If you were to ask any person who's invested in the world of rap to name one of our generation's most talented and acclaimed emcees, they would likely say Kendrick Lamar. Lamar’s conceptual-style way of storytelling of his life growing up in Compton, CA, in his highly acclaimed albums such as good Kid m.A.A.d. city and DAMN -- which both garnered No.1 on the BIllboard 200 and DAMN -- a Pulitzer Prize in music, is truly commendable. He often heavily covers themes of gang violence, police brutality and life as a Black man in disadvantaged America.
After a five-year hiatus, Lamar returns with Mr. Morale And The Big Steppers, which was prefaced by the track, "The Heart Part 5," was released on May 8. The single shares the same storytelling style, however, it goes deeper into the world of Lamar, continuing the story since his last release of DAMN. Themes of Black relationships, sexuality, cancel culture, family and the pitfalls of fame, are discussed throughout the album. The album cover features his eldest daughter and his fiancée Whitney Alford breastfeeding a newborn, deducing that they secretly welcomed their second child together.
Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers boasts 18 tracks and clocks in at an hour and 13 minutes long. He features collaborations from Big Keem, Sampha, Kodak Black and more. Lamar is known for his introspective lyrics and has generated his final record with Top Dawg Entertainment, the same label he signed with, in 2005.
Here are the best tracks you should listen to from Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers
"United In Grief"
The album's intro song, "United In Grief," doesn't hesitate to get deep starting with the intro lyrics, "I've been goin' through somethin' / One-thousand eight-hundred and fifty-five days." It's been 1,855 days since Lamar released DAMN, and he isn't afraid to admit he's been going to therapy: "I can debate on my theories and sharing it / The demons portrayed as religionous / I wake in the morning, another appointment."
All lyrics center on his 19-year career, achievements and the pitfalls of fame. Lamar sings, "I bought a Rolex watch, only wore it once/ I bought infinity pools I never swimmed in."
The lyrics, "I grieve different/ Everybody grieves different," hints at the overall theme of we're all human, but still, we grieve differently for different reasons and ultimately this sets the tone for the entirety of the album.
"Father Time" boasts the feature with R&B singer-songwriter Sampha -- the artists’ first collaboration with one another. The first verse opens with a description of his childhood environs with lyrics, "I come from a generation of home invasions, and I got daddy issues, that's on me." He explains his violent surroundings, family problems and generational responsibility further.
The lyrics, "Daddy issues, hid my emotions, never expressed myself/"Learn shit bout bein' a man and disguise it as bein' gangsta," possibly connect daddy issues as a possible reason for gang culture among young Black men in the broader communities.
"Aunt Diaries" covers transphobia, lashing at cancel culture and Lamar's past problems with homophobia, by detailing the story of Lamar’s “auntie.” His family member is transgender, prompting Lamar to rap about the challenges of being transgender that Lamar witnessed, especially in a Black community that wasn't always accepting.
The opening line of the track, "My auntie is a man now," undeniably catches listeners’ attention. and later, "Demetrius is Mary-Ann now." Throughout the story-like song, Lamar is simply repeating his environs' which were rooted in transphobia with lyrics, "Asked my momma why my uncles don't like him that much / And at the parties why they always wanna fight him that much." He deadnames his cousin, whom he dearly loves, and is confused about why he was becoming distant which was evident in the verse, "We didn't talk for a while, he seemed more distant/ Wasn't comfortable around me everything was offensive."
The outro of the song is a reference to Lamar's 2018 performance at the Alabama Hangout Festival, when he asked a white woman during the performance of his song, m.A.A.d city, to start over after she proceeded to sing the n-word.
Kendrick uses a form of juxtaposition on the misuse of the n-word from the woman at the concert and his communities use of the word f*ggot evidently from the lyrics, “He didn’t laugh as hard when the kids start joking / ‘Faggot, faggot, faggot’ we ain't know no better.” He really loves his auntie but has learned he has to be mindful of the words we use.
"Mother I Sober"
Lamar has never been shy about painting scenes from the childhood environment he grew up in. But, he goes deeper than he ever has through his lyrics on "Mother I Sober."
The blatant intensity of sexual abuse makes most of the content with the lyrics, “Mother cried, put they hands on her, it was family ties/ I heard it all, I should've grabbed a gun, but I was only five,” and “Family ties, they accused my cousin, ‘Did he touch you Kendrick?’ / Never lied, but no one believed me when I said ‘He didn't.’
Lamar closes the track with this being a transformation which refers to him navigating and coming to cope with his family trauma, his own homophobia and meeting its natural end. In the end, two voices, Lamar's partner Whitney Alford and their daughter, state: "You broke a generational curse."
Overall, Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers continues the storytelling and introspective lyricism you expect in a Kendrick Lamar album. While not filled with club bangers like its predecessors, this album wasn't his best work. Still, the stories of personal pain, collective trauma and abuse that let no one off the hook, its new ways of infusing jazz, pianos, strings and different styles of drum beats are what make Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers.
The album is a difficult but worthwhile listen of genius that paints the vivid scenes of its content and uncovers the heart, soul and mind of the listener.