Deep memories told in the form of multiple sonnets, where stories unfold as Kendrick pens his thoughts as honestly as anyone could. Delving into the mind of a lyrical genius whose words breathe life into his devoted fans. A power that most are envious of, but very few would ever have the opportunity to achieve. A power that is shown throughout a project that will only get better with time. The grind and hustle it took to get to where he is now leads to showers of praise as his lyrics age like fine wine. Kendrick Lamar returns to the forefront of everyone’s mind as “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” has provided just the right amount of spotlight for the Compton rapper to shine. The world has been waiting for this album for years, but aside from enjoying it as a fan, I am lucky enough to enjoy it as a rapper aspiring for the same level of greatness that Kendrick embodies.
With a full set of appearances by Blxst, Amanda Reifer, Sampha, Taylour Paige, Summer Walker, Ghostface Killah, Kodak Black, Baby Keem, Sam Dew, Tanna Leone, and Beth Gibbons, the project is star-studded and ready to make headlines.
“Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” is his fifth studio album and the last in his partnership with Top Dawg Entertainment. Though he has achieved massive success with TDE, leading to the signings of fellow artists SZA and Isaiah Rashad, Kendrick has finally stepped out and into the new pgLang. Founded by Kendrick Lamar and Dave Free, pgLang has become a service company for creators. With a roster of Kendrick, Baby Keem and Tanna Leone, the company is young and ready for big things. This move towards independence and beginning something new is motivating for artists such as myself. There is a certain pride that comes with the ups and downs of independence, something I know all too well. Being in control of everything comes with its handful of pressures. Not only are you in charge of the music, but you’re also in charge of your public image. Outside of creating, one must balance a budget for production, marketing, and merchandising. It’s a lot to handle, but Kendrick Lamar should be able to succeed where others have failed and create a new outlet for upcoming artists.
This the release of “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers,” Kendrick has also announced The Big Steppers worldwide tour with the pgLang roster. With the album now in our hands, we can expect some amazing performances.
The project opens up with “United In Grief” and really sets a strong precedent for the entire album. The track produced by OKLAMA, Sounwave, J.LBS, Duval Timothy, Beach Noise, and Tim Maxey. I felt myself listening intently when everything switched up on me. 1:27 marked the moment I paused everything I was doing to stare and admire the switch up in not only the beat, but in the flow and mood of the track as Kendrick steps into the hook for the first time. “The way you front it was all for rap, I was 28 years young, twenty mill’ in tax.” From that point the song delves into the concept of pain and recovery. Kendrick Lamar shares the story of a Green-Eyed model who has something in common with himself, the loss of a loved one.
“Her first brother got killed, he was twenty-one, I was nine when they put Lamont in the grave.”
Expressing how they each felt and consoling one another, where once in each other’s embrace, sex was the way of making the pain go away. “Stepping away from that verse and into the final one, Kendrick switches the topic from sexual to monetary, expressing the process of moving from poverty to riches.
“I bought a Rolex Watch, I only wore it once, I bought infinity pools I never swimmed in.”
He shares how spending the fruits of his labor didn’t mean as much to him as it did for those around him. “I watched Keem buy four cars in four months, you know the family dynamics on repeat.” In this verse, we see a different form of grief coming from the spending of money. “Poverty was the case, but the money wipin’ the tears away.” Another example of excellent storytelling by Kendrick, something I personally aspire to do. It’s tracks like these that need to be studied and broken down because although he makes it look easy, this form of writing is an art that takes time to master. As an artist and as an adult, I find it easy to understand what Kendrick was telling us in “United in Grief.” Balancing the benefits of coming up from a low position seems tough, especially when painful obstacles come to block our path. Whether it be attention from other people and controlling the lust that comes with it or figuring out how to manage money when you’ve grown up without it. Using either to handle the down times in life is just how Kendrick would grieve different.
The fourth song on “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” is “Father Time (feat. Sampha)” and it happens to be the most powerful song to me personally. With production from Sounwave, Dahi, Bekon, Beach Noise, Duval Timothy and Victor Ekpo, “Father Time” hit like no other song has in a while. I felt like the words almost spoke to me directly, and although the whole project is relatable to an extent, this song spoke to my core. “Father Time” touches on the oh so common set of Daddy issues. The track opens with a conversation between Kendrick and his fiancée Whitney Alford, discussing the need for therapy with Whitney pushing a reluctant Kendrick. Kendrick Lamar talks about the relationship between him and his father, the difficulties that came with it and how it affected who he is today. “Daddy issues made me learn losses, I don’t take those well, Momma said, “That boy is exhausted,” he said, “Go f*ck yourself.” His tough upbringing is what made him stronger and more competitive. Understanding that it was his choice to sit aside and let life pass or make something of himself within all the adversity he had to face. “You could be a b*tch or step out the margin, I got up quick, I’m chargin’ baskets and falling backwards, tryna keep balance, Oh, this the part where mental stability meets talent, Oh, this the part, he breaks my humility just for practice.” The difficulty of having a tough-minded father combines with the societal pressures of being a man to become the ultimate undoing of many young men today.
“Daddy issues, hid my emotions, never expressed myself, Men should never show feelings, being sensitive never helped.”
This topic is something I struggled with growing up, and not really having a father around made understanding it that much more tedious. Kendrick shares how he was forced to be emotionally distant throughout his childhood with a convoluted idea of what being a man was really like. The vulnerability he shows in “Father Time” is a great example of how polarizing his bars are. I’m sure most men can understand where Kendrick is coming from and see a little bit of themselves in this story.
“Daddy issues, f*ck everybody, go get your money, son, protect yourself, trust nobody, only your momma’n’em, this made relationships cloudy, never attached to none, so if you took some liking around me, I might reject the love.”
Jumping from bar to bar, Kendrick’s development as a young adult is obvious and, in the end, can look back appreciative for the tough lessons he learned whilst young. He ends the song with a solute to people who were forced to grow up without a father, wishing the best for their future children. As a rapper, it can sometimes be difficult to express this kind of vulnerability on a song. Even more so on the big stage of the music game. I find myself teetering on the line of what the fans would like to hear vs what I feel is right in my soul. Lessons to take form “Father Time” would be to share what makes you who you are, whether it be your physical limitations or your upbringing, and to not be afraid to open that door for others to come in. Developing a connection with fans through music is amazing so it is no surprise that this track has had such a deep impact on me.
“Mother I Sober,” the epitome of impact. Powerful lyrics with a light piano backdrop. Kendrick Lamar reminisces on past regrets in this track produced by J.LBS, Sounwave and Bekon. With the help of Beth Gibbons of Portishead, Kendrick Lamar releases his inner demons in the longest song of the album.
“Mother cried, they put hands on her, it was family ties, I heard it all, I should’ve grabbed a gun, but I was only five.”
A song that serves as an emotional roller coaster, Kendrick takes his storytelling to another level, allowing fans to relive some of his darkest moments. Within the track we bare witness to his mother’s history with assault and the impression she made have had on Kendrick’s own possible assault story.
“Family ties, they accused my cousin, “Did he touch you, Kendrick?”
Never lied, but no one believed me when I said “He didn’t.” Kendrick shares this as he allows these memories to resurface, causing an uneasiness in his voice. The serious tone really drives the plot across and adds to the overall impact that this song has. Family issues from his childhood seeped their way into his adult life where he explains what was going through his head when he admitted to his affairs outside of his relationship with his fiancée.
“Intoxicated, there’s a lustful nature that I failed to mention, insecurities that I project, sleepin’ with other women, Whitney’s hurt, the pure soul I know, I found her in the kitchen, askin’ God, “Where did I lose myself? And can it be forgiven?”
The battle with his vices almost proved to be the end of his relationship, seeing someone with such a pure heart break down in tears really affected Kendrick’s mentality on life and relationships. It becomes apparent that years of trauma have led Kendrick astray, sending his mind back to the topic of therapy. He understands his faults and hopes it doesn’t affect his children.
“All those women gave me superpowers, what I though I lacked, I pray our children don’t inherit me and feelings I attract.”
Kendrick proceeds to release secrets of who else has been dealing with trauma, specifically fellow rappers that bury their pain with material things. Ending it all with somewhat of a mantra, setting all the evil free,
“So I set free the power of Whitney, may she heal us all, so I set free our children, may good karma keep them with God.”
This ensemble of emotion in the form of rap is another reason why Kendrick is so highly regarded as a face on this generation’s Mt. Rushmore of Hip-Hop.
Each song on this album is an example of every bar meaning something. I’ve been told the importance of substance along with technique and have since been challenged to think outside the box when I put pen to paper. Although this album is sonically sound, it delves deep into a complicated mind that’s just begging to be awoken and explored.
The mind of a musician will always be filled with twists and turns that have led them to seek music as a form of therapy and coping. That therapy is what I feel like this album focuses on. Not only is this a collection of relatable songs and stories, but this is also a way for Kendrick Lamar to relive and tell his life in a healthy manner. A way for him to cope with the things he has gone through. I hinted at this concept in my own song “Therapeutic” in which I used music to heal from a failed relationship. Yet, my form of vulnerability is nothing compared to this.
“Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” has shown me what real vulnerability is and the effect that connecting with fans on a personal level has on the soul. I feel connected to Kendrick Lamar through this project and that should be the goal for all artists. Mastering this will be a goal of mine and should be for other upcoming rappers as well.
It’s hard to argue the fact that Kendrick Lamar is the most acclaimed rap artist of his generation. With a balance of critical and commercial success, Kendrick has earned his place in Hip-Hop, earning the respect of all who inspired him. From releasing GRAMMY-winning “To Pimp a Butterfly” and “DAMN” to setting the bar for storytelling in rap, Kendrick is at a level that every rapper should be looking to reach. He has always displayed his own mix of inventive wordplay and compelling conceptual narratives, examining internal conflict, flaunting success, and uplifting his community. “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” is an embodiment of all these things and has surpassed all my expectations. I expect to continue listening to this album throughout the year.
Let us see how many GRAMMY nominations these albums receive. Well done Kendrick, you’ve once again shown why you deserve your place atop the game.