Is Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. a modern retelling of 90s anime classic Neon Genesis Evangelion?
Written by Amari Lockett
Introduction: Neon Genesis Evangelion is quite possibly one of my favourite anime of all time. Despite how sad, dishonest and depressing the show was, its storytelling, brilliant characters and psychological aspect was top notch. Here we also have DAMN. another groundbreaking yet sad and depressing project from West Coast rapper Kendrick Lamar Duckworth. The more I listened to Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. the more it reminded me of the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion. So I decided to call upon my brain to find whatever memory I had left of NGE since its been years since I last watched it below is my analysis on how similar DAMN. and NGE are. Could Kendrick Lamar be paying homage to NGE?
To start things off, So here we have BLOOD. I akin this to LCL, the primordial ooze that life stemmed from on Evangelion and in EoE, that everyone goes back to. LCL, is an amber-colored, translucent liquid, which allows an Eva pilot to mentally link with their Evangelion Unit. Kendrick is apparently killed by the blind lady who looks to be in a compromised position but she then turns on him. I compare this to Lilith, LCL comes from her, and with the Lance of Longinus stuck in her she for the moment cannot do anything. But after Rei removes it from her and fuses she proceeds to take all life, and then lastly, most intamtely, Shinji’s, abruptly, and almost finalizing the third impact.
Connecting with BLOOD., DNA. with to me is Shinji’s battle spirit while also having his troubled emotions. Kendrick proclaims “I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA/ I got hustle though, ambition, flow, inside my DNA/ I was born like this, since one like this /Immaculate conception/ I transform like this, perform like this/ Was Yeshua’s new weapon/I don’t contemplate, I meditate, then off your fucking head”. These lyrics connect with Shinji as such, because it seems his whole existence leads to fighting the Angels. Like Kendrick he has both positive and negative, strong feelings within himself, and being that he is a pilot of the Evangelions which come from Lilith he is essentially God’s weapon. Kendrick see’s himself as a messenger of God and uses his music to spead Gods message. The off the head bit was just particular, as that’s how He killed Kaworu, snapping his head off but he did contemplate heavily. The whole second part of the song sees Kendrick completely go into a braggadocios mode, unlike the first verse where he exposes his faults and issues. This is again akin to how Shinji gains more confidence in himself through most of the latter half in the series and how he always manages to finish his fights with the Angels regardless of his feelings. I’d also liken the beat switch to how EVA unit 01 goes berserk. If you notice in the series every time that happens Shinji gets very quiet, I always assumed he’d basically go berserk and develops a central mind state with 01, which is to kill the enemy, shame them, smite them, at all costs.
ELEMENT. pretty much lays down the prerogative of the NERV agents. The biggest issue almost all the main characters have is loss and abandonment (Gendo losing his wife, abandoning Shinji and Katsuragi, Misato losing her relationship with Kaji, Rei not having her sense of humanity, Asuka losing and being abandoned by her mother). So most of the characters don’t feel they really are loved, and appreciated by anyone, hence “nobody praying for me”. Kendrick goes through a lists of things he’s had to struggle through and why he’d die for what he’s doing. It gives him purpose and validation and a better life, which is what the characters do for their own survival. Gendo was ready to die to be with his wife, Misato died protecting Shinji and Asuka died fighting the Evas, Rei was always ready for her end and even Katsuragi attempted to blow NERV up to stop all compromising by Seele. Its through all their problems and their abilities and opportunities they currently have that they are willing to give themselves up for what they truly believe in. I always thought the whole “ill make it look sexy” embodied Misato a lot since she put a lot of sexual overtones in what she does and says, and the sleek designs of the Evangelions are extremely pleasing themselves, so they “slap n–gas(angels) and make it look sexy”.
FEEL. Might be the best representation of the similarities between Shinji and Kendrick. The whole song is him describing his hopelessness for the world because everything is so ill. In episode 16 Shinji explicitly states while in his conscious “This world is filled with too much pain and suffering, to keep going on.” , telling himself he’ worthless and through the third impact in each episode 25 and 26 (Season 1 and End of Evangelion) he consistently challenges himself on whether or not everybody should just be dead or not. The repetitive use of “I feel” by Kendrick evokes the same respite as he feels so much ill towards everything in the world it gets harder and harder to see why anything really is worth anything period.
Breaking from Shinji, PRIDE. is certainly a song for Asuka. “Love’s gonna get you killed/ But pride’s gonna be the death of you and you and me/ And you and you and you and me……” Clearly love did eventually kill her as that love she thought she felt from her mother was really only enough to have her last a few minutes against the Seele manufactured angels. In theory, the only reason she ended up losing the battle against them was because she tried blocking the make shift Lance of Longinus, but it was suspended in the air for a period, if she wasn’t so boastful and pride-drunk in her battle she would’ve not hesitated as she did when the Lance was stuck in her AT field and possible dodged out of its way. Because she failed and was defeated there was nothing else to stop the Third Impact as Shinji had already given up, thus the death of everyone and probably one of the few literal correlations between the lyrics and show. “Hell-raising, wheel-chasing, new worldy possessions/ Flesh-making, spirit-breaking, which one would you lessen?/ The better part, the human heart/ You love ’em or dissect ’em
Happiness or flashiness? How do you serve the question?/ See, in the perfect world, I would be perfect, world” The first two bars summarize the world the characters live in and the second highlights their desires and their level of resolve for them. The human heart usually goes both ways and for the characters it seems that they all have conflicting feelings. They may want to do good things for bad reasons (Seele unifying humanity through its destruction) and bad things for good reasons ( Misato kissing Shinji to motivate him…….to be fair it did get him in Unit 01). At some point the world does become perfect, Shinji’s perfect world, his world, but even he realizes that not even perfect is perfect, nothing is.
I cant really make anything out of HUMBLE. thats just an honest diss song to me so I’ll just sit down.
I feel like LUST. is about just being comfortable with whatever cycle you’re in and not improving, as well as giving in to desire. The hook is basically behoving people to just be unproductive then contrasts it with his third verse describing his show life yet seemingly feeling like its just the repeated cycle of a job, because as the election happened it doesn’t really matter how much he makes or what he does, we are all in the same predicament. The bridge highlights how he wants the wrong things out of life. Most of the Neon characters want something, they need something for whatever validation in their existence is. To a degree it develops into lust, Gendo for Shinji’s mother, Misato for Kaji, Shinji for Kaworu, and most importantly Shinji and Asuka’s lust for each other. At some point Shinji even gets relentlessly angry at Asuka during his reflection in Third Impact voicing how frustrated he is due to her indecisiveness with him “I just need you to want me/ Am I askin’ too much?” is what I think Shinji wants to say to her. I think that what he may also feel about his father. When he gained praise from Gendo once he got visibly excited and I always assumed he obsessively wanted Gendo to feel that way about him.
LOVE. is thankfully straight forward, Kendrick and Zacari sing about what particularly they want from this person. The love will pretty much make their lives better and love is one of the biggest themes in Neon Genesis Evangelion. Recall how I spoke on how the characters wanted each other in some form on LUST. They also want love from virtually everyone else too. A lot of their negativity comes from a lack of love. Katsuragi, Misato, Shinji, and Asuka all wanted but never received real love from their parents. Misato couldn’t hold on to her love for Kaji and Ritsuko had a fake love from Gendo who only ever loved Shinji’s mother. Safe to say, a lack of love will eventually drive you crazy or depressed or both.
XXX. Is of a similar build to episodes 25 and 26 in End of Evangelion. The first half is episode 25. As Kendrick describes all the murder that’ll happen should someone kill anyone in his family and the best comparison is the Seele attack in vein. They come in and kill everyone at NERV and bomb it to hell while Asuka fights back against them and the other EVAs and destruction all over the landscape commences. Then the second half begins with U2, this is episode 26. “It’s not a place/ This country is to be a sound/ of drum and bass/ You close your eyes to look around”. Well that’s third impact in a nut shell. Everybody gets turned into LCL and so does Shinji but he literally closes his eyes and gives his soul, then once he starts on his path of reflection he truly sees everyone and the world for what they are. As Kendrick describes how the power that be wreck everything and kill everything it’s the world and Seele personified since they set all of this in motion.
FEAR. This to me is Shinji’s reflection period. A lot of his issues and self doubt come from the fear of how his own actions will hurt others and create a hedgehogs dilemma. Kendrick speaks primarily in his third verse how his money and fame was terrifying him thinking it could make him lose it all. His cousins speech on blacks, native Americans and hispanics being the true Israelites chosen by God is akin to how humans come from the ancient race of aliens that sent them to earth in the black moon.
SKIP TO 0:41
GOD. Is like Kendrick’s revitalization, in the end he’s really in control and he’s feeling himself, he’s ahead of himself. Shinji does as well and despite those mixed feelings he had in the end.
DUCKWORTH. Is akin to something like Shinji Ikari to me. Kendrick tells a super surprising story of his dad and we end up learning he was in some real dirty shit. Much like Gendo he had some power at some point and influence but got reduced to being a victim. when top dog could’ve killed Kendrick’s dad is similar to how Gendo became once Rei turned on him and he was killed by third impact. Is it safe to say because of Kendrick’s dad decisions they ended up where they were at? Much like how Gendo’s decisions put Shinji in his predicament?
Conclusion: DAMN. and Neon Genesis Evangelion share many similarities. Neon Genesis Evangelion is just about one of most influential anime of all time. I wouldn’t be surprised if it had some sort of influence on Kendrick. Maybe Kendrick is secretly an anime fan, haha. What do you think about this article and do you agree with it?