DAMN. (2017)

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TPAB is not an album I have especially returned to, especially in comparison to the year after GKMC. I think it was partly slightly overrated (eg. Tupac etc.), but partly also the fatigue of Big Projects. Also not listening to as much hip hop as I used to.

First listen came a few days after trying Joey Bada$$’ new one. Sadly neutered though earnest, but funny that he is moving in a direction so influenced by TPAB at a time when K himself is explicitly turning his back on all that. (see ELEMENT.)

Best, throughout, is the variety of flows, tones, accents. He’s like Stanley Kubrick trying on all different outfits, the kind of chameleonic restlessness that comes only with legitimate superiority.

Leads off with the ‘provocative mystery KL’ on BLOOD. Chance and risk, then universal determinism of DNA. “My DNA not for imitation” and K’s flow is ridiculous after the beat switch. Angry banger of the year and replayable forever.

“I got so many theories and suspicions.” YAH. Niece and “Uncle Kendrick” is touching . Introduces theme of Israelites, connects to refutation of genetic basis of race (“that word is only a colour / that ain’t facts no more”). Reflecting wider universalism back on DNA. like Piñata‘s Shitsville.

ELEMENT. sparse brag track with a depressing hook. Lonely at the top but he’s not making friends. Sounds better than when Kanye does it but it’s more interesting than enjoyable. “Last LP I tried to lift the black artists / But it’s a difference between black artists and wack artists” going after the competition here; definitely with Myke on D. being conscious territorial expansion.

FEEL. ducking and diving over spacey urban melancholy beat. Kind of ‘Sing About Me’. Breathing more prominent, (c/ back end of DNA.) live tangible frustration. Ain’t nobody praying for me, this like the introspective hangover after ELEMENT., or what’s really going on in his head while he raps on E. (like The Art of Peer Pressure after Backseat Freestyle) “Feel like only me and the music though.”

LOYALTY. is somewhat boring all considered, though Rihanna shows up. PRIDE. Sounds like Homeshake; unlike YAH. the lazy rhymes only work because they fit the sultry beat, which is still an arresting show of confidence. Contrition and conditionals, like the irony of HUMBLE. (together encapsulate the difficulty of living up to the standards the religious subtext is posing) Still w/ LOYALTY. a less satisfying pair.

Warmed a lot to HUMBLE. though it’s still not exactly singalong. Mike Will made all the best beats on D., this one for Gucci Mane apparently which validates Myke and helps cement K’s ascendancy. “Get the fuck off my stage” Wyndham Lewis! Best line on D.: “watch my soul speak / you let the meds talk.”

Hear D’Angelo in LUST. hooks, lyrics (“it’s that new new shit!”) tease us for waiting. Stop-starting bars like making a virtue out of failure. Doing enough. (“whatever you’re doing just make it count” — specifically female perspective is interesting)

LOVE. shoots for soft but almost verges on weak, though catchy. Supposedly directed but distinctly about himself still. “keep it 💯” impossible to background millennial vacuity but the deflationary tone fits. Weakness and compromise.

XXX. might sneak in as the best song. Storytelling with the crazy beat switches and energy of DNA. The swerve into the gun control line after the violence and police sirens. Sequencing is great on D. — people say this is scattered but it’s clearly focused. “you close your eyes to look around”

Return to determinism on FEAR. More teasing: backwards lyrics also still just sounds like a good hook. “I beat your ass if I beat your ass twice and you still here” violence and futility of male authority (Trump era classic says TMT). Death itinerary is haunting. “I’ll probably die because that’s what you do when you’re 17”. Compares himself to Job; past fears of losing it all, difficulty of looking back inc to past work (Section 80 ref). Connects to DNA — it’s a weird perspective but no one else is pushing it I spose.

Maybe singalong light of Chance on GOD.? Smallest gap w the competition here, (some of the worst singing) though I do like “this what God feel like!”

Ends DUCKWORTH. Dilla-esque best. “Once upon a time” painting again. Giving people what they want here. Still “family history” but sense of individual transcendence through coincidence and choice — back to BLOOD. and I like the Finnegans Wake tape circularity.

This is a lot of fun, thought-provoking in all the usual ways but with new things to say, and consistently ‘impressive’. Lower stakes than TPAB sure but I remember thinking he’d do well to pick out a new line and he has. There are lows, but they are passable on their own terms as well as failing to detract from D.‘s success as an Album. (this being D.‘s greatest strength, interesting to me because the relative suppression of narrative through-line and the stylistic variety of the tracks point more to piecemeal streaming appeal) Probably a desert island disc for 2017.

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