Kendrick Lamar and Multiple Album Meanings
Does listening to 'DAMN.' backwards really evoke a new perspective?
Yes, it is. But not in the way people may think and not in a way that makes it worth buying the album for a second time. Kendrick Lamar’s Damn. is a fantastic record with a range of both trunk-knocking hits such as “DNA.”, “HUMBLE.” and “ELEMENT.” and thought provoking and mind bending revelations such as “PRIDE.”, “FEAR.”, and “DUCKWORTH.”. The record starts out with the expository track “BLOOD.”, a mysterious and somewhat haunting track that tells the story of Kendrick coming across a blind woman who he attempts to help but ends the track by shooting him. The record continues with Kendrick reflecting back on everything that led him to lose his life. The old blind woman can be interpreted as Kendrick having a run-in with Lady Justice and her taking his life is the culmination of all the social and political injustice that Kendrick raps about often in his music. Damn. is a depressing album at times, as it can be quite evident that Kendrick has little to no hope left in him. The fire within him to fight against social injustice heard on “To Pimp a Butterfly” is seemingly replaced with a depressing realization that maybe these injustices are self-inflicted (especially apparent on the voicemail at the end of the song “FEAR.”) or unsolvable. Kendrick is defeated on this album. He has been beaten down and is left with a tangible feeling of despair. He has been looking for answers all this time and, after all of it, he is left thinking that maybe it’s his own fault. He is truly defeated by coming to the realization that he is the cause of his own torment and anguish.
Now, reverse the track list, what is apparent? Is the record different? It’s different in the same way reversing any album would be. Instead of Kendrick dying in the beginning of the record and reflecting on his actions that led him up to that point, he does the exact reverse. Kendrick reflects on life experiences and his own personal beliefs and actions and is killed at the end of the record. The reselling of this record as a “collector’s edition” is nothing more than just giving fans what they want. The release of this album was shrouded in different conspiracies and theories. Initially, fan conversations about the album were wrought with speculation of the release of a second album the week after. When it was obvious there was no second album, the speculation shifted to whether or not playing the album backwards provided a new meaning. Kendrick’s music is a spectacle, not only because of the fantastic quality of it, but because fans are excited to speculate and analyze each release relentlessly. With the release of DAMN. COLLECTOR’S EDITION., the fan theory flames have not only been fanned even more, but fans also have a new reason to put this album at the forefront of their minds once again, eight months after the original release and very soon after the announcement of his several Grammy nominations. It’s genius marketing on the part of Kendrick and the TDE label.
Many consumers will inevitably buy this version of the album merely because it exists and is part of Kendrick’s discography, while many will be searching for this second meaning. There will also be a sect of the consumer base that bought it again simply to support Kendrick’s career, with no care for whether or not they can search for a new hidden message only heard when played back to front. Regardless of the reasons people may buy this version, Kendrick is forcing his way back to the top and commanding attention for a second time in a year that he already dominated, and he did so by not only confirming fan suspicions, but by giving them exactly what they wanted: physical confirmation. Fans do not need to speculate anymore because the artist himself has confirmed what they believed. While it seems that reversing the track list does nothing more than reverse the story in the same way any story could be reversed, Kendrick has still been able to get fans salivating for more, albeit more of the exact same. More power to him.