Welcome to this week’s episode of Last Song Standing, a new show from The Ringer and Dissect built on a simple premise: two hosts figuring out an artist’s greatest song by debating their way through every album in the artist’s discography. Season 1 will tackle one of the most significant artists working today: Kendrick Lamar.
Each week, Cole Cuchna (host of Dissect and Key Notes) and Charles Holmes (from The Ringer Music Show and The Midnight Boys on the Ringer-Verse feed) will tackle a different Kendrick project, nominating three songs and ultimately picking one apiece. Then, they’ll take their individual picks into a season finale battle royal, where they’ll have to determine which song should be crowned Kendrick Lamar’s best of all time.
On this week’s episode, we’re tackling Kendrick’s most commercially successful release to date …
Release date: April 14, 2017
Billboard 200 peak: no. 1
RIAA: 3x platinum
Singles: “Humble,” “Loyalty,” “Love”
Coming off of the critically acclaimed To Pimp a Butterfly and untitled unmastered., Kendrick released his fourth studio album, DAMN., in April 2017. His best selling album to date, DAMN. includes Kendrick’s first no. 1 single as a solo artist with “HUMBLE.,” along with features from Rihanna and U2. At the highest point in his career, Kendrick uses the album to examine his relationship with God, the price of fame, and how the two manifest themselves in his feelings of fear, love, lust, and pride. Kendrick manages to look both inward and outward, detailing his frustration with the lack of control he has to affect change as an artist, whether it’s violence in America or conservative media’s perception of him and his genre.
With DAMN., Kendrick became the first rapper to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music. The album earned him seven Grammy nominations, along with five wins (including Best Rap Album). With the varied mix of radio hits and more personal tracks, what did Charles and Cole pick as the best song on the album?
What the critics said at the time: “Compared to the rapper’s 2015 masterpiece, Damn. feels much less like an art project. It is far more engaged with contemporary hip-hop without having to capitulate to every SoundCloud trend. Damn. proves that the rapper’s right ear is turned toward the past only because his left ear faces hip-hop’s future. —The Ringer
“DAMN. shows that if nothing else, fame has driven him even further inside his own head, making him almost obsessively reflective about his place in the world—as a pop star, as a black man, as an American in 2017.” —Time
“This is a work of reactions and perceptions, a response to the sensations that come when the world is creeping in and you can’t keep it at bay any longer without lashing back. —The New York Times
Trivia: Before landing on DAMN., Kendrick initially planned to name the album What Happens on Earth Stays on Earth.
How does the Last Song Standing team feel about DAMN.?
What Charles says: “After doing the episode on Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, I was shocked at how smooth DAMN. went down still, how easy of a listen it is.”
What Cole says: “When you go back to DAMN., it’s so polished, it’s so clean. … He does all the things you want from a Kendrick Lamar album, but somehow he was able to put that commercial appeal along with it.”
Hottest take from the episode: Charles thinks beat switches are overrated.
Possible choices for their lists: Will Charles and Cole choose the radio hit, “HUMBLE.”? The contemplative, melodic track, “PRIDE.”? “DNA.”? “LOYALTY.”? Or will they opt for something else? Listen to find out.
Next week’s episode: Charles and Cole reexamine the album that introduced Kendrick to the mainstream. Check back next Thursday on the Dissect podcast feed, and until then, check out the Last Song Standing companion playlist.
Hosts: Cole Cuchna and Charles Holmes
Producer: Justin Sayles
Production: Kevin Pooler
Theme Music: Devon Renaldo
Editorial Assistance: Eduardo Ocampo