by Kelley Lin
In Kendrick Lamar’s fourth studio album under label Top Dawg Entertainment, the 29-year-old rapper tells the world he doesn’t give a fuck, but trust me, he still does.
“Is anybody out there?” yelled Kendrick into the abyss of thousands of Coachella goers. “I said, is anybody out there?”
Don’t argue with me—Kendrick Lamar evolves as an artist with each album. In To Pimp A Butterfly, he thrashed violently in battle with guilt, anxiety, and depression, but DAMN. hints at a different kind of clash. It seems now, perhaps, that Kendrick seems to know his demons more than he does himself, and as always, the lack of fulfillment sits there. The album hears him coming to terms with both his vices and abilities, and yet DAMN. can make you feel lonely. “Is anybody out there?” To rap of love and humility to a world which attacks people of his skin color and puts corrupt men in presidency sounds as futile as it must feel: “I feel like the whole world want me to pray for ‘em / But who the fuck prayin’ for me?” Onstage at one of the biggest music festivals in the world, Kendrick still can’t seem to ever find his place in the world.
Watching Kendrick’s hour-and-fifteen-minute long Coachella set, I don’t think he was performing for the audience at all. Even with Kendrick’s most personal and private thoughts in measures and bars, DAMN. never truly feels like it is meant for us. Repetition and rage reveal pessimism in the world’s misdirection: “Why God, why God do I gotta bleed? / Every stone thrown at you restin’ at my feet / Why God, why God do I gotta suffer? / Earth is no more, won’t you burn this muh’fucka?” Shocked and uncomfortable, the fourth album dwells in the obsession of our destructive species, and listeners of DAMN. feel evermore like interlopers to Kendrick’s war with himself.
The reputation Kendrick has built for himself is tricky because he rejects everything about himself. Many times he has renounced the fame, money, and influence, while later appearing on pop hit features and speaking on music awards. He is humble, yet proud; loving, yet lustful. In this way of being truthfully human, Kendrick has become one of the most deserving in the field of hip hop—doing it for nothing less than the music itself.
For day-one fans, Kendrick has all the answers they need. He is involuntarily exalted to a throne of religion, philosophy, sexuality, politics, and wisdom. In 2012, he showed his fans that a good kid from Compton could spit. Then in 2015, he told the world he had fallen to depression, guilt, and existentialism. Sure, he is short of humble in the likes of “HUMBLE.”, but watch him perform “GOD.” in front of a live audience and remember what you see is the sheer extent of pride on the face of someone once depressed and repressed. As it turns out, a mainstream artist can write of suicidal thoughts and fans will still wait in the rain. Even if he was never ready for that responsibility, his story bore himself into a position of leverage and guidance.
While the album is nowhere shy of pungent bangers, “tired” describes tracks like “FEEL.,” “PRIDE.,” and “YAH.”, where even a star talent cannot evade cynicism and sadness because let’s face it: Kendrick is sick of the way things are. Yes yes yes, the world is anarchic, hateful, and increasingly selfish, but somehow the thought of Kendrick singing his aching heart to another world, the universe can move just a bit closer to these little big values of loyalty, empathy, and self-love. Let’s just hope someone is out there, praying for us, so that Kendrick can breathe again.