Kendrick Lamar's latest album, DAMN., turned one on April 14. It recently won him a Pulitzer. And to be completely honest, I'll be pretty shocked if my fine journalistic work here doesn’t earn me a Pulitzer after this investigation is published.
DAMN. may not seem as conceptual as good kid, m.A.A.d city or To Pimp a Butterfly, but it definitely has layers. Kendrick has always been a visionary—in "Backseat Freestyle" he became the first rapper to brag about premature ejaculation. Respect.
People online have speculated that if you play the album back to front, it develops a whole new meaning. K. Dot himself even confirmed this theory when he released a “deluxe edition” that was just the same album with a reversed track list. Kendrick’s genius lies in the details.
For the past year and five days, I've studied this album to find its true meaning and I'm happy to report I've finally found it. But you’re not gonna like it. You may want to sit down for this.
If you play DAMN. in reverse, it’s actually about how your wife is cheating on you.
Kendrick is a good guy and he wants to let you know that your wife isn’t loyal, but he didn’t know how to break it to you, so he decided to subtly do it through this album. He couldn’t watch her do this to you anymore. But to avoid being a snitch, he decided to expose your wife through a series of coded messages. If you examine the body of work, it becomes crystal clear.
Let’s break it down, track by track.
First off, "DUCKWORTH." is an obvious reference to your wife’s coworker, Stephen Duckworth. They spend an awful lot of time together, don’t they? All those brunches; all those "late nights at work.” Pretty suspicious.
"GOD." and "FEAR." are acknowledgments of your increasing levels of fear when you start to realize that your wife might be swapping gravy with another man, and you’re praying to God that it’s not true. Maybe this sounds like I'm grasping at straws, but it gets damning.
Even Bono jumps in to warn you about your wife on "XXX.," an obvious suggestion that your wife and her coworker Stephen are doing some pretty nasty stuff. Kendrick is brutally frank, saying, “I can’t sugarcoat my answer for you, this is how I feel.” In the second verse, he even details your reaction when you begin to realize your wife is being unfaithful:
“He was sobbin', he was mobbin', way belligerent and drunk / Talkin' out his head, philosophin' on what the Lord had done / He said: 'K-Dot, can you pray for me? / It been a fucked up day for me'"
On "LOVE.," Kendrick paints an ugly portrait of your wife’s mentality with the line “I’d rather you trust me than to love me.” That looped vocal in the background saying “Just love me” is a desperate cry for help. In the first verse, he references Mike Tyson (“Feelin' like Tyson with it.”) Mike Tyson once famously admitted to having walked in on his then-wife Robin Givens cheating on him with Brad Pitt.
The title of the next track is, of course, a warning about her "LUST." for Stephen Duckworth. The hook gives a gross, TMI look into how the affair started with Stephen trying to play “just the tip.” Kendrick quotes Stephen directly when he raps, “Let me put the head in / Ooh, I don’t want more than that / Girl, I respect the cat / I promise just a touch / Let me put the head in if it's okay.”
On "HUMBLE.," Kendrick (accurately) claims that your wife has no humility. “Bitch, sit down. Be humble.” If that weren’t enough, he also calls her out for photoshopping Stephen out of her Instagram selfies when he raps, “I’m so fuckin sick and tired of the photoshop.” Me, too, Kendrick. Me, too.
On "PRIDE.," Kendrick tells you to swallow your pride, because as that intro says, “Love's gonna get you killed.” And "LOYALTY." is clearly about how your wife has no loyalty. “It’s a secret society / All we ask is trust / All we got is us,” Kendrick and Rihanna exclaim, subliminally pointing a finger at your dishonest spouse.
On "FEEL.," Kendrick knows you’re hurt and you’re in denial so he hits you with some tough love when he raps, “Fuck your feelings.” He knows that breaking this news to you could be pretty risky, but as he says in "ELEMENT.": “I'm willing to die for this shit.” If that’s not a good friend I don’t know what is.
The title of "YAH." is a reference to the weird noise your wife makes when she climaxes. K. Dot documents his distrust when he spits, “I got so many theories and suspicions,” and, “Today is the day I follow my intuition.” In that same bar, he warns you to “keep the family close,” but it’s far too late.
This is when it gets really ugly. The next song, "DNA.," is the point in the story where you’re wondering if your kid is even yours. You’re wondering if you and your infant son share the same DNA. Is it your baby, or is Stephen Duckworth the father? The kid looks an awful lot like Stephen, doesn’t he?
And finally, in "BLOOD.," Kendrick tells a spoken word anecdote about getting shot by a blind woman he was trying to help. This is a metaphor—you’re the blind person (blind to your wife’s infidelity), and he doesn’t want you to shoot the messenger.
The gunshot heard at the end of the track symbolizes your ego being murdered as you finally accept the cold, harsh truth, while also symbolizing the death of real romance in the 21st century now that the digital era has made relationships more complicated than ever and our rapidly changing society is slowly but surely distancing itself from monogamy, since approximately 50% of marriages end in divorce.
The gun is our deepest desires and lustful temptations, the bullet is a culture that inadvertently glamorizes promiscuity and complicated romantic entanglements, and the victim is society.