Guest Post: A Look Inside Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN

[This guest post comes courtesy of Chris McKee. -AC]

Timing is everything in music and everything is constantly going in cycles. With most of hip-hop’s lyrical royal family including Jay-Z, Eminem, Lil Wayne and Nas all in between albums. Kenrick Lamar is just what we needed.

With Damn, Lamar has redefined the genre of hip-hop by taking it back to the future. The lyricists who made hip-hop great (Chuck D, Eazy-E et al) were constantly pushing boundaries, not only through their lyrics but also with their music videos.

It’s fascinating that in 2017 when every other artist and their management company is looking to explore any and all new marketing tools and clever social media campaigns. Kendrick simply borrowed an idea from the 1980’s and made a really good music video.

Most of today’s artists aren’t willing to invest more than $300 to create a video that doesn’t include a handful of young men wearing baseball caps and holding red cups presumably filled with liquor like it’s an episode of Laguna Beach or The Hills.

Kendrick didn’t just make a few new music videos to support his album. He made art.

The art of making a music video may have peaked with Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and in hip-hop with the likes of Public Enemy’s “Night of the Living Baseheads” but Kendrick may have single-handedly revived the art of making a bangin’ hip hop music video with his two latest releases “Humble” and “DNA.”

“DNA” is a brilliant piece of art that features a haunting back and forth scene between Kendrick and award-winning actor Don Cheadle. Directed by famed photographer Nabil Elderkin, viewers come away feeling everything from shock and awe to an almost drug induced state as you watch the back and forth interaction between Cheadle and Lamar.

“Humble” is a catchy lyrical assault layered on top of a classic West Coast beat that wouldn’t seem out of place had you first heard it on Dr. Dre’s The Chronic. The video was directed by Dave Meyers (Outkast B.O.B, So Fresh So Clean) and the Little Homies who helped Kendrick paint a cinematic masterpiece that is both visually stimulating and also challenges social and religious norms by casting Kendrick both as the Pope and Jesus Christ himself.

Madonna courted controversy in 1989 with the video for “Like a Prayer,” a clip deemed blasphemous by the Catholic Church and cost her endorsement deals from Pepsi. Meanwhile, Almost 30 years later, Meyers and Kendrick are able to push the envelope much farther with their religious imagery. Weird how but nobody seems to have batted an eyelash. Can you imagine the backlash in 1989 if a black artist dressed up as the Pope and was spitting rap lyrics or playing the role of Jesus in a recreation of the Last Supper?

Is the lack of controversy because unlike the old days of MTV and MuchMusic? After all, there are no advertisers to pressure anybody. Or is the younger generation simply oblivious to where Meyers got his ideas from?

Regardless, it’s refreshing to see that today’s hip-hop artists are exploring their art beyond their lyrics and are giving us something else to think about in their videos other than wondering if they’re drinking Hennessey or Grey Goose in those red cups.

Hip-hop is often a copy-cat art form so let’s hope Kendrick has inspired a new generation of real music videos to watch because I’m so fucking tired of the Photoshop. Show me something real like afro on Richard Pryor

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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