Kendrick Lamar knows how to get the people — or his “KenFolk” — talking. It all started with “The Heart Part 4,” a scathing, nearly five-minute track teasing his imminent return to music and warning his counterparts. “You know what time it is, ante up, this is in forever/ Y’all got till April the 7th to get y’all shit together,” he cautioned on the song, and on April 7, Lamar released the iTunes preorder link for the album that would soon be the talk of the town, DAMN.
On April 11, Lamar unveiled the official artwork, track list and release date for DAMN., sending hip-hop into a tizzy almost immediately as fans tried to decode what to expect on the Compton rapper’s fourth studio effort. But once the album finally saw the light of day, fan theories began to sprout up like wildfire, suggesting that Lamar’s new album holds a slew of deeper meanings and shouldn’t be taken at face value.
From far-fetched speculations to the Kendrick Lamar-approved factoids, Billboard takes a look at some of the theories surrounding DAMN.
Easter Sunday Album
One of the most popular fan theories to surface following the release of DAMN. was a theory that suggested Lamar’s Good Friday release of DAMN. will lead to another album release on Easter Sunday. A Twitter user named @Papii_Flackoo posted a theory he found from Reddit user thetommy1222 that pointed out a line Lamar rapped on “The Heart Part 4” — a loosie dropped before DAMN.’s lead single “HUMBLE.”
“I said it’s like that, dropped one classic, came right back/ ‘Nother classic, right back,” he rapped. “My next album, the whole industry on a ice pack/ With TOC, you see the flames/ In my E-Y-E’s – it’s not a game.” Lamar didn’t explain what “TOC” meant but according to this theory, the Compton rapper is coming “right back” with another album after DAMN and “TOC” possibly stands for “The Other Color,” which would be blue, opposite of DAMN’s red album title and the album’s opening track, “BLOOD.”
The theory goes on to explain that Kendrick released his album on Good Friday referencing the resurrection of Jesus Christ story in the Bible where Jesus died on Good Friday and resurrected three days later, on Easter Sunday.
HOLD UP if this is true, and he drops one on Easter Sunday…Kendrick Lamar is the best Rapper TO EVER LIVE pic.twitter.com/YSWyyKYfrC
— Xae (@Papii_Flackoo) April 14, 2017
The Matrix, a popular sci-fi film, was centered on a technology-driven world. In the movie, Morpheus (Lawrence Fishborne) explains to Neo (Keenu Reeves) the red pill/blue pill theory — “This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.”
A day before DAMN. was released, TDE producer Sounwav sent out a cryptic tweet that read, “But what if I told you… that’s not the official version..” with a photo of Morpheus, causing fans to believe that DAMN. wasn’t the only new material Lamar would be gifting fans and there might be a deeper meaning behind the album.
A theory posted to Twitter linked DAMN. to The Matrix by pointing out that DAMN.’s official artwork finds Lamar against red bricks but shortly after teasing the album artwork, Lamar changed his Spotify avatar to a picture where he’s placed against a blue brick wall. According to the theory, the change in the color of the bricks represent the blue and red pill theory from The Matrix and also represents the bloods and crips gang colors, bringing us back to “The Heart Part 4” where the Compton native raps, “With TOC, you see the flames/ In my E-Y-E’s – it’s not a game.”
*hits blunt* pic.twitter.com/Ac7QPF8vl8
— K. (@ThatPersianGuy) April 14, 2017
Politically-Charged Album NATION
Continuing the religious resurrection theory, Reddit user scottvosper shared his thoughts on DAMN.’s track list and noted that when you rearrange the last letter of some of the album’s tracks, they spell out the phrase “Earth Led 2 Death” — other theorists speculated the words also spelled out “Death 4 Leader.”
The Reddit user notes that on “HUMBLE.,” Kendrick “crucifies” rappers and on Easter Sunday — the day Jesus resurrected — Lamar will drop a new album, this time called NATION, addressing more political and social issues happening in the world. In addition to the political undertones of NATION, the two albums will serve as Lamar’s effort to resurrect the rap game and when both album titles are put together, they form DAMN NATION — a.k.a damnation, which refers to punishing someone to hell.
Kendrick Lamar has long been lauded for his masterful storytelling abilities and DAMN. was not different. Many fans have speculated that DAMN is ripe with a slew of different narratives but there’s a poignant narrative being told on DAMN. that many believe serves as the cornerstone for the entire project, according to Reddit user calcagano.
The user believes that, “BLOOD. and DUCKWORTH. are interchangeable intros/outros, the tracks in the middle are the two stories.” If you notice, the first line of Kendrick’s verse on “BLOOD.” begins with “So I was takin’ a walk the other day,” which is also how “DUCKWORTH” — the album’s finale — ends. This theory explains that the two songs are connected and the songs in between find Kendrick grappling with “wickedness” and “weakness.” Kendrick gives listeners the option to ultimately decide what story and what outcome they want to experience while listening to the album.
Kendrick confirmed that the album was intended to be played backwards because “It plays as a full story and even a better rhythm. It’s one of my favorite rhythms and tempos within the album. It’s something that we definitely premeditate while we’re in the studio,” he told MTV News earlier this year.
“The initial vibe listening from the top all the way to the bottom is … this aggression and this attitude. You know, ‘DNA,’ and exposing who I really am,” he continued. “You listen from the back end, and it’s almost the duality and the contrast of the intricate Kendrick Lamar. Both of these pieces are who I am.”