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Kendrick Lamar’s new release talks about God, stereotypes and other issues

Damn, there is more than what you see on the surface

“It’s in my DNA,” the new release by Kendrick Lamar questions nature vs nurture and stereotypes in this compelling video for his track “DNA” off of his new album Damn. It is a state of the art video that presents different points of view of racial stereotyping and other social issues. The joint is also controversial because he calls out the Fox News network and Geraldo Rivera and uses samples some of Rivera’s criticism and reaction to Lamar’s performance at the latest Grammy Awards ceremony.

So what’s the beef? Rivera complemented Lamar on being one of the best rappers around and remarked that he should be a better role model for youth. Lamar responded by sampling part of the lecture in the first two tracks of his new album Damn, “Blood” and “DNA.” Lamar expressed that he is in fact a role model because he sees hip hop as a way for young people express themselves in an appropriate way.

“Rightly to be great is not to stir without great argument, but greatly to find quarrel in a straw when honor’s at the stake,” according to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In other words, greatness usually causes some kind of controversy, and once there is controversy you still have to defend what you believe in.


If you listen to Lamar, and take him at face value, you don’t get it. To the casual listener tuning into the Grammy’s, you might think Lamar is all about the hip hop clichés: guns, lowriders, hoochies, and all the bling. Rivera has always been self-righteous and quick to react as if he were America’s moral guardian from what he sees on the surface. But the thing about Lamar is that his music is complex and shouldn’t be taken at face value.

Lamar uses irony, sarcasm, and other devices in his songs. Lamar’s vocal styles vary and contrast which make Damn interesting. He is like a character actor; each mix is sung from a different point of view and in some case several perspectives.  Even on his older recordings, like “Swimming Pool,” where he discusses the topic of alcoholism, you have an example of his shape shifting like the silent film actor Lon Chaney Sr. aka the Man of a Thousand Faces.

I first discovered Lamar’s caricatures when I first saw his “God is Gangsta” video from his To Pimp a Butterfly album. In it, Lamar is a preacher, drunk off his face, who is wrestling with doubt. The track poses several spiritual questions. The video, really a short film, is handled with humor, with musical sections that change from one sentiment to the next and flow into one another interesting way. Lamar’s “Alright,” also from To Pimp a Butterfly, is another example of  how Lamar juggles different  musical styles and spoken word within one work.

Lamar plays the clown on some tracks like on “Humble” and the bad ass on others. “Love” is heavily on the R & B side, while on the other hand, “Humble” shows his spastic desensitized style with lines like:

I’m so fuckin’ sick and tired of the Photoshop

Show me somethin’ natural like afro on Richard Pryor

Show me somethin’ natural like ass with some stretch marks

Some of these lines are more hilarious than what you might hear at a comedy club. He brings to mind Ludacris, who also has a great sense of humor.

The track “God” shows a very unorthodox delivery for hip hop; it talks about theological issues, primarily being separated from God which is a central theme in the Old and in the New Testament. In western thought and literature separation from God is a definition of Hell which is defined as being abandoned by the Divine. The song is deep, it reveals the vulnerability  of being flesh and blood in a modern context: the street corner vernacular. It is a very thoughtful piece of spoken word.

Lamar’s has an equally interesting musical palate. There are nice instrumental mixes from Damn, like the alternate tracks of “Duckworth” and “Loyalty.” The opening track of Damn, “Blood,” is mostly instrumental as well, and has the interesting textures of techno with a unique groove.

Lamar’s DNA Summer Tour starts in Chicago in July, goes through Colorado, Washington State before it goes to Vancouver, Canada. Then in August he hits the West Coast with several shows in LA. Some shows are already sold out.

People already predicting that Damn is going to be one of the biggest hit of 2017. I can already hear “Humble” throbbing from car stereos in the summer heat.

 

Brooklyn native, Frederick Gubitosi, is a musician, artist, songwriter, and music journalist. Alumnus of Pratt Institute and Brooklyn College, the former teacher writes as an insider to world of music and the humanities. In the '90s he had two solo painting exhibits in NYC and was involved in a performance art group which merged live music, improv theater and multimedia. In 1995 he participated in Philadelphia's first performance of John Zorn's "Cobra" as a musician. In 2005 he wrote, directed, and created the musical score for his comic play, "Love, the Happy Disease." He now participates in events for Brooklyn's Creators Collective making improvised music for modern dancers.

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