Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, Album Review (Track By Track)

A detailed track by track analysis of K Dots' latest introspective and unapologetic LP.

After five years of aloofness and seemingly much needed respite from the limelight of his career, Kendrick Lamar finally returns to the spotlight with the highly anticipated release of his fifth studio album: Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers, which dropped on May 13th. Devoting 1,855 days to sincere growth and self-reconciliation, Lamar uses his latest project as his personal canvas to illuminate the critical meditations of his mind over the course of his hiatus.

Evidently “over” bolstering his commercial success or feeding the hectic machine that is the music industry, K.Dot reestablishes his sheer love for the craft and emanates that his priority, is and always will be artistic merit. Existing somewhere between sublime and prophetic, “Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers” manifest as yet another gem among Lamar’s crowned discography.

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Kicking off the record with the opening track: “United In Grief,” Lamar delineates that his time away hasn’t been all peaches and cream. Retracting from the dizzying glow and oftentimes, distorting perception of his celebrity, he has been able to make some earnest revelations about society and what actually matters in the world. From the very onset of the track, OKLAMA does what we’ve always known him to do: interrogate and question the meaning of everything.

“What is a bitch in a mini-skirt?
A man in his feelings with bitter nerve.”

“What is a woman that really hurt?
A demon, you’re better off killing her.”

While one might expect him to find overwhelming delight and fulfillment in the perks that his newfound wealth provide, Lamar shows that he is afflicted and deeply disturbed by ostentation and lavish displays of material adornment.

“I bought a Rolex watch, I only wore it once.
I bought infinity pools, I never swimmed in.”

Aside from merely expounding on the various pitfalls that accompany his level of fame and fortune, Lamar examines many facets of his over 19+ year career – some of which include his real estate investments, his earlier tour affairs with white women, and coping with mental health issues.

From a sonic POV, Lamar’s rapid, quick tap flow over a swift, free flowing, drum driven beat gives the track a sense of urgency immediately, lending to the impression that every bar harbors meaning beyond the surface level.

On the second track: N95, Lamar switches gears as he vacillates from a deeply introspective vibe to delivering a more evident “commercial” banger. With a swift flow backed by triumphant instrumentation, Lamar implores his audience to rid themselves off everything fraudulent and/or nihilistic. By using the N95 mask as an analogy, which has been the flagship CDC mask, Lamar calls out all the BS he has been forced to bear witness to during this dismal time in history.

“Take off the foo foo”
“Take off the clout chase”
“Take off the WiFi”
“Take off the Money Phone”

Reverting back to a more solemn note, Oklama explores the concept of fatherhood on “Father Time” (ft. Sampha). In an effort to dissect the long standing sense of toxic masculinity that trickles down from generation to generation within the Black community, Lamar illustrates how the nucleus of many problems within the household stem from, the oftentimes malignant impact of fathers who are present or the lack thereof.

“Daddy issues, hid my emotions, never expressed myself”
“Men should never show feelings, being sensitive never helped”

In what some might consider one of the more ballsy and astounding instances on the record, Lamar teams up with ever-so polemical, Florida hip-hop artist Kodak Black on a myriad of tracks: Rich (Interlude) and Silent Hill. Upon delving into the former, Black delivers an impressively searing, spoken word recitation on the ongoing conditions of growing up impoverished and making it out against all odds. On the latter, Black and Lamar groove out over a contemporary “boom bap” style beat produced by flagship collaborator Sounwave, Boi-1da, and others.

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On “Auntie Diaries,” which since has rendered grand ridicule and critique for K.Dot’s alleged insensitivity,” Lamar attempts to reconcile the childhood ignorance he embraced growing up regarding his personal perception of the LGBTQ+ community. By virtue of self-examining the intricate, yet love infused relationship with his aunt and cousin, who both identify as transgender, Lamar seeks to forgive himself for the flagrant hauntings of his former ignorance and biases.

“My auntie is a man now”
“I think I’m old enough to understand now”

Growing up in a traditional, Christian household, Lamar once found he was torn between the love and affection he possessed for his family members and the ironclad normality of the “almighty binary” gender roles that are oftentimes preached in church. By virtue of this record, Lamar underscores the constant dissonance between “the heart and mind” that he has grown accustomed to throughout his life.

Through a well-intentioned attempt to mend the transgressions of his former mind, Lamar yearns for forgiveness and a better, more well-informed sense of understanding. As far as effectiveness is concerned, while he does try, there is always going to be room for improvement in an evolving landscape of identity.

 

Kendrick Lamar Shot By Renell Medrano

 

On the double track tandem of Savior (Interlude) and Savior, Oklama dismantles the idea that public figures are these omniscient, God-like figures who have the power to save the world. His message is very much as clear as day: He is merely another human being who exists in a finite capacity. Contrary to what many like to believe about celebrity allure, Lamar delineates that they shouldn’t be overtly praised for what they do. Aside from their respective talents, there is nothing that distinguishes them from the common folx.

“The cat is out the bag, I am not your savior”
“I find it just as difficult to love thy neighbors”

While unveiling his humanity is the message above water, there is a far deeper level of commentary about society that is being articulated on this track: as a society, we’re broken. Our priorities aren’t intact and we seek consolation and refuge in the wrong things.

Ironically, Lamar positions himself as a self-proclaimed prophet, using his influence to pinpoint numerous hypocrisies and societal deficiencies over atmospheric, ethereal instrumentation. Some of the matters addressed include copycat culture, recent ambivalence over getting the COVID vaccine, capitalistic driven fraudulence, and political corruption.

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With “Crown,” Lamar subverts expectations completely. Backed by a slow tempo, serene piano sequence adjacent to the folk genre, K. Dot delves into his current personal frame of thought. No matter how many accolades he amasses or how much money he makes, he recognizes the inevitable reality that he’ll never be able to satiate the needs and desires of everyone around him.

“I can’t please everybody”
“I can’t please everybody”

In coming to terms with his humanity, Lamar fully accepts the limitations of his existence. However on that note, he does acknowledge his effort but understands the fragility of others around him. At the end of the day, he knows that there is but so much he can do to appease people and he’s ok with that.

Channeling more of a soothing, lush vibe, Lamar collaborates with R&B starlet Summer Walker and Hip-Hop legend Ghostface Killah on “Purple Hearts.” In response to the extreme turmoil on “We Cry Together,” which is the very previous track on the first disc of the project, this track attempts to reconcile and heal from the heated antipathy and chaos that ensues on the aforementioned track.

Alluding to “The Purple Heart,” a military decoration awarded by the US Armed Forces to those who are wounded, injured or killed in battle, Lamar illuminates the natural adversity that comes with the territory of relationships. He recognizes that there are levels to true intimacy and for progress to be made, things have to get a little rocky and uncomfortable at times.

“They gon’ judge your life for a couple likes on the double tap”
“Them hoes is sorry, they all get bodied”

Continuing his trend of recognizing BS, he calls out Instagram and social media as a whole for being a vapid and highly superficial arena in society. Lamar seems to detest the surface-level nature of it and insinuates it being one of the main reasons why he has decided to retreat from the limelight.

Albeit this record is shrouded in sophistication and considerable nuance, which at times may feel dizzying to digest, Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers is a masterful menagerie of vulnerable, poignant tracks. Lamar pushes the boundaries of his artistry once again and comes out on top once again with tact and professionalism.

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