This Is A Review Where I Write About How I Think ‘DAMN.’ Is Pretty Good—A Classic Perhaps

I’ll go ahead and give Kendrick Lamar's 'DAMN.' 9 and a half of Tupac’s bandanas out of 10.

This may come as a surprise after reading the title of this article, but, I’m just going to go ahead, risk it all, and say it: I think Kendrick Lamar’s new album DAMN. is very good. A classic maybe.

I will now recount the first time I listened to Kendrick Lamar, which was probably before you, to illustrate how cool I am and inadvertently how cool the person who put me on to Kendrick is:

We are waiting in a relief line, hoping we can get our hands on a loaf of bread. The year is 1933. The Great Depression is in full swing and life is rough. Back then we ate one meal a day. Usually brownish water soup. Sometimes, if we were lucky, water soup with salt.

My homie, who is also waiting in line with me, goes “aye, you listen to Kendrick Lamar?” I don’t know who he’s talking about so I take off my black cap, sagging from years of use, wipe the sweat from my brow, and respond, “naw, he a blues a singer?”

My homie tells me that Kendrick is sort of like a blues singer, but he’s actually a rapper and that, God willing, after we receive a loaf of bread from the generous Federal Emergency Relief Administration, we gonna go back to his spot, eat some bread, drink some moonshine, and fire up the phonograph and listen to the budding talent. “His cadence is crazy,” my homie tells me.

A post shared by Kendrick Lamar (@kendricklamar) on

We at my friends shack, nibbling on stale bread and sipping very strong moonshine. My pal gets up and starts the phonograph. Dust blows up as a young Kendrick begins to rap that unique rap of his. Complete breath control, stinging lyrics, over pronouncing words, the T’s biting hard.

“Now, I may just be being a knickerbocker but I reckon this fella rap a lil’ odd,” I said because it was 1933 and that’s how we talked back then. But before the phonograph ended playing that K. Dot record I was hooked. He was different, something about him, it was refreshing, it was the perfect bridge of new and old, lyrical and ignorant, I fucked with dude.

Years passed, we fought in a World War, came back home, looked around and wondered if fascism was really defeated. We went to Canada to escape fighting that despicable war in Vietnam, saw riots, marched and yelled “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh. The NLF is going to Win!”

Decades went by and our black did not crack. We listened to Overly Dedicated. We played Section.80 over and over, bumping it as loud as our car speakers would allow screaming “Fuck your ethnicity!” good kid, m.A.A.d city, wow, amazing, that shit slapped and was deep and had a story. Excellent. Then to the reaches of jazzy afro-futuristic space with To Pimp A Butterfly, what the fuck, shit was crazy. Kendrick only got better.

Then in 2017, with Donald Trump as President (how’d that happen? whaaa?) Kendrick dropped “The Heart Part 4.” A new album was on the way. I was juiced. Then the track and visuals for “HUMBLE.”

At the stroke of midnight this past Friday, over a glass or twelve of vodka and cranberry, the official drink of young white women, I listened to DAMN.

I was, admittedly, very excited. I was also very drunk. Since then, I’ve almost exclusively been listening to the album. It’s pretty fire. Very hot fire. I’ve also made a promise to myself that I will not drink vodka. I've since broken said promise while listening to “XXX.” on repeat.

From “YAH.” to “ELEMENT.,” “LOYALTY.,” and “FEAR.,” on to “DUCKWORTH.,” the album is very, very good. It’s a pivot from TPAB, more accessible, less jazzy, more rap-oriented with plenty of homages to that REAL HIP-HOP™. Kid Capri’s on the album yelling the existential ad-lib “What happens on earth stays on earth!”

There’s bangers, there’s lines where you like “fuck nigga that was deep,” there’s a narrative, and there’s an insane plot twist. Many reviews and think pieces have already been written and will continue to be written about this project. For a more in-depth analysis, one with prettier words and more reflection, you should look elsewhere. All I’m finna tell you is this shit hella good.

As is expected, many are cautious, understandably, to call the newly released album a “classic.” It hasn’t even been a week since DAMN. has dropped. Hearing the first 45 seconds of good kid, m.A.A.d city I prematurely but accurately took out my phone and start texting my friends in a state of frenzied excitement: THiSS SHITSS Aa CLAASSIC NIGGGAFA YEEEeEE!!!!oMFG

I’ve since grown older, more restrained, calmer, cooler, my beard has connected. This time around, with the release of DAMN. my text read: Perhaps, this album will be included among classic album lists in the future. Yet, only time will prove or disprove such ponderings.

My only disappointment with Kendrick and his fourth studio album DAMN. is that there isn’t a second version. Y’all heard the conspiracy theories. If Kendrick had released a blue album on Easter, I would have myself died and resurrected from excitement with The Matrix playing in the background. Alas, my heart has been denied such joy.

I’ll go ahead and give DAMN. 9 and a half of Tupac’s bandanas out of 10.

Make sure to tune in next week when I continue to contribute to the blackhole of writing about DAMN. with a piece dissecting Kendrick’s line: “I'm a Israelite, don't call me Black no mo’/That word is only a color, it ain't facts no mo’.”

Also Free Palestine.

Photo: courtesy of Natsai Audrey Chieza

100 Women: Natsai Audrey Chieza is Changing the World One Petri Dish at a Time

Her interdisciplinary approach to biology and fashion has sparked conversation about the future of sustainability and pollution in textile manufacturing.

The bold jewel tones of OkayAfrica 100 Women honoree Natsai Audrey Chieza's silk scarves aren't the product of hazardous chemicals or silkscreen printing. Instead, they are the product of bacteria. Specifically coelicolor, a strain of bacteria found in soil that happens to excellently synthesize organic chemical compounds. Working in the trade for six years, the Zimbabwean materials designer quickly came to understand why the textile industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. Knowing that the most harm occurs during the process of dyeing fabrics, she decided to take action.

Chieza has worked with leading brands such as Microsoft, Nissan, and Unilever to usher in a new approach to science and design. Through her creative R&D; studio Faber Futures, the design innovator uses the process of creating with bacteria to assist in moving mankind away from our fossil fuel dependency. As the biopigment expert put it [last year during her TED talk "Fashion has a pollution problem—can biology fix it?"], in the future we must make sure that we are not "mirroring the destructive legacies of the oil age."

Her interdisciplinary approach to biology and fashion has sparked spirited conversation about the future of sustainability and pollution in textiles. Here, Chieza expounds on her start, the pros and cons of creating something new and the urgency of change.

The following has been edited for length and clarity

Akinyi Ochieng for OkayAfrica: STEM and the arts are often conceptualized as separate worlds. However, in your career, you've managed to find the overlap. How did you, a materials designer, end up dabbling in biotechnology?

Natsai Audrey Chieza: I've always really wanted to work within the creative field. I used to work in architecture where I really enjoyed my education in a systems approach to designs and designing for multiple contexts. But I wanted to explore a different side of the design world, so I began exploring the skill and context of material flows, and how technology and futures fits within this framework of how we design.

For my own work and my practice, not having a scientific background made me try things based on what I understood about materials and what I understood about the interactions in which those materials existed in society. I'm interested in a political lens, an economic lens, and how textiles perform in reality. That's not necessarily the approach that a scientist would have taken. Now that's not to say that science isn't important—it's vital. But innovation can occur in that intersection.

Did you go into this thinking, "Oh, I'll figure it out. There must be a path to make this work"?

To be honest, when I started off, the field was not defined. I think I found something really interesting, which was about how biology was becoming a realm of design, and I just explored that as best as I knew how as a designer and non-scientist. It just so happened that around me there was a context that was imagined but enabled me six years later to say, "That's the industry where this work belongs" and stakeholders who give me a space to further my work in a creative and experimental. The path was never anything clear at all. I learned as I grew.

There's a phrase that is often repeated today: "You can't be what you can't see." But you have really created a niche for yourself. What are the benefits of entering an emerging space?

I think what's amazing is not having anyone or anything telling you that what you think is impossible. If you're carving a new territory then you must trust in your instinct and vision to effectively push where the work can be and where it exists. You're not asking permission to do anything. Of course the flip side of that is you have to bring people with you, and so part of you being able to do the work is convincing people that your vision has legitimacy and it's worth exploring, worth taking a risk to look outside of that box.

It's often quite challenging to figure out how to find the strength to push something that hasn't been done before. There's no precedent or rulebook to my work, but sometimes it's really nice to have a rulebook. [Laughs] However, I think it's made me a person who doesn't see challenges as obstacles that are in the way, but more as problems that can be solved. And I think that's the good thing.

Much of your work is about biopigments. What color excites you?

It's not really the colors that excite me. It's color as a cultural context that really fascinates me. I'm really interested in if a microbe is almost like this living factory that produces this pigment, and the technology can be shared and deployed with people as to how you work with it across the world, then what are the cultural interventions that can happen in South Africa versus in Argentina versus in the United Kingdom, based on this common microbe. I think that's always been what interests me the most, the context in which our materials exist. I think a really good example is indigo, and how from Japan to West Africa, indigo is just this really, really rich material, and the process and the craftsmanship that goes into it. I'm interested to see how the future ecology of making arises in response to biotechnologies across the world.

Where do you see yourself and your work evolving in the near or long term?

I'm sort of going through that growth moment where you've been working toward something and then you've arrived at that and you're like, "Right, what's next?" I think I'm fundamentally somebody that wants to use design as a discursive tool to understand how our technologies proliferate. My focus is really on the imagined life sciences and how they're going to become very much a part of all of our lived experiences, and particularly in the context of really urgent changes that are happening from a local level to a global level. From global warming and climate change to resource scarcity across regions, our response to what I think being able to design with living systems, can afford us in the future. So my work really is about understanding how to engage stakeholders across different sectors to grow a consensus around how we're going to leverage these sorts of technologies so that they can be technologies for good. That's really where this is going.

This article appears as part of OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2018—a project highlighting the impactful work done by African women across the globe. Throughout March, we will be publishing a series of profiles, videos, interviews and feature stories on these inspirational women.

Click here to see the entire list of 2018 honorees.

Maia & The Big Sky LP cover.

Start Your Week Off Right With This Soulful Kenyan Collaboration

Maia & the Big Sky connect with Blinky Bill for "Pawa."

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Maia's recently tapped into the vinyl revival wave as her 11-song Maia & the Big Sky LP is reportedly the first Kenyan album released on vinyl since the 1970s.

The Nairobi-based artist is now sharing the new music video for "Pawa," the album's leading track, which we're premiering here today. Directed by Chris King, the beautiful new clip sees Maia & the Big Sky taking over the TV airwaves and minds of all of those watching, freeing them from the "power" that controls them.

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Photo: Mídia NINJA

The Assassination of Marielle Franco and the Dawn of Brazil's New Civil Rights Movement

Marielle Franco was one of a new generation of black activists trying to overturn Brazil's entrenched and violent racism

The violence in Rio de Janeiro right now is akin to a war zone, with per capita death tolls resembling those from Afghanistan and Syria. Two weeks ago I traveled there for business and stayed in the relatively safe and trendy neighborhood of Santa Teresa. Each night of my stay, was abruptly awaken by long streams of gunshots and also fireworks from the nearby favela of Falett. The fireworks—as I learned from my local friends—were not a result of any celebration, rather a signal that either drugs, guns, or the police have arrived. This is the norm for many of the 763 favelas in Rio which houses nearly 25 percent of the city's population.

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