the very best lines from damn by kendrick lamar

We comb through the goldmine of greatness to unearth some of the album’s very best lyrics.

i-D Staff

i-D Staff

The world was waiting for Damn [stylised DAMN.], the fourth album from Compton's greatest orator, Kendrick Lamar, and it hasn't disappointed. A complex study of religion, race, war, the self, humankind, Kendrick is often conflicted and contradictory, yet always confessional, consistently prepared to bare the good, the bad and the ugly sides of his soul.

Though there are moments of incongruity from Kendrick himself, the album is anything but. Damn is clearly a carefully considered offering, with Kendrick wanting to add to his existing narrative, rather than repeat. He artfully positions himself as one of today's finest lyricists, riddling his rhymes with complex wordplay that demands several listens, over time.

After careful consideration, here are i-D's 13 favourite lines.

"I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA
I live a better life, I'm rollin' several dice, fuck your life
I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA
I live a better, fuck your life"

The sample of FOX News pundit Geraldo Rivera's misinterpretation of hip hop grabbed the headlines on this one, but don't let that distract you from the message behind it; a reassertion of the Afrocentric spirit of i and a powerful examination of what makes Kendrick, well, Kendrick.

"I'm not a politician/I'm not 'bout no religion
I'm an Israelite, don't call me Black no mo'
That word is only a colour, it ain't facts no mo'."

An album steeped in religious overture, Kendrick appears to take the opportunity to reveal himself as a Hebrew Israelite, going on to reference "Deuteronomy" 28 throughout Damn.

"I'm willin' to die for this shit
I done cried for this shit, might take a life for this shit
Put the Bible down and go eye for an eye for this shit
D.O.T. my enemy, won't catch a vibe for this shit, ayy"

Pretty straight forward this, isn't it? Kendrick sounds off about about how much he likes his job, with a nice reminder of that time he had something in his eye thrown in for good measure.

"Fillin' the void of bein' employed with ballin'
Streets is talkin', fill in the blanks with coffins
Fill up the banks with dollars
Fill up the graves with fathers
Fill up the babies with bullshit
Internet blogs and pulpit, fill 'em with gossip
I feel like this gotta be the feelin' what Pac was
The feelin' of an apocalypse happenin'."

Despair and desperation is insidious throughout Feel as Kendrick dissects the plight of the young, black, American male.

Loyalty (featuring Rihanna)
"I'm a savage, I'm a asshole, I'm a king
Shimmy-yeah, shimmy-yeah, shimmy-yeah, rock."

The full spectrum of self-analysis here, from savage to asshole to king in the blink of an eye (followed by a nod to Ol' Dirty Bastard's Shimmy Shimmy Ya). Don't worry, Kendrick, we like you.

"I know the walls, they can listen. I wish they could talk back
The hurt becomes repetition, the love almost lost that
Sick venom in men and women overcome with pride
A perfect world is never perfect, only filled with lies
Promises are broken, and more resentment comes alive."

Of the seven deadly sins, posits Kendrick, perhaps pride is both the self - and humanity's - greatest threat.

"I'm so fuckin' sick and tired of the Photoshop
Show me somethin' natural like afro on Richard Pryor
Show me somethin' natural like ass with some stretch marks."

Hard to pick just one, but this rebuff to the Generation Photoshop certainly sticks in the mind. What a video, by the way.

We all woke up, tryna tune to the daily news
Looking for confirmation, hoping the election wasn't true
All of us worried, all of us buried, and our feelings deep
None of us married to his proposal, make us feel cheap
Still and sad, distraught and mad, tell the neighbor 'bout it
But they agree, parade the streets with your voice proudly
Time passin', things change
Reverting back to our daily programmes, stuck in our ways. Lust!"

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Are we really 'woke'? Trapped in our own minutiae of life, the battle cry seems to always fade.

Love (featuring Zacari)
"If I didn't ride blade on curb, would you still love me?
If I minimize my net worth, would you still love me?"

Ahh, this one's nice, isn't it? Kendrick somehow managing to find an entirely new way to ask if you'll still love him without his money. Who knew that the value of all assets, minus the total of all liabilities, could sound so romantic.

"Hail Mary, Jesus and Joseph
The great American flag is wrapped and dragged with explosives
Compulsive disorder, sons and daughters
Barricaded blocks and borders
Look what you taught us."

Having previously reexamined his own hypocrisy on Verse 1, K Dot calls out the blood on the hands of the great US of A, turning his own duplicity back on a system that serves to lead by very bad example.

"Why God, why God do I gotta suffer?
Pain in my heart carry burdens full of struggle."

More religious overture here as Kendrick talks about the weight of the struggle in his heart. It's a theme continued on...

"Everything in life is a gamble
Nothin' in life I can't handle
Seen it all, done it all, felt pain more
For the cause, I don't put blood on a sword
Everything I do is to embrace y'all
Everything I write is a damn eightball
Everything I touch is a damn goldmine
Everything I say is from an angel."

… Where Kendrick puts himself on the cross, metaphorically speaking, as he underscores the pressure and pain of being the voice of the people.

"Life is one funny mothafucka
A true comedian, you gotta love him, you gotta trust him."

And finally, Kendrick concludes his record with a song about how the man who came to sign him almost killed his father. This line just about sums it all up really, doesn't it? 


Text Hattie Collins and Matthew Whitehouse