Centers and Peripheries in the Expression and Enactment of Religion, Sociopolitical Signifyin(g), & the Reception of Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN.


  • Marco Pflanzen The University of Alabama


This article examines the political and social struggles of rap music in the twenty-first century through the lens of Kendrick Lamar’s album DAMN. Focusing on the intersections of rap, religion, sampling, and the cultural politics of music, I examine how DAMN., as a model for identity, grants a way to navigate constructions and common understandings of religion, race, and politics in American hip hop culture and how rap music, as Loren Kajikawa defines it, “sounds race.” By analyzing sampling, religion, and racial tension in the development and reception of DAMN., I argue that the album presents a revolutionary symbolic narrative of sonic resistance and struggle in the United States that ambiguates the cultural centers and peripheries of religion, artistic ownership, and American institutions. Although it cannot be essentialized with a single racial meaning, DAMN. reflects, constructs, and seeks to explore the diversity of identities that ethnic minorities embody in this world—it is a sonic force that helps listeners to understand hip hoppers and their relationship to others. Exploring specific artistic decisions and paying attention to stylistic differences and transformation in the genre and culture of rap and hip hop, this article analyzes and interprets how artists create and sound identities in the realm of religion, music, and politics in what Daniel White Hodge terms the “wild.”