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The beat for "Humble" was developed by Mike Will with the intention of recording with Gucci Mane, but later showed it to Lamar. After recording, it was initially agreed upon that it would be released on Mike Will's debut album Ransom 2, but others convinced Lamar to keep it for his own next album.
"DNA" was the second song from the album to be recorded by Lamar and Mike Will, after "Humble". After the first verse of "DNA" was recorded with the beat that Mike Will had already prepared, Lamar started rapping the second verse a cappella, requesting that Mike Will build the beat around the rap. Lamar proposed that it sound like "chaos", and Mike Will put together the second half of the song with the intention to make it "sound like he's battling the beat."
Lamar has said in interviews that the ability to play the album in reverse tracklist order was "premeditated [...] in the studio": "It plays as a full story and even a better rhythm. It's one of my favorite rhythms and tempos within the album."
On April 11, 2017, Lamar revealed the cover artwork for Damn. The album cover was designed by Vlad Sepetov, who created the album covers for Lamar's last two projects - To Pimp a Butterfly and Untitled Unmastered. Sepetov described Damns cover as "loud and abrasive" and "not uber political like To Pimp a Butterfly but it has energy". Sepetov goes on to say the decision to put the Parental Advisory sticker in its unconventional position was so it could be a part of the design instead of an "afterthought".
In a radio interview on June 29, 2017, Lamar revealed the original title for the album was going to be What Happens on Earth Stays on Earth, but eventually settled on Damn. He stated the working title "didn't read right". Lamar went on to say about its final title, "There was so many different ways you could put it in my head. Damned if I do, damned if I don't. The loudness of the record. When I think about "DNA", when I think of "Humble", when I think these records, it just felt like that."
On March 23, 2017, Lamar released a promotional single, "The Heart Part 4", which contained lyrics hinting at a possible April 7 release date for his fourth studio album. On April 7, 2017, the album was made available for pre-order and confirmed to be released on April 14. On April 11, Lamar revealed the track listing for Damn.
On December 8, 2017, Lamar released the Collectors Edition of the album. The album is the same musically, but has a reversed track order and new artwork.
The music video for the song, "DNA", was released on April 18, 2017. The song entered at number four on the US Billboard Hot 100, becoming Lamar's second highest-charting song as a solo artist after "Humble".
The music video for the song, "Element", was released on June 27, 2017. The song peaked at number 16 on the US Billboard Hot 100.
Damn received widespread acclaim from critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream publications, the album received an average score of 95, based on 39 reviews. Andy Kellman of AllMusic stated that "it contains some of Lamar's best writing and performances, revealing his evolving complexity and versatility as a soul-baring lyricist and dynamic rapper." Christopher R. Weingarten, an author for Rolling Stone, said, "Much like the recent A Tribe Called Quest record, Damn. is a brilliant combination of the timeless and the modern, the old school and the next-level. The most gifted rapper of a generation stomps into the Nineties and continues to blaze a trail forward." In his review, Greg Kot of Chicago Tribute states, "Damn. strips down the rhythms to their essence, flavored with the occasional cameo (notably Rihanna and U2). Lamar's voice does most of the heavy lifting, playing multiple roles and characters. His supple singing complements a variety of rap tones and textures."Jon Caramanica of The New York Times gave a positive review, stating "Tart and punchy.... Sometimes boisterous, sometimes swampy, rarely fanciful album--it's Mr. Lamar's version of the creeping paranoia that has become de rigueur for midcareer Drake. And yet this is likely Mr. Lamar's most jubilant album, the one in which his rhymes are the least tangled." Eric Renner Brown of Entertainment Weekly said, "After delving into the personal on 2012's Good Kid, M.A.A.D City and going broader on Butterfly, Lamar has found a middle ground on Damn. that yields some of his most emotionally resonant music yet."
Alexis Petridis of The Guardian wrote: "If it seems a more straightforward listen than To Pimp a Butterfly, there's a cheering sense that this doesn't equate to a lessening of musical ambition. There's none of that album's wilfully jarring quality - its sudden, anxious musical lurches and abrupt, short-circuiting leaps between genres - but the tracks on Damn still feel episodic and expansive. Whether Damn will have the same epochal impact as To Pimp a Butterfly remains to be seen, but either way it sounds like the work of a supremely confident artist at the top of his game."Neil McCormick of The Daily Telegraph stating that Damn "is the work of a future all-time great in full command of his powers." Leonie Cooper of NME said, "Damn. is by far his shortest release to date - but the ideas, thoughts and feelings it contains are massive, weighty things, from sexual tension to deep, dark depression." In Pitchforks review of Damn, Matthew Trammell writes Damn "is a widescreen masterpiece of rap, full of expensive beats, furious rhymes, and peerless storytelling about Kendrick's destiny in America." Writing for The A.V. Club, Evan Rytlewski concluded, "Lamar trusts every idea to stand on its own. When you're making art this substantial, vital, and virtuosic, there's no need to wrap a tidy bow around it." In a mixed review, A. Harmony of Exclaim! wrote that Damn "is the first time in Lamar's career that he hasn't broken new ground, explored old themes in new ways or exhibited sonic growth."
Damn has appeared on multiple year-end lists in 2017.
In the United States, Damn debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 with 603,000 album-equivalent units in its first week of release, becoming his third consecutive album after To Pimp a Butterfly (2015) and Untitled Unmastered (2016) to reach the nation's summit. It sold 353,000 copies in its first week and accumulated over 340 million streams. In its second week, the album remained at the top of the US charts with 238,000 album-equivalent units of which 87,000 were traditional album sales, bringing the sales to a total of 841,000 units. In its third week, the album continued to top the charts with 173,000 album-equivalent units of which 57,000 were traditional album sales, bringing the sales to a total of 1.014 million units. As of April 2018, Damn had sold 1,002,000 copies and earned 3,137,000 album-equivalent units in the US.
According to IFPI, it was the seventh best selling album of 2017, with 1.3 million copies shipped globally.Damn was ranked as the number one album of the year on the Billboard 200 in 2017. In 2018, Damn was ranked as the thirteenth most popular album of the year on the Billboard 200.
Album credits adapted from official liner notes.
Every song is stylized in all capital letters, with a period at the end of their titles, including featured artist credits. For example, "Loyalty" is stylized as "LOYALTY. FEAT. RIHANNA."
Some CD pressings of the album have slight differences: "Pride" runs for 4 minutes and 31 seconds (4:31), "Love" runs for 3 minutes and 31 seconds (3:31), and "Fear" runs for 6 minutes and 54 seconds (6:54), bringing the total album length to 54 minutes and 2 seconds (54:02). This version of the album also features slightly different mixing.
"Blood", "Yah", "Pride" and "God" feature additional vocals by B?kon
"Element" and "Love" feature additional vocals by Kid Capri
"Feel" features additional vocals by Chelsea Blythe
"Feel" contains a sample of "Stormy", as written and performed by O. C. Smith, from the album For Once in My Life; and an interpolation from "Don't Let Me Down", as written and performed by Fleurie, from the album Love and War.
"God" contains a sample of "End of the World", as written and performed by Illmind, from the album #BoomTrap Vol. 2.
"Duckworth" contains samples of "Atari", as written by Nai Palm and performed by Hiatus Kaiyote; "Be Ever Wonderful", as written by Don Robey and Joe Scott, and performed by Ted Taylor, from the album Keepin' My Head Above Water; "Ostavi Trag", as written by September, from the album Zadnja Avantura; and "Let the Drums Speak", as written by Bill Curtis and performed by the Fatback Band, from the album Yum Yum.
^"Czech Albums - Top 100". ?NS IFPI. Note: On the chart page, select 201716 on the field besides the word "Zobrazit", and then click over the word to retrieve the correct chart data. Retrieved April 25, 2017.