Album: Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers
Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Release Date: May 13th, 2022
Reviewed by Devin Arscott
Kendrick Lamar, one of the rap game’s most celebrated artists, has returned, and he’s got a powerful story to tell. Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers is Kendrick’s fifth and final studio album under Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE), and boy is it a powerful farewell as he exits the label for pgLang – created by Kendrick and his creative partner Dave Free. This double LP is packed with stories of grief, growth, and social commentary that have sparked many conversations; Not only for the rap genre and industry as a whole but what Kendrick has witnessed in his time away since releasing the album Damn nearly five years ago and what this means for the rapper in the future.
The album begins with the song, “United in Grief.” Kendrick lays down a few somber bars before switching up the tempo as the song matches his energy whilst he tells the story of his grief through visits with a psychiatrist. This song is the first foray into Kendrick really leaning into being so transparent about his life and how he feels, which is essentially the theme of the album itself.
As the LP continues, Kendrick brings the heat with N95 as he goes into the perception of society cancel culture, and his not conforming to industry standards; On “Worldwide Steppers” Kendrick brings out fellow rapper Kodak Black (a surprise to everyone) as he explains a tidbit of what’s happened with his relationship regarding his wife and children and his lust addiction. In the first half of this double LP – Mr. Morale, Kendrick spends a lot of time delving into all the problems he’s faced and how it has affected him physically and mentally. Mr. Morale ends with the song, “We Cry Together,” Kendrick’s way of showcasing what the world sounds like for us and his own. I really had a hard time with this particular track as I stopped halfway to just process the fact Kendrick is laying so much of himself out for us to witness, especially as we hear the visceral emotions and language thrown back and forth between Kendrick and actress Taylour Paige; Each artist mirrors what one can assume to be how things were between Kendrick and his wife Whitney Alford.
Let’s check out The Big Steppers side of things. The second half of the LP begins with “Count Me Out,” a track with some great background vocals, and smooth electric guitar leading the track before hitting you with that sweet 808 bass. This track is all about Kendrick looking into himself to find acceptance with his actions to become a better person, which also in turn is a lesson for the listener. Further down the tracklist, we get a few more nice features from Kodak Black on both the “Savior Interlude” and “Silent Hill,” Baby Keem & Sam Dew on “Savior,” and pg-Lang’s latest signed artist Tanna Leone.
“Auntie Diaries” is the biggest song on this half of the LP for many reasons, most notably though when it came to Kendrick addressing his own past homophobia, that of the black community, and the rap industry. Kendrick reminisces about his uncle and cousin’s experiences with transitioning and showcases his acceptance as he goes from deadnaming to calling them by their names; This shows his growth as an individual as he battled his own religious upbringing to being for humanity as he vocalizes his distaste with his pastor calling his two trans family members out in church, with both appreciating this support. Never before has a heterosexual cis rapper come out in full acceptance of the LGBTQ community before in the rap industry through a song, which instantaneously created a deeper conversation between listeners and other industry artists. As a husband to a non-binary spouse with relatives/friends who also are under the spectrum, I was both happy and upset that it took so long to get to this point as homophobia runs rampant in society and the rap industry – look at Isaiah Rashad, who recently was outed as being apart of the LGBTQ community. I was appalled by the negative responses to his sexuality instead of coming together to support him when he needed it. This was unprecedented from Kendrick, but someone had to speak up before long.
Lastly, we end the album with the final few songs, “Mother I Sober,” “Mr. Morale,” and “Mirror.” I feel that these final tracks give the album such a strong finish, especially “Mirror” as Kendrick apologies to everyone as he goes on to rebuild the world he lost and paves the way for a much more peaceful future. Overall, Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers is a fantastic project, with stellar production from the likes of Sounwave, Boi-1da, The Alchemist, and more; Tons of great tracks with a lot of raw emotion centered around topics such as generational trauma, fatherhood, religion, accountability, and more to close out his journey with TDE and moving onto greener pastures. This album will be spoken on for many years to come and with time, I believe many detractors of this work shall come to appreciate it for what it truly is. Whatever comes next for Kendrick Lamar, he will be cemented as one of the best to ever do it for rap now and forever.