Kendrick Lamar Return Worth the Wait

by Matt Kauffman ‘23

On May 13, acclaimed rapper Kendrick Lamar released his highly anticipated fifth studio album, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. This release came five years after his last album, 2017’s DAMN, which was certified triple platinum. Lamar’s discography has already been solidified as one of the best of 21st-century hip-hop, both from fans and critics alike, as the Compton artist has racked up 14 Grammys, including best rap album for both DAMN and the jazz-infused To Pimp a Butterfly from 2015.

Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers are not DAMN, nor is it any of Lamar’s vastly successful and innovative past projects. In true Lamar fashion, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is not simply an attempt to repeat his past success, but a journey into a new style that has become the artist’s trademark throughout his career and what his fans have come to love and expect.

Lamar opens his newest project with the introspective track “United In Grief,” where he raps, “I’ve been going through something/ One-thousand eight-hundred and fifty-five days,” signifying the amount of time since he released DAMN. He acknowledges this hiatus as the result of a necessary mental process and the need to focus on himself, which Lamar elaborates on throughout the album.

Lamar must also grapple with the responsibility of being the king of hip-hop, a role that he’s claimed for himself. “Heavy is the head that chose to wear the crown/ To whom is given much is required now,” he raps on Crown. Throughout the album, thought-provoking and rhythmic lines like these are commonplace.

On the final track to the album, “Mirror,” Lamar raps about perspective and issues a sort of apologetic explanation for his five-year absence. “I choose me, I’m sorry,” he repeats during the melodic and intriguing hook. He justifies the patience of his fans by using his music to discuss the importance of personal growth, an important aspect of his album.

Also on this track, Lamar harps on the need to take care of oneself before fulfilling their commitment to others or the world at large. “Sorry I couldn’t save the world, my friend/ I was too busy buildin’ mine again,” he raps. This sense of individualism is another facet of Lamar’s mindset on this album. Instead of focusing on his troubled childhood as on “good kid”, m.A.A.d city, or on the many sides of his rise to fame prevalent in To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar is rapping about himself as a man and nothing more.
In a musical sense, the album blends R&B influences with classic rap beats and melodic instrumentals.

Lamar’s vocals often seem to lead the song through its journey, a product of his hands-on work with producers such as Pharrel Williams, The Alchemist, and longtime collaborator Sounwave. He draws listeners in, then tells them his story.

Although fans had to be patient, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers was worth the wait. It continues themes from Kendrick Lamar’s past work, such as his struggle with being considered a savior and the need to focus on himself, while also crafting what may be considered his most personal project to date.

Grade: A-