DAMN. is a widescreen masterpiece of rap, full of expensive beats, furious rhymes, and peerless storytelling about Kendrick’s destiny in America.




Life is one funny motherfucker, it’s true. “DUCKWORTH.,” the last song on Kendrick Lamar's fourth studio album DAMN., tells a winding story about Anthony from Compton and Ducky from Chicago, whose paths cross first over KFC biscuits, and again, 20 years later, when Ducky’s son records a song about the encounter for Anthony’s record label. It’s a precious origin story, the stuff of rock docs and hood DVDs, and it’s delivered with such precision, vivid detail, and masterful pacing that it can’t possibly be true. But it’s a tale too strange to be fiction, and too powerful not to believe in—just like its author. Kendrick Lamar has proven he’s a master storyteller, but he’s been saving his best plot twist this whole time, waiting until he was ready, or able, to pull it off.


人生真是个有趣的混蛋;这是实话。“DUCKWORTH.”, Kendrick Lamar的第四张录音室专辑中的最后一首歌,讲述了来自康普顿的Anthony和来自芝加哥的Ducky因为肯德基饼干而初遇,接着20年后,Ducky的儿子就为Anthony的厂牌录制了一首关于这场相遇的歌的曲折故事。这是一个珍贵的故事,生猛细致如街头影像的再现,并被如此精准和细节丰满地通过大师级的节奏讲述出来,以至于让人觉得完全缺乏真实性。但这个故事又太过特异得不像是虚构的,且如此有感染力,让人无法不信其言——就像这个故事的作者一样。Kendrick Lamar已经证明他是个说故事的大师,但他还是一直把他最棒的情节翻转留到了最后,一直等到他准备好,或者说准备到有足够的能力,来把这个故事说好。


Storytelling has been Lamar’s greatest skill and most primary mission, to put into (lots of) words what it's like to grow up as he did—to articulate, in human terms, the intimate specifics of daily self-defense from your surroundings. Somehow, he’s gotten better. The raps on his fourth studio album DAMN. jab mercilessly like a sewing machine. His boyish nasal instrumentis distinct and inimitable as it slithers up and down in pitch on “PRIDE.” Evenwhen Lamar sounds like Eminem, or Drake, or OutKast, he sounds like himself, andhe arguably outpaces them all as a writer. On “FEAR.,” he relays daily threats from his mom (“I’ll beat your ass, keep talking back/I’ll beat your ass, who bought you that? You stole it”) and from his neighbors (“I’ll probably die because I ain’t know Demarcus was snitching/I’ll probably die at these houseparties fucking with bitches”) over low-slung blues stirred by TheAlchemist. Lamar’s recitation is so effortless you wonder where he breathes, or if he does at all.


说故事一直是Kendrick Lamar最棒的技巧和最核心的任务,即用(大量)的语言来描述他成长的经历——从人的角度,清晰地表达个人针对环境而做出的自我保护的私密细节。不知怎的,他在这方面比以前更棒了。他在第四张录音室专辑《DAMN.》中的说唱力度毫不留情,行云流水如一台缝纫机。他男孩气的鼻音在《PRIDE.》中自如地在音调间上下滑动,非常独特。甚至在Lamar听起来像Eminem、Drake或者Outkast的时候,他听起来依然具有十足的个人特色,且毫无争议地在写作能力方面超越了前述的所有人。在《FEAR.》中,他重现了来自他母亲(“我要揍你,再顶嘴/我要揍你,谁给你买的这个?你偷的吧)和他邻居(我也许会死因为我不知道Demarcus在告密/我也许会死在和那些派对里的女人胡搞上)的日常威胁,配合着The Alchemist低低的布鲁斯吉他。Lamar的说唱是如此地轻松,让你好奇他究竟什么时候换气,还是他根本就不用换气。


Kendrick is a relic of the mid-aughts rap blog era, where bedroom WordPress pages would post .zips ofalbums by amateurs. After years of such releases, Kendrick dropped a self-titled EP in 2009 that featured Big Pooh from Little Brother and elicited such Nah Right comments as “I like the beats on this” and “who da fuk?”Accolades swelled with each project; by 2011, he was considering signingwith Dr. Dre; by 2013, he was playing“SNL” and touring with Kanye West. He came of age with his fans, and by 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly, he put to music their chest-clenched frustrations. Ever the curtain-puller, he released an album of untitled and unmastered drafts and grew his hair out. His short absence, even after lending Taylor Swift a verse, has been made to feel longer by his media shyness and a surging tide of new rappers shuttled out daily.


在这个网上充斥着由各种不着四六的业余人士上传的无数粗制滥造的专辑的半瓶水说唱博客时代,Kendrick着实是一个珍贵如历史文物般的存在。在经过几年类似的发行经历后,Kendrick自己出了一张和Little Brother里的Big Pooh合作的EP,并引发了许多诸如“我喜欢这首歌的节奏”和“这牛逼的家伙是谁?”之类的不错反响。随着作品的不断发行,Kendrick受到的称赞也越来越多;到2011年,他已经在考虑要和Dr. Dre签约;到2013年,他上周六夜现场,并和Kanye West一起巡演。他的粉丝群逐渐成熟,到2015年《To Pimp a Butterfly》,他把粉丝们心痛的挫折写进音乐。专辑发行后,他又发了一张《untitled and unmastered drafts》,并留起了长发。即使他给Taylor Swift弄了段说唱(*Bad Blood),他短暂的消失,也因为他的低调和新rapper的不断涌现而让人感觉比实际更长。


Throughout it all, he’s avoided the boxed-in fates of predecessors like Nas and peers like J. Cole through an electric originality and curiosity. He mastered rap not for mastery’s sake, but to use it as a form, undeterred by slow-eared fans who’ll only highlight his “simplest lines.” His best new trick is repetition; it offsets his density and drills his ideas, as enthralling as a Sunday sermon or pre-fight chirp session. There have been few threats committed to record as sincere as, “Let somebody touch my mama, touch my sister, touch my woman/Touch my daddy, touch my niece, touch my nephew, touch my brother”—you tick down the list along with him, slot in your own lifelong bonds with loved ones. Such internal processing plays out through the album’s Greek chorus, via the singer Bēkon, who speaks in riddles of balance throughout: “Is it wickedness, is it weakness;” “Love’s gonna get you killed, but pride’s gonna be the death of you;” “It was always me versus the world/Until I found it’s me versus me.”


在这个过程中,他凭借花火般的原创性和好奇心,避免了类似他的前辈Nas或者他的同辈J.Cole那样套路的命运。他并不是单纯为了炫技而磨炼自己的说唱技巧,而是以此作为一个平台,一个不受那些耳朵不够用、只会强调他“最简单的歌词”的粉丝所阻碍的平台(*Word.)。他最棒的新技巧是重复;这能适当降低他歌词的密度,并更好地深入他的观点,迷人如周日礼拜的布道或动物战前的鸣叫(*赞同,很到位的观点)。极少有威胁像“Let somebody touch my mama,touch my sister, touch my woman/Touch my daddy, touch my niece, touch mynephew, touch my brother”这样真诚地被记录下来——你跟着他一起对照这个名单,把你自己与所爱之人一生的连结代入进去。这样内部的处理过程伴随着贯穿全砖的希腊合唱,其中的歌手Bēkon则用谜语般的和声说道:“这是邪恶,还是软弱”;“爱会让你被杀,骄傲却会致你死亡”;“以前一直是我在对抗世界/直到我发现一直是我在对抗自己。”


DAMN. is best in these philosophical spaces. It lags slightly around the center, where the concept loosens: “LOYALTY.,” with Rihanna, has all the makings of a radio mainstay this summer, and is as low-stakes as the platform demands; it’s always fun to hear Rih rap, and her presence is its most interesting aspect. “LUST.” would sound better if it weren’t next to an ear-worm as tender as “LOVE.,” which slow-dances between Zacari falsettos and Lamar’s sheepish read of the girl who fills him up. Between the two tracks, it’s easy to tell which force is tugging at him harder.




The record’s few lulls succumb to what surrounds them. The springboard bounce of “HUMBLE.,” the war chant of “DNA.,” and hot steel of “XXX.”show Kendrick in his element, fast and lucid, like Eazy-E with college creditsand Mike WiLL beats. The production is taut and clean, but schizophrenic, often splicing two or three loops into atrack and swaying between tempos, closer in kin to good kid, m.A.A.d city’s siren-synths than Butterfly’s brass solos. If he was“black as the moon” on his last album, he’s an “Israelite” here, refusing to identify himself by the shade of his skin but fluent in the contents of his D.N.A. *Butterfly *floated along to soften its scathing stance—“We hate po-po”sounds better over a smooth saxophone—but with so many “wack artists” in play,what’s the reward for upliftment? Kendrick is so alone at his altitude that when he acknowledges Fox News, let alone Donald Trump, it feels like a favor tothem both.


但这点平静总归还是屈服于整体的火爆的。“HUMBLE.”的跳板律动,“DNA.”的战斗呐喊,“XXX.”的火爆坚硬,都显示出Kendrick快速明晰的说唱实力,像是受过高等教育的Easy-E配上MiKE WiLL制作的节奏(*这个评价太准确了)。这些歌的制作一点也不拖泥带水,却带着精神分裂的特质,经常把两或三块循环拼接到一首歌里,并在不同的节奏之间摇摆变化。这种样式更接近《good kid, m.A.A.d city》中的合成器警报,而不是《Butterfly》一砖中的铜管乐独奏。如果说Kendrick在上一砖中的身份是“黑如月亮”的黑人,那这砖中他就是“以色列人”:拒绝以他的肤色来定义自己,但对自己DNA中的内容了如指掌。《Butterfly》一砖的表达力度相对还是比较轻的,以缓和专辑本身严厉的立场——“我们恨条子”这样的歌词在柔滑萨克斯的陪衬下听着要舒服不少。但面对这么多“垃圾艺人”,他抬高整个黑人圈又有什么用呢?站在高处的Kendrick是如此地孤独,以至于当他指出Fox News,更别提川普大爷的恶性言论时,这反而感觉像是他给此二者做了广告(*Irony)。


Still, the album exists for“DUCKWORTH.” It’s the final piece of the TDE puzzle, a home grown label of Compton natives that happened to deliver the best rapper of his generation. If we’re to believe the song’s last gunshot—and its seamless loop back to trackone—much of DAMN. is written from the perspective of a Kendrick Lamar who grew up without a father to guide him away from the sinful temptations outside his home. He bobs in and out of this perspective, but the repeated pledges to loyalty and martyrdom evoke the life and mind of a young gang member who carries his neighborhood flag because no one’s proved to him that he shouldn’t. These choices, Lamar suggests, aren’t pre-determined or innate, but in constant dialogue with and in reaction to their surrounding circumstances. They aren’t above or beneath anyone who can hear his voice. Success and failure choose their subjects at their whim; we’reas grateful as Kendrick for his fate.


不过这张专辑的最大意义还是在于“DUCKWORTH.”这首歌。这是TDE厂牌成功之谜的最后一块密码;一个康普顿土生土长的厂牌,却恰好贡献了这个年代最棒的说唱歌手。如果我们可以相信这首歌最后的一声枪响,还有其从最后一路倒放回到第一首歌的无缝循环,那么《DAMN.》一砖基本是从一个从小没有父亲引导来远离家之外的罪恶诱惑、名叫Kendrick Lamar的人的角度出发而写成的。全砖中他有时站在这个角度,有时又抽离这个视角,但其中不断重复的对于忠诚和牺牲的誓言,激发了一个高举街区大旗的年轻帮派分子的生命和思想,因为没有人向他证明过他不该这么做。Lamar暗示,这些选择既不是预设的,也不是先天的,而是一个人与周围环境不断对话和相对反应的结果。对于能听到他声音的人来说,这些选择不是痴心妄想,也不是自暴自弃。成功和失败对于其对象的选择是随性的;我们与Kendrick一样,都感恩于Kendrick的命运。







从最初的《Section 80》到《good kid, m.A.A.d city》到《To Pimp a Butterfly》再到这张《DAMN.》,Kendrick已经完全证明了自己是一个真正的艺术家。无论是对音乐、对社会,还是对自己,Kendrick始终保持着谨慎而自省的思考状态,并用充满力度的音乐艺术形式表达出来。就专辑本身而言,《DAMN.》是最接近主流的一砖,和主流音乐的对接也比较成功;可以说,Kendrick一直都没有放弃(在保持说唱音乐自身文化特质的前提下)将说唱/嘻哈推向主流的努力。(诚然主流的认可与否根本不说明什么,看看15年和16年格莱美的年砖,看看绿娃和低俗怪谈被艾美连续三年的自动无视,就知道主流相当多时候都很废。)当然Kendrick还是创造了很多历史(and逼近了很多历史),才三十岁就有这样几张专辑加身(连那张草稿砖都具备很高的质量),未来真不知道会再进化到什么程度。


虽然从音乐上来说我可能还是更喜欢前面几张,但这一张的概念我非常喜欢。基于《DUCKWORTH.》这首歌和歌里的故事,从第一首《BLOOD.》到最后《DUCKWORTH.》一声枪响一路倒放回到《BLOOD.》的第一句话,整张专辑一下就蒙上了一层循环宿命论哲学观的色彩(诚然这应该不是Kendrick本身想要表达的侧重点),听完竟也有了接近恍若红楼一梦的感觉,很奇妙。但和通常宿命论的悲观不同,《DAMN.》全砖的力度更像是以前的邵氏武侠片,其中的宿命也更多是对江湖信条的朴素求索(美国的街头和中国的江湖在这砖里真的在某种程度上达到了可以替换的水平;一个美国黑人能在这种课题上有这样的领悟能力,作为中国人不得不赞Kendrick真心牛逼)。因此,这砖里Kendrick重新给自己取的Kungfu Kenny的绰号本身就是一种提示和信号。关于这点也可以参考Kendrick今年在Coachella的表演,整场live像是一部“肯氏武侠片”,很有意趣(虽然有些地方作为中国人来看还是不免觉得滑稽)。





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