Just starting my second listen of DAMN. so this is really my first impression and it could completely change after a couple more listens.
I was really curious when starting this project because I just couldn't see where Kendrick would go after TPAB. Thematically, it's so broad, yet so in-detail, I didn't really know what more he could say. I was sort of right in the end, most of the themes on here are things he's spoken about many times before in his career, eg. Black-White relations, evils of the music industry and America, black youths wanting to be gangstas, religion. However, in my very broad first listen, I couldn't really find some kind of "story"/concept, like on GKMC and TPAB. In this way, I feel like he's more introspective on this album than in his previous two (despite them both being highly personal albums). He's not playing a character in some grander story, he's just rapping as himself and talking about what's on his mind in a blunter, more open way.
I still feel like there might be some theme in there, linking it all together, especially with how the album loops back on itself. These bars from FEAR. also jumped out at me:
I'm talkin' fear, fear of losin' loyalty from pride
'cause my DNA won't let me involve in the light of God
I'm talkin' fear, fear that my humbleness is gone
I'm talkin' fear, fear that love ain't livin' here no more
In 4 bars, he mentions like half the tracklist. Just something interesting I found.
Of course, it's very hard to properly analyse lyrics, especially from an artist like Kendrick, in just your first listen, so I'm going to have to keep listening. But overall, Kendrick is as good as ever lyrically.
I remember a lot of people were saying this was gonna be K-Dot's bangas album, but it's really not. Sure, there are some tracks here and there where Kendrick spits hard, but there's not really any verses that just make you say Damn. Shit like maad city or Untitled 02.
Production-wise, I felt like this was a bit of a step back from TPAB. While most of the beats were pretty good, they felt a lot more minimal. The instrumentation on TPAB felt like it was living; it was constantly moving and exploring new places. The music was just as important as what Kendrick was saying, whereas on DAMN. the beats are just there to frame what he's saying. Kendrick and the music felt more disconnected on this album than on TPAB. A lot of these beats are great (Steve Lacy's is a highlight) but they pale in comparison to TPAB.
Despite being pretty critical of it, I did really enjoy it, probably giving it a solid 7.5 after my first listen and I'm really excited to listen to it again and again. Sorry about my shitty writing but I'm interested to hear your thoughts on.
Edit: Hopefully I'm not going to start another SB VS BFLP war (BFLP>>>>SB) but I think I prefer AABA to DAMN. I know it's blasphemy, but I feel like AABA is just better music to vibe to, more bumpable. Kendrick is light years ahead of Joey both lyrically and musically but I'm just feeling Joey more.
Edit #2: Yeah, PRIDE. is definitely my favourite song, just a great song, great vibes, quality singing from K-Dot, great chemistry with Anna Wise