What If's: Questions about Kendrick Lamar's new album

Kendrick Lamar performs at Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tennessee in June of 2012. Lamar's new album will be released on Apple Music at 11 p.m. on Thursday, April 13. (Jon Elbaz/Creative Commons)

Kendrick Lamar performs at Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tennessee in June of 2012. Lamar's new album will be released on Apple Music at 11 p.m. on Thursday, April 13. (Jon Elbaz/Creative Commons)

A new Kendrick Lamar album is on the way, and this time it’s for real. The album—titled “DAMN.”—will be released on Apple Music at 11 p.m. Thursday. Along with the album title, Kendrick also released the artwork and track list for his upcoming project:

Today is the calm before the storm for many fans of the Compton rapper. Only a few short hours separate us from 13 new Kendrick Lamar songs, and tensions couldn’t be higher. In the meantime, let’s look at the burning questions surrounding the fourth studio album from the self-proclaimed “best rapper alive.”

What will this album sound like?

Lamar’s production style has changed with each successive album, so it is not a question of whether it will be different from the live jazz instrumentation of his most recent projects, but how different, and in what direction? Based on the album’s only single, “HUMBLE.,” it seems like Kendrick is going for more aggressive, hard-hitting beats, but it’s hard to extrapolate one single to predict the whole album’s sound. Produced by Mike Will Made-It, the track is a clear turning point, but I have no idea where Kendrick is going. A West Coast version of a “Run the Jewels” song is the only way I could describe this beat, which bodes well for the album as a whole. Production credits on this album feature many of Kendrick’s go-to guys, with a few interesting newcomers. BADBADNOTGOOD, a jazz/electronic/hip hop group from Canada, and U2 are two production credits to look out for, and lead me to believe this album will be all over the place sonically.

What is U2 doing here?

“David Blane? What the F?” That was my immediate reaction upon seeing the Dublin-based rock group as a feature on the song “XXX.” It made a little bit of sense with guitars being used in the lead single “HUMBLE.,” but this is definitely a twist.  

Who is going to feature on this album?

Over the past few days, new features have been added to the tracklist, which is not normal and may be an attempt to promote the album. Since Tuesday morning, we have learned that, in addition to Rihanna and U2, Zacari and Kaytranada will be featured on the album. Announcing features in the leadup to an album is strange, but let’s hope there is more to come.

How will the album address America’s political climate?

2015’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” was hailed for it’s ability to discuss personal conflicts within a larger societal context. Tracks like “Alright,” “The Blacker the Berry” and “Institutionalized” took on consumerism, black-on-black violence and the American prison system, while fitting into the personal narrative of the album. With “DAMN.,” there is an expectation that Kendrick will address the Trump administration. In his announcement song for the upcoming project entitled, “The Heart Part 4,” Kendrick referred to Trump as a “chump,” questioned the administration’s involvement in Russian meddling in the election and expressed disdain for the electoral college system. Whichever direction he takes, Trump’s first 100 days has given Kendrick plenty of fodder for political commentary.

Will Sounwave get the attention he deserves?

Probably not. Over the course of Kendrick’s career, Sounwave has been his favorite, most prolific producer, and is credited on 12 songs on “DAMN.” Here’s a list of some of the songs Sounwave has produced in his career: “m.A.A.d city,” “King Kunta,” “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” “Alright,” “THat Part,” “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst,” “There He Go,” “Hol’ Up” and “JoHn Muir.” That list is bonkers. This guy should be a household name, or at least a dorm room name.

Where could Kendrick’s legacy go with this album?

This question sounds like “First Take” after a slow sports night, but it needs to be asked. Kendrick has built up a wild amount of trust from his fans, because he is yet to release an album that was not, at least, really good. His past two studio albums, “good kid, m.A.A.d city” and “To Pimp a Butterfly,” are regarded as classics, and his first album, “Section.80” is a fan-favorite that lacks the critical acclaim of his later works. Even the unreleased, b-sides from “To Pimp a Butterfly,” which were released as a compilation album entitled “untitled unmastered,” was received very positively. Kendrick’s insane consistency adds more pressure to his upcoming project, because the first blemish is always the worst. But what if this album is another “classic?” Is there any precedent for three “classics” is a row? The answer is “yes,” but the company is very rarified air. By my calculations, this has only been accomplished by seven rap acts: Ice Cube, Public Enemy, Tupac, Eminem, Outkast, Jay Z and Kanye (Honorable Mention: The Roots and Ghostface Killah). Jay-Z dropped three classics in three consecutive years, but that’s beside the point. The point is that it’s very hard to release three great albums in a row. Whether it be selling out (Nas), being murdered (Biggie) or becoming a businessman (Dr. Dre), there are a million different roadblocks to a trio of consecutive classics. If Kendrick is able to put out another great album it will be historic, and put him in the upper echelon of rap history.


Teddy Craven is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at edward.craven_jr@uconn.edu.