This week, Billboard shared that Kendrick Lamar is at No. 1 on the U.S. chart for the second week straight, thanks to his album ‘DAMN.” It was released on April 14 and sold an album equivalent of 600,000 unities during the first week – between downloads and streaming. The next week, the album sold another 238,000 unities, winning over Drake’s ‘More Life’ and Ed Sheeran’s ‘÷’ (‘Divide’).
Since the album was released, the complete tracklist entered the Billboard Hot 100, meaning Lamar got 14 songs at the same time in the charts. The single “HUMBLE.” was at No. 1. Critics and reviews have also been very positive, calling it the record of the year. Even Lamar’s mother said that this was his best record yet.
Music and its neverending need to be saved
Saying it is easy that your record hit No. 1 is easy. Actually, making it happen is a completely different story. What is it with Kendrick Lamar? Why is he so popular? Why are people calling him “the savior of hip hop”? He saved it from what, exactly? Some may say that hip hop lost its north, like, where is rap going? That’s a question that has been asked during the past 30 years. What we have a hard time understanding is that hip hop, just like any other music genre, is constantly evolving, and variations are always emerging. Music needs no saviors. If you don’t like what you are listening, you can be sure that someone else does.
But, you know, that’s how the artistic world works. Everything is always declining and getting worse through the years. Art needs a savior, someone that helps take it back to the golden days. At least, that’s how much of the audience and “qualified critics” view it. The moment the savior arrives, we won’t let them go, until they disappoint us once again. But most of the saviors take their role too serious, to the point they become a parody of themselves. Their ego ends up bringing them their own destruction. But they don’t care much because they know they will become legends. They want to leave a legacy, leaving aside the idea of the future.
What’s magic about Kendrick Lamar, and the reason why music as targeted as his (Lamar’s last productions have been basically an ode to blackness and harsh critics to the white supremacist system), has been so well received, to the point of reaching masses, is the fact that he is “a savior” that doesn’t see himself in that role. Lamar never speaks about a “me.” It is always an “us.”
Lamar is a human being and he makes an effort to never forget that
Of course Lamar has and ego and of course, he takes the time to celebrate it. No one gets to the top of the world without some self-love. But Lamar’s concept has been progressively intensifying through the years. 2015 ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ is, without a doubt, very explicit and aggressive, touching social and racial injustice. But with ‘DAMN.’ things go further. He speaks about being black, but he also speaks about himself, he speaks about you.
With the last album, Lamar takes the time to smash any pedestal he has been put on. He focuses on his mistakes, his sins, and shows himself as he is: not the best rapper ever, but one that has to improve, that is full of flaws, and that is willing to internalize criticism to do something about it and grow.
This is what makes Lamar and exceptional rapper. He looks at himself and starts questioning different things, like what is he doing wrong and how can he fix that, instead of what is he doing right and how to make it happen again. He also distances himself from the epic, legendary image, that artists such as Tupac or Kanye West embraced so well. Lamar insists on showing himself as a reachable human being, full of doubts and insecurities. He knows he doesn’t have all the answers and makes a genuine effort to ask the right questions.
He reflects all this in his lyrics, focusing on things that are actually important. That’s the way music transcends, which is beyond being viral. Some days ago, in an interview with Zane Lowe, the rapper said that he wants ‘DAMN.’ to live for twenty years. The album is so well done, accomplishing that will be no trouble.
The new album emphasizes Lamar’s most personal statements
‘DAMN.’ is kind of Lamar’s “problematic” album. In all of his records, he talks much about his life. But this album is based on thoughts, spirituality, the duality he lives as an artist. He represents this duality through the album, beginning with “PRIDE.”
“Love’s gonna get you killed / But pride’s gonna be the death of you and me,” the song begins. Ironically, “PRIDE.” is the track in which Lamar decides to lower his head and speak about how damaging pride is, and how it is necessaire that people recognize and admits their faults. “HUMBLE.” follows, and on the contrary, it is the most egocentric moment of the album. Lamar’s intentions are to catch attention from everyone else and put them in their place. The duality keeps going in the following songs, “LUST.” and “LOVE.” The carnal side against the purest love.
We love Kendrick Lamar because he’s real
The rapper does everything he can to keep it real, and that’s the attitude that has brought his public so near, and to feel so identified with him and the way he presents himself to the world. This is what causes the “best hip-hop artist of the world” paradox. Lamar decided to assume the title, but not with arrogance, but with an extreme fear of failing. We don’t see Lamar as a know-it-all, but as a man that has no certainty about what he is doing.
Things get even more intense with the song “FEAR.” which speaks basically about Lamar’s fear of losing his humbleness and even himself, but above all, the consequences this would carry, in front of God. There’s another duality. He starts believing that he is “the best hip hop artist” of the world. But he is scared as hell of the idea because he knows that from the moment he loses humbleness, he will face the consequences, he will face God, and then he will be truly lost.
The fact that these ideas have connected in such a genuine way with the audience is a direct consequence of Lamar not feeling superior to anyone else. He is full of imperfections, but the word was his gift, and he uses them as a way of expression and as a weapon. Keeping his feet on the ground is what truly makes him currently the best hip-hop artist alive.