2017 has already seen a bumper crop of great rap records, from Future, Jay-Z, Vince Staples, 2 Chainz, MIKE, Starlito & Don Trip, and many more, but when the dust settles, Kendrick Lamar’s Damn may outshine them all. Despite its stripped, back-to-basics aesthetic and spartan first single, it’s a deceptively rich song set, full of themes that slowly develop and a clear-cut narrative that unfolds into a shaggy-dog twist. When it first came out, people seemingly wanted more from Kendrick, and so began a conspiracy theory around a second album, an Easter Sunday release called Nation that would complement Damn’s Good Friday release. It never happened, because these sort of internet conspiracy theories pretty much never do.
But a lower-key theory—that the album functioned as an equally cohesive statement when played back-to-front—still lingered, and in a new interview with MTV News, Lamar confirmed it.
“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. I don’t think the story necessarily changes, I think the feel changes. 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. 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.”
And guess what? It fucking rules that way! “Duckworth” bangs as an opener, “DNA” is a great late-album tempo pick-up, “Lust” leads into “Humble” beautifully, and the whole thing’s worth a damn re-listen. These sort of secret methods of listening to records are always fun, if totally spurious, ranging in quality from “Dark Side Of Oz” to the insane belief that you’re supposed to two copies of Kid A synced 17 seconds apart. (Get high first?) But an intentionally designed alternate version of listening to a record is pretty rare, and anyway, a good enough excuse to revisit the record on a Friday afternoon.