3. Kendrick Lamar, DAMN
Release date: April 14
Record label: Interscope
Why it's great: On first listen, DAMN scans as an impressive display of Kendrick Lamar's virtuosity. Just listen to the muscular manner he changes up his flow on songs like "DNA," "ELEMENT," or "HUMBLE." Never forget: This 29 year old can rap like he's bench-pressing a solar system. After spending more time with these songs, the record feels like the inevitable "fame sucks" collection that some were expecting the defiant and political To Pimp a Butterfly to be, but Lamar can't make simple songs and he's not interested in shedding tears in a gold goblet. (Leave that to Drake.) Instead, he favors essayistic complexity over notebook reportage or straight-up memoir, piling religious and cosmic musings into verses that ping between heavy themes like trust, fate, and the perils of ego.
But, damn, what does it actually sound like? An interstellar collision between the old and the new. "Last LP I tried to lift the black artists," raps Lamar at one point. "But there's a difference between black artists and wack artists." It's a provocation: Though he's eased up on some of the jazzy flourishes, which perhaps peaked with last year's mercurial Untitled Unmastered, he's still working with LA contemporaries like Terrace Martin, Thundercat, and Kamasi Washington. (And, yes, U2 too -- but even that song, the gun violence meditation "XXX," is excellent.) The difference is that DAMN feels even more focussed. More competitive. More Kendrick.