Such are his powers as studio miracle worker, he even restores credibility to U2, who cameo on stand-out track ‘xxx’.
The Dublin warhorses are just one among a rotating line-up of guests that also includes Rihanna, folktronica composer James Blake, and progressive jazz act BadBadNotGood.
But where feature turns were a distraction on Drake’s recent More Life, DAMN offers a singular vision from an artist at the pinnacle of his creativity.
Lamar, for the uninitiated, is an experimental rapper who escaped the poverty and violence of LA’s notorious Compton neighbourhood to become one of hip hop’s hottest young talents.
The scrappy underdog was mentored by rapper and producer Dr Dre (whose previous proteges include Eminem) and, on 2015’s To Pimp A Butterfly, grafted jazz, funk, and r ’n’ b to searingly political lyrics.
DAMN. https://t.co/oqPIAkOCNL— Kendrick Lamar (@kendricklamar) April 14, 2017
He caused a further sensation at the 2016 Grammys, performing tied up in “chains”.
Soon afterwards Time Magazine named him one of its 100 Most Influential People in the World.
Lamar wears the acclaim with deep unease throughout DAMN.
On ‘Humble’, he appears to be critiquing a fellow-pop star swallowed whole by her ego.
The same ambivalence towards celebrity infuses ‘Element’, in which he insists he makes music not for fame or acclaim, but “for Compton”.
Yet the seething emotions are upholstered by deeply catchy beats. And Lamar’s unorthodox vocal style — more bluesy squawk than traditional rhyming — is a perfect foil for strip-lit choruses on ‘Loyalty’ (the Rihanna hook-up) and ‘xxx’, where a wailing Bono sounds more relevant than at any point in the past 20 years.
Communicating soul-plumbing despair while delivering big shiny pop moments is a having-your-cake-and-eat it achievement of which Boris Johnson would be proud. Lamar makes it look easy.