Kendrick Lamar has long been an artist with a deep appreciation for the history of music, especially black music. On Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, you could tell that, underneath all the lyrical gymnastics and storytelling, he was concerned with how he fit into Compton's long and illustrious rap history. There's a reason that one of the album's very few guests is Compton's Most Wanted leader MC Eiht, sermonizing on how "It ain't nothin' but a Compton thang."
By the time of To Pimp A Butterfly, K Dot's focus had expanded. His musical vision expanded to include funk, Afrofuturism, and jazz. Again, he paid homage to the legends by having P-Funk mastermind George Clinton vocalize on the record's opening track.
Now, with Damn, Lamar's musical totems are classic hip-hop moments, primarily from the 29-year-old's formative years. Here are some of the sounds and styles that he mined in order to make his new project.
The Art of (Atlanta) Storytelling, Parts 1 & 2:
Album-closer "Duckworth" samples Ted Taylor's 1978 soulful jam "Be Ever Wonderful."
A track that also uses that sample that a teenage Kendrick was probably jamming out to? Ludacris' 2003 jam "Splash Waterfalls."
If that wasn't enough circa-2003 Atlanta music for you, the backwards-sounding track on Kendrick's "Lust" bears a striking familiarity to OutKast's "Vibrate," from their 2003 album Spearboxxx/The Love Below.
Chop It Up, Screw It Up
Multiple moments include pitched-down vocals and a slow-your-roll tempo, including the end of "Element" and the opening of "Feel", modeling DJ Screw's patented "chopped and screwed" style. (For more on Screw and his influence, check this superb article.) While Screw wasn't the first DJ in Houston to slow down records, he popularized the practice to the degree that it now bears his name.
DJ Kid Capri's patented drops are all over Damn. While casual fans might recognize Capri from Def Comedy Jam or reality TV, real heads know his voice from his classic mixtapes and productions. The DJ's most famous tapes date from the late 1980s and early ’90s, but a Jay Z obsessive like Kendrick would certainly recognize Capri's contributions to Jay's 1998 banger "It's Like That."
You Using Juvie's Flow, Ha?
Juvenile's 1998 hit "Ha" is a true New Orleans anthem. It's instantly recognizable, not least because Juvie ends every line with the word "Ha."
Kendrick adopts Juvie's flow about two and a half minutes into "Element."
808s Without the Heartbreak
Perhaps the single most iconic piece of equipment in hip-hop is the Roland TR-808 drum machine. The sound of the 808—its instantly recognizable "cowbell" sound, its hi-hats that formed the basis of trap music—is all over hip-hop. But the most recognizable part of the 808's sound is its kick drum.
If that sound is still ringing in your head, that's because the 808 kick drum is deep in any hip-hop fan's DNA—including Kendrick, who is killing the 808 in his song of that name.
These are just a handful of the classic rap moments that Kendrick mined to make an unmistakable rap album of his own.