‘DAMN.’ Decoded: Kendrick Lamar’s Album is About Breaking the Curse of Disobedience
Gone but not forgotten, homes I still feel ya / So, curse the day that birthed the bastard / Who caused your church mass, reverse the crash / Reverse the blast then reverse the car / Reverse the day and there you are, Bobalob/ Lord forgive him, we all have sinned - Jay Z ("Lucifer")
There’s no second album, let’s kill that theory now. Resurrection isn’t coming on Easter Sunday. Don’t allow the internet conspiracy community to get your hopes up. Instead of waiting around for what isn’t coming, let's deep dive into what Kendrick has already given us.
DAMN. is an album rooted in God, the book of Deuteronomy, and trying to break the curse of damnation. "Curse" is one of the most recurring words on the album and the key to unlocking the overall concept. I have to thank John Noire, a DJBooth contributing writer, who brought to my attention many of the components that built this theory. It takes more than one mind to analyze and decipher such a project mere hours after its release.
“FEAR.” is the most important song on the album, beginning with the voicemail from cousin Carl. He calls Kendrick to remind him, "we are cursed people” and to leave him with the Deuteronomy 28:28 scripture: “The Lord shall smite thee with madness, and blindness, and astonishment of heart.” In the book of Deuteronomy, chapters 27 and 28 focus on the blessings and curses of disobedience for those who keep and break the laws of Moses.
Cousin Carl is the same Carl from “YAH.,” the album’s second song. “I’m a Israelite, don't call me black no more, that word is only a color, it ain’t facts no more, My cousin Carl, my cousin Carl Duckworth said know my worth and Deuteronomy say that we all be cursed,” Kendrick raps. He alludes early on about the teachings of his cousin and the curse that Deuteronomy spoke of to the people of Israel. Kendrick sees himself as a descendant of Black Hebrew Israelites but focuses on the curse of disobedience instead of the blessings of obedience. For context, “YAH.” is likely short for Yahweh―the name and pronunciation of God in Hebrew.
“FEAR.” walks us through three stages of fear―the fear of his mother at the age of 7, the fear of death as an adolescent at the age of 17, and all the fears brought on by his newfound fame and fortune at the age of 27. In the Bible, the numbers three and seven both represent completeness.
Pay close attention to the closing verse:
I'm talkin' fear, fear of losin' loyalty from pride / 'cause my DNA won't let me involve in the light of God / I'm talkin' fear, fear that my humbleness is gone / I'm talkin' fear, fear that love ain't livin' here no more / I'm talkin' fear, fear that it's wickedness or weakness
“Loyalty,” “Pride,” “DNA,” Humble,” “Love” and “Fear” are all track titles and themes explored throughout the project. This section defines his approach to each―”DNA” questions if his genetic makeup as a cursed Israelite will keep him out the house of God. There’s nothing humble about “HUMBLE.,” hence the fear that he has lost his sense of modesty. He's crying for loyalty on "LOYALTY." but on “PRIDE.,” he's frank about not trusting people enough to put his faith in them. Kendrick raps about the “perfect world” on “PRIDE.,” and it's worth noting how pride is the original sin that got Adam and Eve banished from the Garden of Eden. Collectively, DAMN. focuses on Kendrick’s fears that could lead him to damnation. By acknowledging them, he hopes to overcome them. The outro to "FEAR." is how God has damned us all. Damn is defined as, "Condemned by God to suffer eternal punishment in hell." At the beginning of “BLOOD.,” the album's intro, there’s a question posed: “Is it weakness or wickedness?”
Fear, what happens on Earth stays on Earth / And I can't take these feelings / With me so hopefully they disperse / Within fourteen tracks, carried out over wax / Searchin' for resolutions until somebody get back / Fear, what happens on earth stays on earth / And I can't take these feelings with me / So hopefully they disperse / Within fourteen tracks, carried out over wax / Wonderin' if I'm livin' through fear or livin' through rap - Kendrick Lamar ("Fear")
This question is important because of cousin Carl’s closing voicemail on “FEAR.,” which was excluded from the leaked version of the album and what, I believe, Sounwave referenced in a tweet about it not being the official version. The voicemail is critical to understanding the concept of curses. Carl preaches that until the world comes back to the commandments, laws, and statutes stated in the book of Deuteronomy, Blacks, Hispanics, and Native American Indians, the true children of Israel, will continue to be chastised. To take it back to “YAH.,” in the last verse, Kendrick says, “And Deuteronomy say that we all been cursed, I know he walks the earth, but it’s money to get, bitches to hit, Yah!, Zeroes to flip, temptation is Yah!.” This is Kendrick’s way of acknowledging he believes in the curse but that he also can’t help but stay distracted by earthly pleasures. This line brings to question: is it inner weakness or wickedness that keeps people from following the commandments, laws, and statutes? Kendrick goes to great lengths to see if he can overcome the elements of his DNA—the elements that raised him and the elements of his fame—to truly rise above.
The story told on “DUCKWORTH” about Anthony and Ducky is also significant because it explores the circumstance of living in a mad city, surrounded by wickedness and weakness. Anthony was from the city and he saw the madness, but as Kendrick states, “Adaption, inevitable.” He goes on to detail gun violence, crack spots, and federal policies. He came from a family of pimps and gang bangers, it was in his DNA to be dangerous. Ducky wasn’t innocent—he did his share of hustling—but also worked at the KFC to help feed his family. A KFC that Anthony had previously stuck up, hence the possibility of another robbery. Knowing this, Ducky was kind to Anthony, giving him free food and extras as a peace offering. As Kendrick states in the song, that one act of kindness saved two lives. “That one decision change both of they lives, one curse at a time, Reverse the manifest the good karma and I’ll tell you why, you take two strangers and put ‘em in random predicaments, Give ‘em a soul, so they could make their own choices,” he raps, building up to the revelation that Anthony (Tiffith) would later become TDE’s CEO and Ducky was his father.
They overcame wickedness and weakness and by choosing to do the right thing, good karma impacted the future. That is Kendrick's way of saying, you can overcome your circumstance and be a good person and a good soul in a maad world. I believe that’s why the album rewinds, to ask the question again: “Is it weakness or wickedness?” We can reverse what happens by employing free will and the decisions we chose to make. The more you choose to follow a lifestyle that further removes you from God, the more likely you are to be damned for eternity.
The deeper I dive, the more DAMN. sounds like a man confronting his vices until he’s back in God’s good graces. He understands what could cause him to lose his life, hence his death at the album’s beginning. The blind trigger woman is the curse that will take him down if he doesn’t confront the weakness and wickedness within himself. Repentance and forgiveness are also in the book of Deuteronomy, highlighting the importance of following the commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law. Kendrick has previously stated that TPAB was written for God. Essentially, it was his repentance album. Could untitled unmastered be inspired by the Book of Revelations and DAMN. by the Book of Deuteronomy? I believe so.
"I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” - Book of Deuteronomy
Jay Z’s last verse on “Lucifer” wishes to reverse the crash that took the life of Biggs' brother Bobalob. What if Kendrick is trying to reverse the circumstance that will ultimately bring his downfall? Cousin Carl is his voice of faith, keeping him from falling under Lucy’s temptation. He made the blind woman a woman for a reason. In 2016, Kendrick released the short film, God Is Gangsta. The seven-minute long visual combines the songs “u” and “For Sale?” from To Pimp A Butterfly. I’ve seen a few fans on social media point out the way God Is Gangsta connects to DAMN., and this connection is spot on. “For Sale?” is the introduction to Lucy, and visually, God Is Gangsta represents the devil’s temptation to lure Kendrick in a room full of lusty women. The video ends with Kendrick on a bridge, taking a walk at night. “BLOOD.,” meanwhile, begins with Kendrick encountering the blind woman while on a walk. There are no coincidences in Kendrick’s world. It’s also wild that an act of kindness kills Kendrick, while an act of kindness kept his father safe.
So I was taking a walk the other day.. https://t.co/HSO3gLVAeh— Maine. �� (@brainfeeder_) April 14, 2017
“What happens on Earth stays on Earth,” is the mantra that recurs again and again on the album. This is a reminder that our time on this planet is short, so not to hold onto earthly possessions. That includes feelings, hence why Kendrick is sharing all of this with the world.
Kendrick is a conflicted man, dealing with all these emotions while trying to get closer to his savior despite feeling cursed to be damned. There’s so much to unpackage, explore, and decipher on this album, I haven't really even scratched the surface. The album is deeply spiritual, rooted in a man who is on Earth and worried about his spirit burning for an eternity. The urgent nature of this album, which Kendrick alluded to in an interview before its release, has to do with the state of the world, the worship of men as God, and trying to open minds to the curse and the blessings stated in Deuteronomy.
I’m standing firm on my belief that Kendrick doesn’t have a second album coming later this weekend. We need weeks, months, and maybe years to sit with this one. While I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting, I highly recommended playing DAMN. on repeat and searching for the deeper meanings hiding between the margins.
By Yoh, aka Yohweh, aka @Yoh31