Kendrick Lamar

Well hasn’t this been one of the most divisive and polarising albums of the year! Long awaited, highly anticipated and now heavily debated, Kendrick Lamar dropped his latest album ‘Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers’ last week and there has been no shortage of discussion online and in barbershops and street corners around the globe.

As his first album in FIVE years, it’s safe to say the wait was long enough, but in true Kendrick style, he never rushes a project and doesn’t make music for the sake of it (or for the sales and streams). ‘Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers’ is yet another instalment in that ilk, with the 18 track ‘double album’ a very hearty and heavy listen, filled with intense emotions, social commentary and personal stories of trials and tribulations. Oklama has created something very special, very well-crafted and certainly very prophetic and personal.

This review isn’t going to enter into the debate around if it’s hot, if it’s wack, if it’s underwhelming, if it establishes Kendrick as a G.O.A.T etc. Instead we focus of the music, the art, the craft and discuss just what this album is (to me) and what we get from listening to it nearly a dozen times over the past 5 or so days. This is an honest review, a balanced perspective that hopes to generate some discussion and / or appreciation for HOWEVER this album made you feel. I mean, this is hip hop right? The culture, the creativity, the celebration of styles and art etc…..

Kendrick doesn’t do ‘concept’ albums as such, not in the way that Prince Paul did ‘A Prince Among Thieves’ or Sticky Fingaz did ‘The Autobiography of Kirk Jones’ etc. However, K Dot certainly makes each release relevant by exploring themes and topics in a cohesive manner. For instance, ‘Section 80’ had a strong racial focus, while ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ was a rebellious ode to the Black community. ‘Good Kid Maad City’ explored Lamar’s childhood and upbringing while ‘DAMN’ took on the Kung Fu Kenny persona and dove into the internal / external dichotomy of the Compton emcee.

Mr Morale & the Big Steppers’ is somewhat of a continuation and coming-together of his previous releases. There is still the exploration of society and racism, there is still the insightful lyrical intellect depicting his childhood and extended upon that theme with the notion of current trauma as a by-product of that childhood, and there is still that focus on the black community as well as his own internal struggles and demons. We just need to look closely at the artwork on the cover of the album to understand all of these elements are represented right here in front of us – the Messiah-like crown of thorns, the young children and mother, the gun in the waist.. The tracklisting also provides us with the continuation of these themes with ‘Savior’, ‘Crown’, ‘Rich Spirit’ and ‘Aunt Diaries’, ‘Mirror’, ‘Mother I Sober’ etc. This isn’t just an album, this is a complex piece of art in every detail.

Kendrick Lamar is a gifted artist. Overcoming two years of writers block was no doubt tough, but the end result is pretty special. Being able to experience this album and to be transported into the mind of Oklama – sometimes frighteningly and awkwardly so – makes for a memorable listen. There is such a real quality in his approach to music, to the art of creating a listening experience, that makes Kendrick a very special talent. It also means that while he continues to make the music he wants, in the manner he wants, that it certainly won’t appeal to everyone all the time – and I personally can say this has been the case for me.

Double digit listens and I am still not sure how to feel about this album. There is no doubting its quality, its importance and its impact, but it’s also not an album I am going to sit with every day, nor one that will be a release that I revisit regularly and not always in its entirety. So how DO we review an album that is no doubt incredible BUT also won’t stay in constant rotation when so many other releases from SO MANY talented artists are still getting mad play in the headphones. I look at it like this – there is a huge appreciation for fine art, but it’s not something that you have printed on your t-shirts or that will infiltrate pop culture or your life on a daily basis. I respect the pieces, even if I don’t rep the pieces if that makes sense.

Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers’ disappointed at first, in that the beat choices weren’t what I wanted, there weren’t as many anthems or bangers that I could easily turn to, pop on repeat or play SUPER loud to get me going. The complexity of the album also made it difficult for a consumer of music (a MASS consumer to be fair!) to really dedicate the time to, when I love repping and promoting as much music as I can. There weren’t too many ‘wow’ moments outside of Ghostface Killah’s verse on ‘Purple Hearts’ and the surprisingly solid feature from Kodak Black on ‘Silent Hill’ or the upbeat ‘N95’. I haven’t had this feeling since Royce dropped ‘The Allegory’ which was a really top tier album, but not as entertaining for me as ‘Book of Ryan’.

To summise, this is a great album. The quality of content is second to none and Kendrick Lamar is clearing one of the best artists on the planet. He takes his time to curate and craft a masterful work that should receive its plaudits and praise as they are well warranted. He also makes music that HE wants to make and there is always a huge level of respect for that, not selling his talents short for streams or sales. While ‘Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers’ isn’t easily accessible for the most part, and won’t be given as much airtime in the headphones or ride as some of the other dope releases from 2022, it is most definitely a special and unique opus for which Oklama should be applauded.

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About The Author

By Brutus Maximus

Founder of Raw Side Hip Hop. Been rocking with the hip hop culture for over 30 years. Love the creativity, authenticity of the art and the culture as a whole. Shout out to the real ones making and supporting true hip hip and the artists who make it!