- 16 Apr 19
Today marks the first anniversary of the Compton rapper’s historic Pulitzer win.
DAMN., Kendrick Lamar’s fourth studio album, became the first non-classical and non-jazz work to win a Pulitzer Prize for Music on this day in 2018. The work was described as “a virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.”
To celebrate the first anniversary of Kendrick’s win, we’re revisiting Paul Nolan's review of DAMN., originally published in Hot Press in April 2017:
With DAMN., Kendrick Lamar has achieved the musical equivalent of winning back-to-back Champions League titles, thus extending his reign over the pop cultural landscape – a period of absolute pre-eminence attained by all major artists, famously described by the Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant as “the imperial phase.”
Faced with the formidable task of following up the era-defining To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick has gone back to basics: as telegraphed by the cover (the rapper in a white t-shirt against a brick wall, leering out at us) and the one-word song titles, DAMN. prioritises primary feelings and emotions. Fear not, though – Lamar’s genius as songwriter, producer and lyricist is still conspicuously in evidence.
Though sparser than …Butterfly, DAMN. still gets around the musical houses in dazzling fashion: throbbing electro on ‘DNA’; atmospheric trip-hop on ‘Yah’; icy industrial on ‘Humble’. And as with similar heavyweights like Prince and Bowie, Lamar is an avant-garde adventurer who also can pen a hit single to order: expect the Rihanna collaboration, ‘Loyalty’, to be unavoidable this summer.
Elsewhere, the rapper’s hook-up with U2, ‘XXX’, is nothing short of a revelation: half hip-hop jam, half moody jazz excursion, it alternately reflects on urban decay and America’s current dystopian political landscape. For good measure, Lamar follows it up with the epic neo-soul workout ‘Fear’.
To be honest, DAMN. is everything you’d want from an album – an audacious creative effort that speaks to a large audience, while successfully capturing the spirit of the times. Let’s hope Kendrick makes it over to Ireland soon to perform this bad boy.