Kaytranada makes a rare appearance in front of the mic, adding woozy vocals to the unsettling track.
Kendrick Lamar albums have never lacked for complexity. But at first glance, Lamar's new record DAMN. seems to skip the dense themes and far-reaching production of the tragic Good Kid, M.A.A.D City and the fiery To Pimp a Butterfly in favor of a dialed-in display of rapping for its own sake. Look under the hood, though, and a finely crafted intricacy reveals itself. Like zooming in on a leaf under a microscope, Lamar unveils a lattice of overlapping narratives, complemented by sly production that informs and undercuts his songs' troubled protagonists.
Nowhere is this subtle quality more evident than on "LUST," produced by TDE standbys Sounwave and DJ Dahi alongside forward-thinking jazz outfit BadBadNotGood. While not as immediate as the Mike WiLL Made-It-produced "DNA" or the hard-hitting single "Humble," the production reveals a quicksand texture that sends you tumbling into its depths if you pay close attention.
"Lust" is a song about routines, and the things we allow to interrupt them. "Wake up in the mornin'," Lamar repeats at the outset of each verse, before tracing the lives of several protagonists searching for meaning in their daily lives. The production rests on heavily processed guitar strums, evoking the unsettled warmth of the Los Angeles afternoon the song's various protagonists are experiencing together.
The percussion builds around a sequence of reversed snare hits—recalling Outkast's "Ms. Jackson," another song about the past's grip on the present—which evoke a sense of temporal discontinuity. Our protagonists spend their days stuck in a loop, whether they're a dissatisfied rap star "fumbl[ing] for his jewelry" before catching a flight to yet another show, a normal guy who starts his day by "Watching comedy [and] tak[ing] a shit," or a girl who "Hop[s] on the 'Gram [to] flex on the bitches" before going out. The production, meanwhile, maintains an uneasy groove, painting these small actions within the context of a larger malaise. It's melodically unresolved, only worming deeper inside of increasing layers of fuzz and eerie Auto-Tuned croons from Kaytranada, whose rare appearance in front of a microphone only adds to the dislocation.
Only in the song's final verse does Lamar reveal the monolith looming over all these intimate moments, as he changes his pronoun from "you" to the collective "we."
"We all woke up, tryna tune to the daily news," he raps." Lookin' for confirmation, hopin' election wasn't true/All of us worried, all of us buried, and our feeling's deep/None of us married to his proposal, make us feel cheap."
The election of Trump threatened to dislodge everyone from the comforting grooves we've settled into. In the initial days after the election, "Still and sad, distraught and mad," we talked to our "neighbor[s] 'bout it" and "parade[d] the streets." But eventually order crept back into our lives—"Time passin', things change/Revertin' back to our daily programs, stuck in our ways," Lamar opines.
Now that immediate passion has faded, the inertia of our daily desires—the "lust" of the song's title—return us toward the familiar. Lamar's (and his producers') genius lies in the way they use production to reveal the tension that invades every seemingly normal moment in our new America. At its end, the song abruptly cuts off, a jagged symbol of the violence lurking under every seemingly normal day. It could all end at any moment.