On his debut album for a major label, “good kid, m.A.A.d city” (2012), Kendrick Lamar did what many rappers do: he told the story of his childhood spent on the streets – in his case, of the working-class neighbourhood of Compton, Los Angeles. But his lyrics were so honest, he gave a tired subject a new lease on life. On the following album, “To Pimp a Butterfly” (2015), he did what few rappers do these days: drawing on the history of black music, with bursts of free jazz, funk and soul, he made a record like a howl of protest – against a society that sets black people up for failure. The record won four Grammy awards and a single, “Alright”, became an anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Not everybody approved. In response to Lamar’s performance of “Alright” at the BET awards that year – in which he delivered the line, “We hate popo [police], wanna kill us dead in the street for sure”, standing on top of a vandalised cop car – Geraldo Rivera, a Fox News pundit, said, “Hip-hop has done more damage to young African-Americans than racism in recent years.” Lamar’s latest album is his riposte. On DAMN., he examines himself and finds a sinner. Rapping over the spare rhythms of trap, a style from the Deep South, Lamar confesses that he is wracked with lust, crippled by fear, and guilty of pride, greed and hypocrisy. But there is hope: Lamar is a man of faith. On this moving, carefully crafted album, which is threaded with references to the Bible, he dispels his demons by summoning not just the Word of God, but the words of Lamar. Rap gave him a career, lifting him out of a hard-scrabble life in Compton. Rap is his redemption. ~ Charlie McCann
DAMN. (Interscope), out now
Notes from Lebanon’s underground
When Lebanon’s first electro-punk band SoapKills formed in 1997, they quickly attracted a cult following. Yasmine Hamdan and Zeid Hamdan (no relation) wove together Western electronica and trip-hop beats with classical Middle Eastern harmonies and Arabic lyrics. From two distinct musical traditions, they made a new sound.
Two decades on, Yasmine Hamdan’s second solo album, Al Jamilat or “The Beautiful Ones”, harks back to these underground roots, continually experimenting with pace, genre and mood. The theme is women – strong, unconventional, fragile and flawed – and their stories. On the effervescent opening tracks, which wouldn’t sound out of place on a pop radio station, Hamdan’s vocals are soft and breathy, belying perceptions of Arabic as a language with sharp corners. It’s not until the third track, “Assi”, that she reveals the raw power of her voice over an eerie blend of droning bass and lilting strings and a slow, double-tap rhythm like a beating heart. Hamdan has lived a nomadic life, making her home in five countries. In “Al Jamilat” she skilfully draws together influences from as far afield as Pakistan, Kuwait and France to create a marriage of seductive electronica and traditional folk that marks her most sophisticated work yet. ~ INDIA STOUGHTON
Al Jamilat (Crammed Discs), out now
A Moor-ish tenor gets his dream role
The prospect of a new production of Otello at the Royal Opera House in London – the first in 30 years – is mouth-watering. This fresh take on Verdi’s late masterpiece is directed by Keith Warner, who brims with bold ideas, and conducted by Antonio Pappano, a peerless interpreter of Verdi. Better yet, Jonas Kaufmann makes his role debut as Shakespeare’s Moor. Described as “the greatest tenor in the world” by Plácido Domingo – someone who should know – he has had a rocky year, after a haematoma on a vocal chord forced him to cancel a string of engagements. But he’s back now and, if his recent residency at the Barbican Centre is any indicator, better than ever.
Kaufmann has dreamed of performing “Otello” for years. It is a complex, demanding sing, but he should be up to the task. His voice has that rare combination of melodiousness and muscularity, and although he can be reserved in person, on stage he explodes. Bring a handkerchief. ~ CLEMENCY BURTON-HILL
Otello ROH, London, Jun 21st-Jul 15th, with live screenings at select UK cinemas Jun 28th