DAMN., Kendrick Lamar’s fourth studio album, was expected to be released on April 7, 2017, after he rapped these lines on “The Heart Part 4”:
Y'all got ‘til April the 7th to get y'all shit together
However, when the pre-order was released, it was announced that it would appear on Good Friday—April 14, 2017.
This is Kendrick’s first full-length project since 2015’s To Pimp A Butterfly. In between the albums, Kendrick released the 8-track EP untitled unmastered.
On February 27, 2016, Mike WiLL Made-It teased that he was in the studio with Kendrick on Instagram. A collaboration was reinforced when a HipHopDX staff member stated that a song titled “DNA” produced by Mike WiLL Made-It would appear on the album.
He also spoke about how the project would contain somewhere around 12 tracks and feature a more “commercial sound,” as opposed to Kendrick’s last two projects—To Pimp A Butterfly and untitled unmastered.—which feature a notably jazz-influenced sound.
Black Hippy member, Top Dawg Entertainment labelmate and close friend of Lamar, Ab-Soul, discussed Lamar’s purpose on DAMN. in an interview with Montreality:
He’s been Kendrick Lamar for a while, and Kendrick Lamar is the good kid, he’s the more introspective kid. I think he was trying to get back to K-Dot, get back to his roots, sag his pants, really roll through the hood for this album.
On March 30, 2017, the first single from DAMN. was released, titled “HUMBLE.” A week later, the title and the number of tracks was revealed on the iTunes pre-order. On April 11, 2017, the tracklist and album cover was revealed through Kendrick’s Twitter account. An early version of the album leaked hours before the official one, with slight differences. When TDE contributor Sounwave cautioned fans that the leaked album was not the official cut, this, along with other evidence—including lyrics from DAMN. and “The Heart Part 4”—were spun by fans on Reddit into an elaborate conspiracy theory.
The theory alleged that after the release of DAMN. on Good Friday, K.Dot would drop a second album entitled NATION. on April 16, 2017, Easter Sunday. This theory received heavy press, ranging from hopefulness to ridicule in traditional and social media. Sounwave confirmed the rumor was false.
That Sunday night, Lamar closed the first weekend of Coachella with an acclaimed performance of new tracks from DAMN., as well as fan favorites from To Pimp a Butterfly, and good kid, m.A.A.d city. After its first week of tracking, DAMN. debuted atop the Billboard 200 chart with 603,000 equivalent album units sold. It was the biggest week for an album thus far in 2017.
At the time of its release, DAMN. was the most critically acclaimed hip-hop album of the year, holding a 97/100 average rating on Metacritic. All 14 songs charted on the Billboard Hot 100 after the first week of tracking, dated May 6, 2017; with “HUMBLE.” and “DNA.” charting at #1 and #4 respectively.
On May 4, DAMN. was certified platinum, making it Kendrick’s third straight platinum album and 2017’s first platinum-selling rap album. On July 10, 2017, the album was certified double platinum. Rolling Stone named it the Best Album of 2017 and it won Rap Album of the Year at the 2018 Grammy Awards held on January 28, 2018.
On April 16, 2018, DAMN. won the Pulitzer Prize for Music. By winning this award, Kendrick Lamar became the first non-classical/jazz artist to win in the field. The Pulitzer Prize website described the album as:
a virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.