Come Friday, the world will have another Kendrick Lamar album. Though the ascendant 29-year-old MC released his eight-song collection of outtakes, untitled unmastered, last year, his new full-length, , is the proper follow-up to 2015’s . And while Lamar was already a guiding light in the hip-hop world upon Butterfly‘s release, DAMN will be his first studio album since capturing the attention of the broader music world; two days after the project drops, he’ll close out Coachella with a headlining set.
Although Lamar is notoriously tight-lipped about his work, he’s let some details about DAMN slip. Read on for what we know about the project, out April 14.
Lamar has embraced the A-list — tentatively.
Lamar has always chosen his famous collaborators carefully: Drake and Dr. Dre guested on his second album, 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city, while Snoop Dogg, Pharrell, and George Clinton provided modest contributions on Butterfly. So, by Lamar’s standards, the two featured artists credited on DAMN‘s track list — Rihanna and U2 — are an impressive blast of star power. But the rapper has teamed with Beyoncé, Kanye West, Sia, Taylor Swift, The Weeknd, and A Tribe Called Quest since Butterfly dropped, and none are listed on DAMN‘s tracklist; the dearth of elite performers, particularly other rappers, rather spectacularly debunks the rumored roster of guests that last month and included West, André 3000, D’Angelo, Q-Tip, and more.
Expect an immaculately produced album.
Mike Will Made-It — the vaunted beatsmith behind Beyoncé’s “Formation,” Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles,” and other smashes — produced DAMN‘s lead single, “Humble,” which debuted at No. 2 on the Hot 100. A deep dive into the accompanying iTunes pre-orders of DAMN confirms that he produced a second song on the album, and the top-tier beats extend beyond his contributions.
For example, Greg Kurstin, who has shaped a litany of hits including Adele’s “Hello,” has a credit on “Love.” BADBADNOTGOOD and Kaytranada with the beat for Snoop Dogg’s “Lavender” last month and on DAMN track “Lust.” Respected beatmaker The Alchemist, credited on Lamar’s March one-off “,” will appear on the album, as will as a composer listed as “J. Blake” — likely the electro-soul artist James Blake, who collaborated with Beyoncé, Frank Ocean, and Rick Rubin last year. And longtime Lamar collaborators like Sounwave and Terrace Martin, who proved pivotal on his previous material, contribute once again on DAMN.
Is rock Lamar’s latest sonic experiment?
On good kid, Lamar embraced the musical legacy of ’90s West Coast hip-hop; three years later, he expanded his palette by incorporating jazz, blues, and R&B on Butterfly. But DAMN could signify his boldest sonic departure yet. Anyone lucky enough to see one of Lamar’s in 2016 already knows he commands the stage with rockstar-like intensity — coupled with fiery guitars, naturally — and his decision to recruit stadium kings U2 emphasizes that he’s searching for textures beyond the rap sphere. And last fall, news emerged that Lamar had with Rubin, who has been a key figure in connecting the hip-hop and rock worlds.
DAMN will likely be political, but perhaps in unconventional ways.
Butterfly powerfully addressed modern issues including mass incarceration and police brutality; its Grammy-winning song “Alright” became the de facto rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement. Since then, Lamar hasn’t been shy about criticizing Trump, whether in his guest appearance on Isaiah Rashad’s 2016 song “Wat’s Wrong” or “The Heart Part 4.” But in an with T: The New York Times Style Magazine, he hinted that his political approach on DAMN may come from a more granular place. “I think now, with how wayward things have gone within the past few months, my focus is ultimately going back to my community and the other communities around the world where they’re doing the groundwork,” he said. That would make sense, given how Lamar has previously grappled with abandoning his community (on Butterfly‘s “Momma”) and has made to schools in his hometown of Compton, California.
Prepare for surprises.
Like his contemporaries at the top of the hip-hop world, Lamar values the element of surprise. Remember that CeeLo’s spot on untitled unmastered wasn’t credited on the track listing, and ditto for Pharrell’s turn on Butterfly. So it’s probable that Rihanna and U2 won’t be the only big names to make flashy appearances on DAMN — and even if they are, Lamar will surely have plenty of head-turning, unexpected moments of his own.