but this week I've been faced with a whole album who's very intent seems to be a reaction to the political climate of present day America. There's a feeling of disappointment in Kendrick's lyrics and delivery at points, but disappointment also lives alongside anger and resentment for a system which doesn't recognise or represent him. Standout track FEEL. sums it up, the world is always taking but does it give back or even notice Kendrick in return?
It's been odd listening to this throughout the week given the weather. London has been covered in blankets of snow for several days, the news has been filled with accidents, deaths and a general sense of icy dread...never one to sensationalise or focus on more important things than a few inches of snow. What's also shared airtime and column inches this week is continued coverage of the Parkland shooting in the US that has led to heated public discussions about the nature of gun control, Trump is being an idiot in office and the victims are being either shamed or patronised by those in office who could push forward meaningful change.
Another track that has stuck with me is FEAR. mostly because it's expressing sentiments that I just can't relate to. The whole second verse if Kendrick listing ways that he think he could die. On PRIDE. we get probably my favourite set of lyrics on the entire album because they are so authentic and true, probably the most accurate critique of Trump's America. In fact the master-showman in-chief is name checked later on in the album.
I'm a gay white guy living in London (if you hadn't already noticed) so I'm fully aware that the core message of this album may not be directed at me and the experience of life with the hardships of living under the current administration aren't something I'm ever going to be able to fully relate to. All this may sound quite full on and serious, but Kendrick has managed to not only make some great sounding music, but it's great sounding music that has me thinking about the world and the American experience in ways that I may not have had I not listened to this.
The toxic news cycle and how to take in what's going on in the world is something that I've been thinking about for a while now. It feels a lot like banging my head against a brick wall watching news coverage a lot of the time, talk of BREXIT and the hideous state of what appears to be a more divided than ever political divide is enough to melt my brain. DAMN. is a great example of how I think is best to deal with the world, make it into art. In the words of someone I greatly admire the only way of getting through tough times is to "out create" and that's what Kendrick Lamar has done here. Not only is DAMN. a statement on the America of 2018 it also speaks of perseverance and not backing down.
Rap as a genre is something that is so far outside of what I normally listen to but as this has shown it's maybe something I should do more often. This has got me thinking about America in terms I hadn't fully done before. Hopefully I'll be thinking more about things that are outside of my sphere of reference as I continue this Album A Week project, this is the perfect example of why I wanted to do this.