Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers


Benjie Thimangu, Radical Reviewer

It is difficult to find an album that has been more highly anticipated than Kendrick Lamar’s fifth studio album, “Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers”. The Compton rapper has gained noteriety over his career for his powerful storytelling and messages in hit projects such as “To Pimp a Butterfly” and “Good Kid m.A.A.d City”. Both his dramatization and unique vocals and production have made Lamar a widely respected musician throughout music.

Early critiques of the album prompted many to claim that “Mr. Morale” had no hits, or that the album isn’t enjoyable as its themes overshadowed the music itself. However, like many of his other projects, “Mr. Morale” needs a few listens to truly reflect on what makes it a good album.

From early on, Lamar lets listeners know that the album is a personal reflection. In the opening track, “United in Grief”, Lamar opens by saying “I’ve been going through something /1,558 days, be afraid”. Rapid vocals accompanied by a mix of slow and fast drum beats and piano notes give the song a sound that is both unequivocally Lamar and unique. He speaks about how he struggles with coping through expensive purchases and showing off, and goes to therapy to help deal with his internal issues.

Throughout the album, both vocals and production are jabbing and almost jerky, jumping from one thought to the next, and from one beat to the next nearly as quickly. It feels like a painting of short brushstrokes, both smooth and jumpy simultaneously. This is apparent on “Silent Hill”, which features Florida rapper Kodak Black. The juxtaposition between the vocals of both of the iconic artists. While Kendrick talks about pushing away fake friends and people in his life that he doesn’t need, Kodak raps about hustling and murder.

“Silent Hill” does a great job of reflecting the meaning of the album as a whole. While “To Pimp a Butterfly” talks about the conditions that black people in Compton face as a result of oppression, “Mr. Morale” delves into how individuals in those conditions cope with the trauma that they face. In the case of Lamar, it is with self reflection and through his music, while in the case of Kodak it is often through crime.

Lamar’s previous album, “DAMN.”, topped the charts with 353,000 first week sales in April 2017. It has been five years since he released a single, album, or mixtape, with the exception of features and work with Baby Keem on “The Melodic Blue”. This five year stretch out of the spotlight has given Lamar time to reflect inward on himself in ways that he hasn’t on his previous projects making this album one of his best.

The videos that accompany the album tell a story of their own. The album was teased with the release of the single “The Heart pt. 5”, and a video where he used deep-fake technology to transform into other icons such as Kanye, Kobe Bryant, and even OJ Simpson, among others. The music video gained over 10 million views in just 24 hour on YouTube, propelling it to the top of the “trending” list. The funky beat and complex lyrics proved that Kendrick’s hiatus had little effect on the proficiency that he demonstrated within “DAMN.”.

Through both production and lyrical content, Lamar has done it again. While I still prefer “Good Kid m.A.A.d City”, “Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers” is a fantastic album and has not disappointed. Every time I relisten, I hear something new or make a different connection within the complex lyrics that Lamar is truly known for.