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Kendrick Lamar: Mr Morale & The Big Steppers Review

Five years on, Kendrick Lamar is older, wiser and now armed with newfound fatherhood wisdom to impart onto the masses.

The opener, United in Grief, sets the melancholic tone for the rest of the 75-minute-long double album prudently, “I hope you find, some peace of mind, in this lifetime” before being followed by a counter vocal demanding “tell them the truth”

The poignant lyrics continue into the following track “N95“, a track that’s scathing critiques of the African American community is sure to raise a few hairs across the online world; a world for which Lamar is insouciant;

what the fuck is cancel culture? – say what I like about you, I’m like Oprah”.

Once again a new Kendrick Lamar project means the world is granted access to Kung Fu Kenny’s latest vocal cadence. This time the world is introduced to Lamar’s latest persona, Mr Morale, a character teased across his features on Baby Keem’s The Melodic Blue. Morale is sure to divide audiences once again, with the use of offbeat flows and slurred accent, however, one thing is for sure, his latest character is unmistakably all things Kendrick.

The following track, Worldwide Steppers, sees Lamar delving into his feelings towards white women, and how his relationships with different races would be viewed by his ancestors. Whilst occasionally lyrically ambitious, we find Lamar performing over an industrial  Danny Brown / JPEGMafia inspired beat that makes repeat listens a chore.  The song is then made worst with less than insightful lyrics about, “texting bitches” and his “thumbs hurting”; real inspiring stuff, Kendrick. 

Unfortunately, disappointing tracks aren’t a one-off on the record, with the painfully mundane Crown and Silent Hills featuring the infamously controversial rapper Kodak Black. The latter serves as a clear attempt at a big single for the album, however, only manages to ruin what, for the most part, is a lyrically impressive album. 

Here we see Kendrick generally talking about “feeling stressed”, a sentiment that while is admirable in the general story of the album, with Kendrick talking through his feelings with his therapist, lacks any real power, and pails in comparison to the complexities of some of his biggest singles; namely Alright, which acted as an anthem for marginalised minorities across the world in 2020. 

Lamar also struggles to live up to his most recent release, The Heart Part 5, a track released to tease Mr Morale & The Big Steppers and provided listeners with one of the most powerful performances of the good kid’s career. 

However, this is less of a problem with his fifth studio album, and more of an issue that comes with being one of the most lyrically and conceptually complex musicians of all time, it’s hard to live up to your past achievements. 

Luckily for fans of K Dot, Worldwide Steppers has many moments that shine brightly throughout. The track Father Time sees Lamar expressing his struggles with inadequacy concerning his father, firmly placing his bruised heart on the metaphorical therapist table and speaking frankly in a way not often heard from a man, “Cause everything he didn’t want was everything I was”. 

The rawness continues as the album progresses, with the track We Cry Together acting as Hip-Hops rendition of Elton John and Kiki Dee’s Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, whilst simultaneously blending Lamar’s own from To Pimp a Butterfly for good measure. 

The track sees Mr Morale and silver screen actress Taylour Paige screaming across a beautifully produced piano intermetal, in a way that is painfully relatable for anyone that has been in an abusive relationship. Taylour takes centre stage across the almost six-minute-long track, her acting experience lending perfectly to the track, ultimately making for one of the most memorable moments on the album. 

Paige’s isn’t the only impressive female performance found across the album. The following track Purple Hearts sees Lamar, Summer Walker and Ghostface Killah performing over a now nostalgic DAMN style beat. The highlight of the track comes in the form of Summer Walker’s performance, with her beautiful vocal inflections shimmering and shining across the synth lead instrumental; her verse stealing the soundscape stage, Lamar pausing to take the backseat to allow her powerful soul voice to do the intense vocal labouring. 

The progression of the album makes the overarching narrative clearer, with the opening words of track ten Count Me Out stating “Session Ten, breakthrough”, before Kendrick pours his insecurities out at breakneck speed to an omniscient therapist character. What follows from this point is often poignant, introspective omissions of Lamar’s life. 

The track Aunties Diaries is sure to be regarded as the Compton rapper’s most controversial moment in his career, with his use of homophobic slurs rivalling his now-infamous performance of Maad City in 2018 where he threw a white fan off stage for using the N-word whilst performing with the artist; an incident spoken about in the final lines of the track, “the time I bought a fan on stage to rap, but disapproved the word that she couldn’t say with me”. Kendricks’s hypocrisies are hung out to dry here, with him comparing his use of the homophobic slurs with that of his fan using racial slurs “F*****t, f*****t, F*****t, we can say it together, but only if you let a white girl say n***a”. However, Kendricks’s blatant use of homophobic slurs in this song, while intentional, is jarring, but intended to break down walls between marginalised communities. 

Kendrick continues to handle the hot coals of difficult topics across the home stretch of track, with Mr. Morale a Kanye West “Yeezus”-esc, bass-heavy banger, handling the topic of sexual assault; a topic that is expanded upon in the following track Mother I Sober.

Lamar’s ability to craft a thought-provoking, heart-wrenching piece of art is astounding. Mother I Sober follows the tale of Kendrick’s history with sexual assault to an almost painfully frank level;

They raped our mothers, they raped our sisters, they made us rape each other – we ain’t recovered- every other rapper sexually abused, I see them daily.” 

This is possibly the most candid Lamar has been throughout his career, and for a rapper who’s discography is as lyrically transformative as his, that is no small feat. By the end of Mother I Sober the listener will be ready to not only cry, but also strive to be a better man.

But whilst he “breaks the generational curse” and has god “speak through him”, it’s hard to forget about the low points on the album. Mediocre songs and occasional cringey lyricism taint what could be one of the most impactful albums of all time. Duckworth has the ability to create perfect art, however, on this release he skims past greatness and instead achieves it in occasional bouts. 

Mr Morale & The Big Steppers is, for the most part, a fantastic piece of art, blessed with incredible production and powerful lyricism. However, due to some unfortunate failures, it pales in comparison to Kendrick’s previous releases.

Must hear for the culture but repeat listens are optional / 10

Words by Mason Meyers

Posted On 4 October, 2022