King Kendrick is back

Compton native releases highly anticipated album


Photo courtesy of Kendrick Lamar

Rapper Kendrick Lamar releases “Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers” after a five year hiatus

After a five year hiatus, rapper Kendrick Lamar released his fifth studio album: “Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers.”

His previous project, “DAMN.” (2017), was his biggest release yet selling 603,000 units in the first week. During his five year break, Lamar still released music every now and then. He was a big contributor on the “Black Panther” soundtrack in 2018 and collaborated with many popular artists on their songs like Lil Wayne’s “Mona Lisa” and Baby Keem’s “Family Ties.” 

He teased this new project for the first time in August of 2021 in a letter detailing his mindset going into the album. He explained how he had been isolating himself for a while with no social media contact to the outside world . And, he dropped the fifth installment in his “The Heart” series just a few days before the album was released. 

The album, which is actually two albums in one, with Mr. Morale being disc one and The Big Steppers being disc two, builds upon a lot of Lamar’s subject matter from his previous albums. This time around he added a more personal point of view and added commentary on what his fame and high standards have done to him and his mental health. This album is him breaking free from those pressures and coming to terms with his flaws as an artist and as a human. 

He begins the album with “United In Grief,” where he clearly states where his head is at and introduces listeners to what the concept of the album is. An almost angelic voice says “I hope you find some peace of mind in this lifetime,” and voices in the background say “tell them, tell them the truth” before Lamar comes in with “I’ve been going through something.” 

Lamar raps as if he were in a therapy session, reminiscing on his past and how it has affected his present. On songs like “Die Hard” and “Father Time” he explores the challenges of newfound fatherhood and marriage. In “Die Hard” he speaks to his partner where he acknowledges his past mistakes and is asking for forgiveness. In “Father Time” he talks about his relationship with his father and what he was taught as a child: not expressing his emotions, being told to man up and pick himself up when he’s down. He uses this song as a message to all men with dysfunctional relationships with their fathers or no fathers at all to power through it with the lines, “and to my partners that figured it out without a father I salute you, may your blessings be neutral to your toddlers.”

Even with songs like those that had a strong subject matter and are very personal, they are nowhere near the most emotionally charged on the album. Those would be “We Cry Together,” “Auntie Diaries” and “Mother I Sober.” Three polar opposite tracks in both tone and subject matter, but man, they make you feel something. In “We Cry Together,” the whole song is a couple in a very heated screaming match that ties into what he spoke about in “Die Hard.” Although it’s not your traditional song and you wouldn’t think it’s something you’d want to listen to, it flows really well and the lines actually rhyme. And at the end, the argument changes into a more loving environment because that’s “what the real world sounds like.”

“Auntie Diaries” speaks in the point of view of his younger self when he begins to finally understand and accept his transgender uncle. He admits and corrects his previous prejudices he held towards the community and accepts him for who he is. He realized that even though this was a big change in his life and everyone else in his family seemed to reject it, he still saw him for who he was and that he was still the same person he looked up to and loved. The song isn’t without its controversy with Lamar using inappropriate slurs to get his point across which some have deemed unnecessary.

The most emotionally charged song by far is “Mother I Sober;” Lamar’s somber and sincere delivery and a lack of complex instrumentation makes you focus on what he’s saying instead of paying attention to everything else. He confronts his trauma head on starting from his childhood with his mother’s experience with sexual assault and her realization that her son may one day experience it, too. He later admits that it wasn’t sexual assualt he ended up being a victim of but rather a battle with sex addiction and bouts of infidelity towards his partner that he feels guilty about. He broadens his thought by calling these experiences of a sex driven culture specific to the Black community calling it a “generational curse” that he finally breaks free from at the end of the song. 

This album has so much depth that every song’s meaning could be its own article. In terms of social commentary not covered in the previous songs, “Savior” talks about how public figures are humans and shouldn’t be held to a higher standard than others because of what they do. In “N95” where he wants people to take off their metaphorical masks with lines like “take off the flex and the white lies,” “take off the fabricated streams and then microwave memes, it’s a real world outside.” In “Crown” he very simply says “I can’t please everybody.” 

Yes it’s deep, but how does it sound? Can I simply enjoy the music without analyzing every word to find the meaning? Yes, mostly. Since its release I’ve listened to this album countless times, and it’s growing on me sonically more and more, but there are some spots that I don’t love. While the dullness of “Crown” may be intentional because of its message, that’s not really an excuse to make a bad song. When I saw that hip hop legend Ghostface Killah was featured on “Purple Hearts” I was so excited to see what he would bring but was disappointed with his lackluster performance. “Worldwide Steppers” is probably the weakest on the album sound wise.

But the highs of this album definitely outweigh its lows. “Savior,” “Count On Me” and “Mother I Sober” would probably make it onto my top 30 Lamar songs. The first two have such heavy and layered instrumentals with expert deliveries from Lamar and Keem. Most of the songs stand out in one way or another and are so appealing to listen to. 

With everything taken into account, this album was a great experience. Was it worth the five year wait? I think so, because if Lamar hadn’t had the time to come to these realizations on his own in his isolation this album would have been a meaningless combination of songs filled with radio hits, and that is not what I listen to him for.