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5 Takeaways from Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers’

Words: Dylan Murphy
Photo: Kendrick Lamar by Renell Medrano

Words: Dylan Murphy
Photo: Kendrick Lamar by Renell Medrano

Despite his near mythical status, Compton’s torch bearer is strikingly human on his new double album.

Kendrick Lamar’s Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers arrives five years after his Pulitzer Prize winning album DAMN. In between records he curated the Black Panther soundtrack, launched pgLang, performed at the Super bowl, featured on songs with Busta Rhymes, Anderson .Paak and Terrace Martin, but there was little to suggest new solo work was on the way – until he launched Oklama.com in August 2021. Since then, all updates on his album arrived via the website in a move that only intensified the forensic fascination with the rapper’s every move.

Clearly, reviews of albums (especially ones that potentially took five years to make) that come out on the day of release are always undercooked. They can’t possibly encompass the emotion, easter eggs, narratives and small details that are threaded throughout a record. However, when an artist remains near silent for close to five years, even the mundane updates are treated as monumental life updates. We really didn’t know what Kendrick has been up to for the past five years, but on Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers he provides an hour’s worth of intense self-examination.

01

He isn’t relishing the limelight

On Oklama.com Kendrick revealed that he had went “months without a phone” and across his therapy session style, new album he reveals his own struggles that have led to a self-imposed exclusion of sorts. On ‘United On Grief’ he speaks of letting the phone ring out because he’s busy and on ‘Crown’ he reveals the burden the “Crown” of being hip hop’s saviour has on him. He even goes as far to say he was so uninspired he had writer’s block for two years and on ‘Worldwide Steppers’ he gives a further insight into this reclusive life

02

‘Aunties Diaries’ is already the biggest mainstream pro-trans rap song

Hip hop lags behind its contemporaries when it comes to supporting the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, it’d be a fair assessment to say it’s actively harmful towards many minorities. Sure, acts like Kevin Abstract and Tyler, The Creator have made songs that speak openly about feelings towards other men, but it’s hard to think of any rap songs that are openly supportive of the trans community in the mainstream. Kendrick’s ‘Auntie Diaries’ speaks on the experience of two transgender people, critiquing the church’s treatment of the LGBTQ+ community and also reflects on the use of homophobic slurs in his school days. On social media listeners have critiqued his use of the F word, deadnaming and misgendering of people in the tale. At best, it’s recalling the politically incorrect language of the school yard, at its worst it’s a clumsy attempt at showing solidarity. Either way, it’s hard to think of any other household name in hip hop that has used their words to so explicitly to try support for the trans community.

03

It’s a deliberate break from Top Dawg Entertainment

In August of 2021, Kendrick revealed that his next record would be his “final TDE album” via his Oklama website, saying, “I feel joy to have been a part of such a cultural imprint after 17 years”.

Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is the first project since his debut mixtape in 2004 which features no vocals from members of Top Dawg Entertainment. While there are no explicit TDE features on To Pimp A Butterfly and Untitled Unmastered, SZA had background vocals on TPAB and Jay Rock, Lance Skiiwalker, Punch and SZA provided additional vocals on Untitled Unmastered.

04

He appears to have been working on the album up until 2022

When Kendrick was announced as a headliner for Glastonbury 2020, the rumour mill went into overdrive as Twitter users speculated that it meant the album was finished. However, lyrics about Kanye and Drake’s reconciliation on ‘Father Time’ suggest that he was still writing in 2021. Other eagle eyed fans noted that in December 2021, Kodak Black appeared to suggest he was in the studio with Kendrick and he subsequently featured on Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers.

05

Sampha is a cheat code for the world’s most anticipated albums

Drake, Solange, Alicia Keyes, Kanye West and now Kendrick. Sampha has become an essential piece of emotionally charged songs on some of the biggest records of the past decade. While he appears sparingly and hasn’t released a solo record of his own since 2017’s Process, his performance on ‘Father Time’ is a reminder that he’s trusted by the greatest living artists to complement their most emotionally vulnerable songs.