Going into double-digit listens of “DAMN.,” something finally hit me like an epiphany. I felt like I finally understood what K Dot was trying to tell me on this album, and it started on “FEAR.”
Ever since “good kid, m.A.A.d. city,” Kendrick Lamar has always had that one long song on each album that ends up being the most important clue to the ultimate mystery. It was “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst,” which was 12 minutes, on “good kid, m.A.A.d. city.” It was “Mortal Man,” which was also 12 minutes, on “To Pimp a Butterfly.” I’m excluding “untitled unmastered” because I don’t really consider that an album as much as an EP, but if you really wanted to go there, “untitled 07,” arguably the most popular song, was eight minutes. “FEAR.” was the longest song on “DAMN.,” and I think it’s also the most important.
Let’s rewind a little bit and pick out some very important lines within other songs that will lead us to the theme and the message K Dot is trying to portray. It starts on the very first song, “BLOOD.,” with the opening words, “Is it wickedness? Is it weakness? You decide. Are we gonna live or die?” This sets up the religious undertones embedded throughout the entire album. In other words, I believe Kendrick is saying, “Pick your poison.” Everyone has their vice whether that be sex, gambling, drugs, alcohol, etc., but the question that K Dot poses in the opening lines is basically asking, “Is your vice purely sin (wickedness) or is it your downfall (weakness)?”
Also on “BLOOD.,” Kendrick sets up a very interesting scenario with the blind woman walking down the street. As Kendrick goes over to help, she kills him. Could this woman represent God? (Remember “God’s a Girl” on Ab-Soul’s album, “Do What Thou Wilt?”) And could Kendrick admitting his sins to God eventually lead to his death on the album? Hold that thought. We’ll break this down further later on.
The next important line comes in the intro to “ELEMENT.” Kid Capri says, “Ain’t nobody praying for me. Ya’ll know what happens on Earth stays on Earth.” Especially with how these words are being said like a hype line, this could be very easy to go in one ear and out the other. But don’t let it go over your head. Kendrick feels like nobody is praying for him, which saddens him because he knows his vices will lead to his eventual death if he gives into his sins. I think that he thinks that prayers will act as a spiritual shield around him, and the fact that he isn’t getting this force field upsets him. “What happens on Earth stays on Earth” is important because I think another voice in Kendrick’s head is basically saying, “YOLO, I’m going to live my life and the sins I commit during my time on Earth aren’t going to follow me into heaven when I die.” I think Kendrick realizes this fully in the song, “FEAR.”
Another important subtle line comes on “PRIDE.” The intro by Steve Lacy states, “Love’s gonna get you killed but pride’s gonna be the death of you and me.” Let’s fast-forward to the song, “LUST.” Is it a coincidence that pride and lust are two of the seven deadly sins? No. This whole album stems from the idea that your vices will follow you, but it’s up to you to decide whether it will be your downfall or not. “PRIDE.” and “LUST.” are the two most underrated songs on the album, in my opinion. They’re both important for the storyline and the cohesiveness of the album, and they’re very representative of the sins themselves—meaning the vibe and tone of each song coincides with the sin being committed.
I’d also like to pose this theory: “DAMN.” is the name of the album because if you give into your sins, you may just be damned to hell. Fast-forward a couple more songs and we’ll be back on the song, “FEAR.” I believe this track is the most important song on this album because fear is what follows Kendrick Lamar as a dark cloud, constantly reminding him of that very important question that continually pops up on this album: “Is it wickedness? Is it weakness?”
This leads me to the very important voicemails also on “FEAR.” This is where Kendrick’s cousin Carl says, “We are cursed people.” He later goes on to say verse two of Deuteronomy 28:28 in the Bible says, “You only have I known of all the families of the Earth, therefore I will punish you for all your inquires.” Carl says, “Until we come back to these commandments, we’re gonna feel this way and we’re gonna be under this curse.” He goes on to say the “so-called Blacks, Hispanics and Native American Indians are the true children of Israel.” This links back to the line on “YAH.,” when K Dot says “I’m an Israelite, don’t call me black no more. That word is only a color. It ain’t facts no more.”
“DAMN.” boils down to this: Kendrick Lamar feels cursed, and he fears his sins will lead to his eventual death. Remember the blind lady from “BLOOD.?” Maybe Kendrick gave into his sins and the way he chose to go about repentance led to his death by the hand of God on the first song of the album.
Kendrick Lamar recently said he wants this album to last for 20 years. With the very powerful and mysterious religious, political and racial messages embedded in this album, I’m sure it will stand the test of time.