Our favorite productions on Kendrick Lamar's latest masterpiece.
Upon early listening of DAMN. -- the only album that matters on this Good Friday, it sounds like Kendrick Lamar has delivered yet again, despite the monumental expectations surrounding his fourth studio album. There's no doubt Kendrick wants to be the GOAT, and every album he drops inspires a conversation about whether he's the only one still operating who's in contention for the throne.
Like his other projects, each song on DAMN. has its own concept, and each is carefully situated within the album's grand, painstaking vision. As expected, the album is also an amazing showcase of pure rapping ability and Kendrick's drive to take the lyrical craft to new frontiers. Accordingly, much of the discussion around DAMN. will center around the rapping and the power of Kendrick's voice.
But so much of the album's brilliance lies in everything behind the vocals -- the beats, the samples, the live instruments. Once again, Kendrick has assembled a far-reaching cast of producers and virtuosos to bring his raps to life, and to create a consummate sound that's at once personal to him and universal to lovers of hip-hop.
K-Dot may go boom-bap and he may go trap. Or he may eschew conventional rap beats for sketches of jazz, funk, and psychedelia, as he did on To Pimp a Butterfly. Whether they're nostalgic or futuristic -- familiar or unexpected, Kendrick's beats always sound FRESH, and perfectly suited to whatever project they end up on. Courtesy of talents like DJ Dahi, Sounwave, Mike Will Made-It, 9th Wonder, and a few fresh faces, here are our 5 favorite productions on Kendrick Lamar's latest masterpiece.
Unsurprisingly, the Rihanna collab, "LOYALTY.," is the sexiest thing on DAMN. The driving vocoder sample is warped into a vibrant melody, and the song's G-funk nostalgia is brought into the present with the use of pulsating kick drums. A bedroom scene spontaneously arises in front of a classic West Coast backdrop. The track is produced by three of the best in the L.A. area.
"LOVE." (feat. Zacari); prod. by Teddy Walton, Sounwave, and Greg Kurstin
On this sublime track, lush textures move in and out of focus in perfect coordination with the back-and-forth between Kendrick and L.A.-based singer Zacari. The gentle but rhythmic percussion keeps Kendrick grounded, though the whole song feels like its anticipating a flight into the heavens. Aside from TDE's own Sounwave, the producers on "LOVE." are Memphis' Teddy Walton and Greg Kurstin, the latter whom has been a fixture in pop music for over a decade now.
"XXX." (feat. U2); prod. by Mike Will Made-It, DJ Dahi, Sounwave & Bēkon
All three of Mike Will's thunderous productions on DAMN. deserve to be highlighted, though the most fascinating is "XXX" -- partly because of the work of the other three producers who join him on the epic U2-featuring track. It begins with an assaulting mix of breakbeat and haunting club frequencies, before segueing into what sounds like a deranged motor, which revs up with every police siren that pierces the beat. The song eventually settles into a backdrop of soft, piano-led jazz, as Kendrick explains what Bono means when he sings, "This country is to be a sound of drum and bass."
"GOD."; prod. by Ricci Riera, Sounwave, DJ Dahi, Bēkon & Cardo
This song demanded a heavenly beat, and this cast delivered a euphoric production that allows Kendrick to sound incredibly confident while trying out a new singing flow. The way that the trap drums combine with all of the more blissful sounds, like the gleaming synths and soft vocal samples, is spectacular -- never taking away from the profundity of the track.
"DUCKWORTH."; prod. by 9th Wonder & Bēkon
What a beauty to end on. Authentic, head-bobbing hip-hop -- the rhymes from Kung Fu Kenny, the beat from the elite veteran 9th Wonder, who first samples Australian band Hiatus Kaiyote and then a classic by Earth, Wind & Fire. Assisting 9th Wonder on the production is the mysterious Bēkon, who shows up on a remarkable 8 songs on DAMN. Using a new alias for the first time, it turns out Bēkon is a producer whose real name is Daniel Tannenbaum. Before DAMN., he had worked on albums like Dr. Dre's Compton, Eminem's Recovery, and BJ The Chicago Kid's In My Mind.
*All of these songs were created under the executive production of Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith