- Top Dawg
Listen to the track below
At nearly eight minutes “FEAR.,” arguably DAMN.’s centerpiece, is a sprawling parable about the health of Kendrick Lamar’s soul. Part biography, part apocalyptic church service, the song explores the phases of Kendrick Lamar’s life where it seemed dread would undo him. At seven, a parental voice rings constantly in his ears, threatening him with bodily harm to assert dominance and keep him in line. At 17, neighborhood affiliations, teenage distractions, and the specter of police violence are steering him towards an early grave. By 27, even though “Kung Fu Kenny” is a star, he’s not immune to the notion that fame and the platform it affords could all disappear. Over a mellow bass and a trembling guitar riff, Lamar's cadence is at turns defiant and despondent, adjusting more than once to suit his frame of mind. Pained vocal harmonies weave together throughout the track like a chorus reinforcing the pastor’s sermon. At one point, bits and pieces of a chant are reversed, mimicking the sound of speaking in tongues, and amplifying the feel of a divine experience.
According to his cousin Carl Duckworth, who appears in a pair of bookending voicemail snippets, Kendrick is under a curse of biblical proportion—one that reaches beyond him to affect his family and his community. Quoting from the Book of Deuteronomy, Carl says that Kendrick is smitten “with madness and blindness and astonishment of heart,” and that he can only escape by returning to religion. A crisis of faith is heavy stuff for anyone to weather, and throughout “FEAR.” Lamar comes back to the idea that he might not make it: “Within 14 tracks, carried out over wax/Wonderin' if I'm livin' through fear or livin' through rap.” But he’s self-aware enough to see salvation, far away as it may be.