Kendrick Lamar has been the default choice for “best L.A. rapper” since 2012's Good Kid, m.A.A.d City. Acclaim for each subsequent offering has been deafening, and the impact of Lamar's artistic innovation endures long after the buzz has dulled (not died). This year's DAMN. is no different. Tighter and far less cryptic than To Pimp a Butterfly, which was simultaneously dense and sprawling, DAMN. is arguably the greatest synthesis of Lamar's aggressive lyrical assaults, keen sociopolitical insights and pop leanings. Singles such as the Mike Will Made-It–produced “Humble” and “DNA” are near peerless for their combination of thundering beats, unique cadences and vivid displays of intellect. Where TPAB addressed the ills of the black community more abstractly, DAMN. tackles these same issues through direct and arrestingly personal narratives. Lamar also finds new footing as a vocalist, inflecting and crooning with warranted confidence on songs that straddle the divide between rap and R&B. No matter the titular idea or emotion of each bluntly titled song (“Love,” “Loyalty”), he cuts to the marrow. With DAMN., Lamar makes it easy to declare him the best rapper in L.A. — or anywhere else.

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