His most dense, diverse, personally introspective and rawly honest album yet. Kendrick Lamar’s newest album, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. That is also his last on his longtime label home, Top Dawg Entertainment. Is one that plays out like one big theatrical therapy session. Over two discs and 18 tracks. With his longtime partner and mother to his children, Whitney Alford. As the narrator. The album shows many sides of Kendrick. We have never seen before and how he deals with grief, infidelity, generational trauma, struggles with fame and many of the other hardships. All of us as humans go through in our lifetime.
From the very appropriately titled opening track, United in Grief to the very closing track, Mirror. Kendrick shows throughout both parts of the album. How he is a lot more human than we allow him to be or view him and as he says on part of the intro to one of the albums most standout tracks, Savior. “He is not your savior.” That so many put him, so many other rappers and entertainers on a pedestal to be. With Kendrick going to even further detail on the latter. Through three different verses. Where he touches on racial issues, COVID-19 and political correctness, and finally. His own flaws and struggles he goes through in regards to why he truly isn’t anyones, “savior.” Savior, is one of several collaborations with his cousin, Baby Keem and Sam Dew. Who you can tell along with longtime collaborators, Sounwave and J.LBS. Influenced a lot of the sound and direction that Kendrick went on the album too. With both, Sounwave and J.LBS, having one or both a part of production. On all, but four tracks.
Speaking of production. A lot of the more subtle and compassed like production. That is mostly anchored throughout the album. By the likes of Beach Noise, Tim Maxey, Duval Timothy and Jahaan Sweet. Making it easier to digest a lot of great and thought-provoking lyrics, as well as messages from Kendrick throughout the album. That also leans more towards poetry/spoken word type rap. Than actual rapping throughout a lot of the album as well. The standout and very upbeat, N95. One of the rare more upbeat tracks on the album. That sees Kendrick going all out rapping. For one of the most diverse and epic records we have heard from him so far in his already great career. Another very standout track, which is also one of the few more radio friendly records. Is the very catchy Sounwave, DJ Dahi, J.LBS, FNZ & Baby Keem co-produced jam, Die Hard. That is a very Westcoast sounding jam. That features an extremely catchy chorus from singer and songwriters, Blxst and Amanda Reifer. As Kendrick very greatly captures his former Westcoast contemporary, the late great Nipsey Hu$$le’s flow. While so honestly rapping, about his insecurities and struggles involving honesty and sharing with his partner in a relationship. Having many of the doubts many of us have about still being loved when we open up so honestly to someone else. Before accepting that he can do so by getting past previous traumas and relationships. Something that we can all relate too, but at the same time is quite ironic. Since a lot of the theme of the album. Is actually Kendrick so honestly opening up and making an album more so. For accepting himself in his current state as a human and not to satisfy critics or anyone else, but himself.
As we reach the halfway point of the first part/disc of Mr. Morale. Kendrick delivers one of his most beautiful and honest records ever, Father Time. The very piano-laden Sounwave, DJ Dahi, Duval Timothy, Bēkon and Beach House co-produced track. Finding Kendrick delving into, “daddy issues.” As he thoroughly examines the toxic masculinity that so many of us with Father’s grow up with. The opening lyrics on the second verse. Of, “I got daddy issues, that’s on me. Lookin’ for, “I love you,” rarely emphasizin’ for my relief. A child that grew accustomed, jumping up when I scraped my knee. ‘Cause if I cried about it, he’d surely tell me not to be weak. Daddy issues, hid my emotions. Never expressed myself. Men should never show feelings, being sensitive never helped.” One myself and I am sure many others really related to. Father Time, is also the second time, but first it is mainly featured. Where tap dancing is involved in the album. But what really makes the record even more beautiful and great. Is the very beautifully soulful singing from, Sampha. On the hook/chorus. That then goes into one of the many Kodak Black appearances on the album with, Rich (Interlude). A surprisingly pretty stellar spoken word piece from Black. On his numerous struggles he faced on his way to being a successful rapper. Perfectly transitioning into the very quirky, but gracefully great, Rich Spirit. The Westcoast bounce on it, perfect for Kendrick’s pockets of rapping. About trying to balance his life with the criticisms against him. As he touches on topics ranging from ideology to his mortality, loyalty and many of the religious themes. He has on his last couple of albums. Kendrick using a more melodious and singy than actual rapping side on the track too. Alongside, Sam Dew. Which whom he collaborates with several times on throughout the album.
Two of the albums most musically intriguing standout tracks. Are the final two on the first disc/part. In the Taylour Paige featured, We Cry Together. As well as the Ghostface Killah and Summer Walker-featured, Purple Hearts. With the Florence and the Machine sample of, June, at the start of the The Alchemist-produced, We Cry Together. Perfect before it goes into a more stripped-down piano and drum centered backdrop. With Emile Haynie, Bēkon and J.LBS, also contributing production to the mostly Alchemist produced backdrop. That sounds like it could have easily been on Benny the Butcher’s, Tanna Talk 3 or most any other Griselda Records release. For what is by far one of the albums most complex, personal and uncomfortably hard listens. As Kendrick and Paige, in the style of records like Eminem’s, Kim. So piercingly go back-and-forth for nearly six minutes, arguing each others side in a very ugly and toxic dispute. That sees them hurling several insults towards one another. So many of us have seen and/or heard many times. Throughout our lives between our own parents. That you try to get away from a lot of times, but end up stuck and even to a point. Sometimes actually even enjoying. The record itself, playing out like an actual movie. With how cinematic and real it feels. The transition from, We Cry Together, into the thumping drums intro of, Purple Hearts. Literally perfect and will give you goosebumps with how great it sets up. The very soul-bearing record from Kendrick, Walker and GFK, about love and spirituality. With the very lush soundscapes of drums and cinematic piano composition. The perfect setup for Ghostface Killah’s stellar guest verse. Of, “Shut the fvck up when you hear his love talkin’. To the mind, it’s God’s cypher divine in a small portion. Uh. Faded pictures, this global madness, the intervention. This world’s in, The Twilight Zone. This is the fifth dimension. God, please blow the whistle. We need an intermission. My good deeds in front of your door, I’m standing by the entrance. With heavy baggage, my brother’s ashes. I seen tragic, I did dirt. Smacked death and held it to that n****a cabbage. Love, we killin’ greed, we killin’ homelessness. And I don’t give a fvck about this land. I want ownership! Bow your head for just God’s sake. Listen what the stars say when I say it’s God’s way.” That is not only the best guest verse, but arguably one of the best verses on the album. As well as so far of the year. Also showing why Ghostface Killah’s pen is still undefeated and as great as ever. As a feature on R&B type records or just any R&B or very soul-bearing type record, period.
Going into the second half and disc two. Where Kendrick transitions from Mr. Morale to the Big Steppers. On the first track and 10th overall. He goes into several different flows over the piano-driven and stripped-down kick drums. As he continously raps about proven others wrong and those who counted him out. For the appropriately titled, Count Me Out. Kendrick and Sam Dew’s angelic vocals on the chorus/hook, the perfect counterbalance. To the several dizzying great flows and still mostly heavy subject raps from the Compton emcee. Such as, “I’m a complex soul, they layered me up. Then broke me down, and mortality’s dust. I lack in trust. And I’m tripping and falling. This time around, I trust myself. Please everybody else but myself.” As well as, “Masks on the babies, mask on an opp. Wear masks in the neighborhood stores you shop. But a mask wouldn’t hide who you are inside. Look around, the realities carved in lies. Wipe my ego, dodge my pride.” That then transitions seamlessly into the mostly stripped-down piano keys production of, Crown. Where it’s able to put a focus on Kendrick’s insights he gives us into his psyche. As he raps about contrasting feelings he has of portraying an image of a normal and satisfactory lifestyle in which he wants to be seen. But also is deeply conflicted about the crown/pedestal he is is put on by so many.
Kendrick completely changes his sound. To a more trap-infused one. That has become common in most of today’s Hip-Hop/Rap. On the Kodak Black featured, Silent Hill. That surprisingly doesn’t feel out of place in the mostly heavy-bearing album. With the mimicking falsetto in which Kendrick raps/sings, “Push these n***as off me like, ‘Huh!’ Push these b***#es off me like, ‘Huh!’ Push these n***as off me like, ‘Huh!” A nice fun and playful change of pace. As Kendrick and Black rap about their money and how they properly or didn’t properly use it. Which also lead to some of the difficulties they have had in life. The track also cleverly sampling a silencer from the very popular, Silent Hill, game franchise. That then seguing into the very standout, Savior (Interlude). Where Baby Keem over the urgent sounding horns. Just completely blacks out rapping about his problems growing up with his family. As well as his recent successful experiences since becoming a rapper and his over comings. The slow piano tempo then so perfectly seguing into the standout, Cardo, Rascal, Mario Luciano, J.LBS, Sounwave and OKLAMA co-produced, Savior.
Easily the best three track run you will probably not only hear from Kendrick, but most any album. Is the amazing mix and range deeply personal to club-ready banger back to very personal. With Auntie Diaries, Mr. Morale and Mother I Sober. The very personal, Auntie Diaries. Finding Kendrick sharing the story of two transgender people in his family and how he shares his experiences of the LBGTQ+ community with them. His own journey and choosing to reconcile his past homophobia and transphobia to back his family, over religion, Hip-Hop and most of societies normal views. They have passed on over generations. Also showing how Kendrick has taken accountability for his past actions to grow as a better human being by doing so. That then perfectly segues into the Pharrell Williams-produced banger, Mr. Morale. Which features his first collaboration with his pgLang artist, Tanna Leone. As Kendrick raps about generational trauma and exes. As well as how it effects him as a father to his children. Also referencing R. Kelly, Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry. Who were all known for their proximity to abuse. Which is a detail he really goes into on the second verse. That he name checks them all in. The very next track. The powerfully spiritual, Mother I Sober, is easily one of Kendrick’s most personal and revealing songs ever. As he so beautifully over a somber piano-laden backdrop. For nearly seven minutes, pours his heart out. With some of the most stellar storytelling you will hear. As he touches on generational trauma of family violence and sexual abuse involving his mother, cousin and himself. As well as how it lead to him becoming lust addicted rather than having a drug addiction that most other rappers and entertainers have. His cheating on his longtime partner, Whitney Alford. Kendrick feels being a result of him viewing himself in a way, like his mother’s abuser. A guilt he still carries till this day. The punctuating, yet beautiful chorus from Portishead’s Beth Gibbons, elevating the track even more too. For what is also by far the albums most heaviest stretch. Before the album so beautifully closes out with the mostly stripped-down bass, drums, keyboards and guitar production of the closing track, Mirror. That sees Kendrick facing himself in the mirror. As he raps about the pressures of fame and how despite him being viewed as a savior of Hip-Hop. That so many view him to be and he previously fully embraced. He really is not and his ongoing therapy, which he mentions and touches on a lot throughout the album. Allowing him to embrace that and focus more on himself and his own family. As he alludes to on the chorus. Where he continously repeats, “I chose me, I’m sorry. I choose me, I’m sorry. I chose me, I’m sorry.” Letting us know despite his fame, Kendrick is a human being with many flaws and responsibilities. Like us all.
The beautiful ending to, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. A beautifully perfect way to close such a beautiful album from Kendrick. As well as the type of therapy and raw emotion, he needed to get off his chest. To free himself from listeners, fans and non-fans. As well as critics expectations, all alike. An album that though not classic or anywhere near perfect, and with some flaws. Like he himself lets others know. He himself, has. Still one of the best not only Hip-Hop albums, but albums released across all of music this year. That ironically enough. Not being made for critical acclaim and an album made for, Kendrick, himself. Will likely still be another one to receive him plenty of critically good acclaims, nominations and awards.