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Kendrick Lamar, “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” Album Review

An avid lover of music with a flair for writing. A core hip-hop fan with a thing for boom-bap beats and bars.

"Mr. Morale and the big steppers" album cover

"Mr. Morale and the big steppers" album cover

Review

Every Kendrick album release always feels like an Easter egg hunt for me because there is always a lot to unpack from his albums which means, I spend days listening and dissecting every lyric to unravel the deep lyrics penned down by the lyrical genius.

His fourth studio album, Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers is no different as it sees Kendrick in an introspective mood, it gives the listener an insight into his demons. An introspective Kendrick is not a rarity as most of Good Kid, Maad City had introspective themes, however, this album sounded like a therapy session in comparison. A psychologist voiced by Eckhart Tolle helps Kendrick navigate his thought process and captures Kendrick in a way we have never seen him.

Kendrick takes a different approach with this album compared to his previous studio albums. Adopting the double album approach which is rare in hip-hop these days, Kendrick follows in the footstep of other legends such as Biggie and 2pac in releasing double albums.

Mr. Morale shows Lamar as a middle-aged black father of two kids looking out for his family. He is super vulnerable on this record as he talks about how he deals with his mental health issues. He also voices his thoughts on cancel culture, transphobia, capitalism, virtue signaling, free speech, black struggles, generational trauma, and the toxic effects of social media.

The Songs

On “N-95,” Lamar calls for people to strip away their coping mechanisms. Instead of obsessing about money, phones, cars, jewelry, and social media, we need to face our real-world issues head-on. On “Worldwide Steppers” he refers to media as the “new religion” as he addresses cancel culture, likening it to a mob mentality, quick to attack whatever is considered “unclean” or politically incorrect. He also delves into his psyche and how he avoids drug use, but uses sex as an avenue to heal from his generational trauma.

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“Auntie Diaries” is a rare moment of LQBTQ activism in rap music. It sees Kendrick critique himself, society, and religion about persistent homophobia. The track relates the story of Lamar's aunt transitioning into a man and how confused he was as a younger kid about transexuality and how his perception matured as he got older.

It's a clarion call to hip hop culture which is known for widespread homophobia. Immediate family and friends could be living a lie and keeping mute due to the fear of being stigmatized and segregated in the black community, as the church did to his uncle. Kendrick examines the hypocrisy of black homophobes using the f-slur, but frowning at a white girl using the n-word.

Kendrick’s ears for stellar production is something we have gotten used to since his Good Kid, Maad City days. His beat choices are always in tandem with the theme of his music which most times highlights black struggles and societal upheavals. Mr. Morales is no different as he recruits his frequent collaborators such as Sounwave, J.lbs, Dj Dahi, and Bekons for the majority of the album’s production. More accomplished music producers such as Pharrell Williams, Boi-1da, Tae Beast, The Alchemist, etc all joined the production team to cook up this masterpiece of an album. Production on tracks such as “Father Time” and “Auntie Diaries” is a testament to the uniqueness of Kendrick’s music which has made him one of the most remarkable rappers of his generation.

I had different expectations about the album features except for Baby Keem whom I firmly expected to be on the album. Kodak Black’s presence in the album was probably the biggest shock I had due to his assault and rape charges. However, Kendrick's stance on cancel culture is exemplified here by giving him a vital role in “Silent Hill” and “Rich (Interlude).” Taylor Paige combined well with Kendrick to give a vivid description of toxic relationships which Eminem would be proud of. Other noteworthy contributors include Sampha, Sam Dew, Ghostface Killah, Summer Walker, and Beth Gibson.

Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers is Kendrick at his most vulnerable which gives birth to an intimate, raw, and compelling body of work. His rapping is still as stellar as ever and his eye for detail permeates through the entire album. His use of brilliant samples which ties into the theme of every track is something that distances Kendrick from today’s generation of rappers and makes me revere his work. Conclusively, it’s a captivatingly brilliant body of work that sheds light on issues troubling the black community today.

Essential Tracks

  • “Father Time”
  • “N95”
  • “Auntie Diaries”
  • “Silent Hill”

© 2022 Fawaz Akintunde

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