The vast majority of think pieces I’ve seen about ‘DAMN.’ are titled and speak about Kendrick’s “spirituality.” I understand why they call it that.
Christianity has become a bad word. I get it completely. There are many faux Christians and Pharisees out there ruining it for the rest of us. But to focus on “spirituality” instead of Kendrick’s Christianity takes away from what ‘DAMN.’ is. Kendrick is a Christian, and ‘DAMN.’ is a deeply Christian text.
‘DAMN.’ is filled and layered with Christian verses, stories, and allegories. The opening track ‘BLOOD’ refers to a story of a blind woman that can be found in Deuteronomy. The specific verse says, “Cursed is anyone who leads a blind person astray on the road.” What that means is any person who leads you away from following God is, well, cursed. Deuteronomy has several verses with the same context.
With ‘BLOOD’ and later on ‘DUCKWORTH,’ Kendrick examines the two paths he could take. Either he can submit to the “wickedness” and be damned, or he can admit to his “weakness” and follow God. In the latter, in the context of ‘DAMN.,’ Kendrick lives to become who he is. Even more so, Kendrick himself is figuring out what to do here. He questions whether he is leading people the right way through his music and work. Sure, Kendrick chose the right path, but now he has to make sure that he does not lead the blind astray.
In ‘DNA’ Kendrick expects the end of the world to come soon, referring to the 9th and 10th plagues with the verses, “These are the times, level number 9. Look up in the sky, 10 is on the way”, and to the resurrection with, “Tell me when destruction gonna be my fate. Gonna be your fate, gonna be our faith.” The inclusion of the, “sex, money, murder— our DNA” line examines the three biggest issues that plagued humanity since our inception. By saying that Kendrick alludes to the belief that these three — “sex,” “money,” and “murder” — are not only who we are, but the eventual cause of our damnation.
This train of thought follows into the next track ‘YAH,’ where Kendrick raps “Deuteronomy says that we all been cursed.” What Kendrick refers to is the passage in Deuteronomy where Moses explains the punishment for breaking the ten commandments. Since we have “sex, money, [and] murder” in “our DNA,” we have been breaking said laws. In doing so, we should expect God’s curses to fall upon us.
Moreover, ‘YAH’ is short form of Yahweh, which means God. This pairs well with Kendrick’s verse, “I’m a Israelite, don’t call me Black no mo.” This verse refers to the belief of the Hebrew Israelites, a group of people who believe that people of color are the true descendants of Jacob. Kendrick throughout this song is called out to ‘YAH’ and proclaiming that he is a true follower/descendant of God’s ‘chosen people’.
Kendrick then turns to start describing his life and the issues that he is dealing with. In ‘ELEMENT’ the opening verse says, “Y’all know, what happens on Earth stays on Earth”. With this line Kendrick proclaims that he knows everything that he has here won’t be with him when he dies.
Even more so, Kendrick starts to analyze his actions and life. With the line, “Put the Bible down and go eye for an eye for this shit,” Kendrick again refers back to the original question posed in ‘BLOOD.’ This bleeds into the following track ‘FEEL.’
In ‘FEEL,’ Kendrick documents the wide range of negative feelings and emotions that he is dealing with including loneliness, depression, and a litany of the world’s prevailing issues. It would only make sense then, as Kendrick lists the entirety of problems on his mind, he would focus on prayer.
Several times throughout ‘FEEL’ Kendrick states, “Ain’t nobody prayin’ for me.” Prayer is the the means of which one communicates with God. Here, Kendrick documents his struggles with reaching out to God. With no one praying for him (except for me), Kendrick feels lost.
When Kendrick says, “I feel like the whole world want me to pray for ’em. But who the fuck prayin’ for me?,” refers to the need of prayer not only for himself, but that everyone else needs to pray as well. This is where Kendrick tries to take the right path and not lead the blind astray. Kendrick wants people to pray so they can get help for similar, if not the same issues Kendrick is dealing with. They need to pray so that they can talk to and know God.
In the following track ‘LOYALTY,’ both Kendrick and Rihanna examine what someone should be loyal to. They both end up with the same answer: “That’s what God for.” According to Kendrick, God is the person you should be most loyal to. The reason for that among many other reasons is that unlike every other person mentioned in ‘LOYALTY,’ God is the only one that will not turn his back on you. He would even go so far as to die for you.
Now the biggest source of death, at least according to ‘DAMN,’ is ‘PRIDE.’ Pride is one of the biggest issues for Christians, and it is one of the seven deadly sins. It is difficult not to be proud when you are Kendrick freaking Lamar, but this entire song examines how Kendrick deals with this issue.
The most pertaining verses for this are, “I’ll take all the religions and put ’em all in one service/Just to tell ’em we ain’t shit, but He’s been perfect, world.” Here, Kendrick directly calls out all religions. People like using the term “spirituality” because it is an attempt to be devoid of religion. I’ve heard this saying many times: “God did not create religion, [hu]man[s] did.”
Kendrick reminds us that we need to focus on God — not all the rules and rhetoric of religion. Which, believe it or not, is a very Christian statement. Many Christians avoid strict rituals and religious rhetoric, and attempt solely to have a relationship with God. That is what Kendrick is pushing forward here, that we need to have said relationship.
Even so, Kendrick still clearly struggles with that relationship himself, as the next few tracks go on to discuss. The first track that deals with this is ‘HUMBLE.’ On ‘HUMBLE,’ Kendrick delves into the way of wickedness, “You gotta see this/Waaaaay (yeah, yeah!)” and goes through a bevy of lyrics that examines how difficult it is to be humble when you are arguably the greatest rapper alive. Kendrick even goes so far as to say, “Nobody pray for me,” citing the fact that the lack of prayer has made it difficult for him to deal with being humble when he deals with lust, love, and sex.
‘LUST,’ which is also one of the seven deadly sins, becomes Kendrick’s next topic of examination. Lust is another area where he still is trying to overcome his vices. Kendrick lusts after his “fame” and “routine of shame.” Kendrick then goes on to mention James 4:4, which he explains as “Friend of the world is enemy of the Lord.” Everything in the world that we can lust after is an enemy of God. Kendrick warns us that the lust of all things is a lust for the world, and it will take us away from God.
Building on this theme, in ‘LOVE’ Kendrick asks the question, “Would you still love me?” Now, one can say that he is referring to his fiancé, but given the Christian themes of the album, surely Kendrick is talking about God. Kendrick repeats, “I wanna be with you” and “just love me” over and over again.
Going back to Kendrick’s desire for a relationship with God, it makes sense that Kendrick would want to be with God and have God “love” [him]. Arguably, the most important aspect of being a Christian is knowing and experiencing God’s love. Kendrick wants that so badly he even states, “Don’t got you, I got nothin.”
While ‘LOVE’ delves deep into the relationship with God, ‘XXX’ examines Kendrick’s relationship with his country. Here we are reminded of that in this part of ‘DAMN.,’ Kendrick is examining the way of wickedness. Kendrick goes an “eye for an eye” as he mentioned earlier and examines the need for revenge and the problems of murder. In doing so, Kendrick deals with both the deadly sin of wrath and breaking the commandment of murder.
With the lines, “K-Dot, can you pray for me?” we get an instance of Kendrick praying for the whole world but nobody praying for him, as mentioned in ‘FEEL.’ Kendrick’s friend calls him “anointed,” referring to him as a spiritual savior of sorts. But Kendrick knows that “to the spiritual, my spirit do no better.” Kendrick knows that he isn’t any more Christian than the next person. Just because he has what he has and is who he is does not mean that he is “anointed.” In fact, he’s “no better” than anyone else when it comes to the Spirit.
Kendrick goes on to examine how he is not better with the song ‘FEAR.’ Kendrick compares himself to Job with the lines, “All this money, is God playin’ a joke on me?/Is it for the moment, and will he see me as Job?/ Take it from me and leave me worse than I was before?” Job is a man in the bible who had it all and lost it, and dedicated his life to God throughout. Kendrick wonders if that is what is going to happen to him.
After, Kendrick examines all the areas of fear in his life, all of which stem from the proceeding tracks in some way. Here, Kendrick finally gets his cousin Carl to pray for him.
With Kendrick finally receiving the prayer he’s been waiting for, Kendrick is able to talk to us about what God feels like on the song ‘GOD.’ He praises God and thanks God for getting him to this point. Kendrick believes that because of following the way of “weakness,” he has achieved everything he has. It is because “[his] heart is rich, [his] heart is famous” that Kendrick is able to be where he is, and be who he is. His Christianity and his belief in God have gotten him where he is.
Finally, with ‘DUCKWORTH,’ Kendrick tells the story of how his life could have been insanely different if “Top Dawg” had followed the path of “wickedness” and killed his father. Instead, he followed the right path and in doing so allowed Kendrick to become who he is. Kendrick then rewinds to the beginning so that he to can follow the right path, too.
With the death at the beginning of ‘BLOOD’ and the resurrection at the end of ‘DUCKWORTH,’ one can argue that Kendrick is making an allegory to Jesus dying and resurrection, aka the pivotal moment of Christianity. ‘DAMN.’ also dropped on Good Friday, the day Jesus died for us.
Everything in ‘DAMN.’ relates to Kendrick’s Christianity, from its release date to the message it sends in every song. Circling back to my original point, seeing ‘DAMN.’ as a spiritual text and not a Christian one takes away from Kendrick’s overt Christianity and his desire to not to be the blind woman and lead us astray.
‘DAMN.’ is an album that deals with issues of self and examines Kendrick’s relationship with God. Who still, even after talking about all the issues that he is dealing with, is able to glorify, praise, and thank God. There’s nothing more Christian than that.