For the first time in five years, there is a new Kendrick Lamar album to listen to.
Lamar’s album releases are nothing short of a major cultural event; his last album, 2017’s “DAMN,” won the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Music.
In the music world, while successful artists flood the market with projects, hoping to soak up streams, the true leader of the rap world has bided his time, waiting to impress when his moment to shine arrives.
He has done just that with his new record, “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers.” Lamar keeps his focus on conscious rap, while working with some of the most talented musicians in the business to put together thought-provoking and catchy music.
In his latest album, Lamar has refined his approach. He is back to using the original producers from his legendary 2012 major label debut, “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City.” And they haven’t missed a beat.
Focusing on that classic G-Funk sound while kicking meaningful rhymes about self care, love and growing up, Lamar delivers an album that is equal parts endearing and captivating.
The album has many highlights. “Purple Hearts” is an excellent duet with pop idol Summer Walker. The track closes out with a riveting verse from the one and only Ghostface Killah. The three artists are at different places in their lives and careers, and their perspectives on love provide a more complete picture.
Equally impactful is “Die Hard,” a song about change, and embracing one’s imperfections. Featuring a well-crafted and infectious two-part hook, the song seeks to find acceptance in love. Lamar turns to his frequent collaborators DJ Dahi and Sounwave for production.
In the first part of the refrain, Los Angeles-based rapper Blxst gives a candid and honest interpretation of his own issues, when he rhymes, “I hope I’m not too late to set my demons straight.” Additionally, Barbadian singer Amanda Reifer slides in for the second part of the chorus with an interpolation of the Digital Underground song, “Kiss You Back,” that is both catchy and melodic.
It’s not all mellow songs though. One song that stands on the more aggressive side is “Silent Hill” featuring Kodak Black. In 2015, when Lamar moved away from gangsta rap and toward a more socially conscious form of music in his second album To Pimp A Butterfly, many original fans were turned off by the lack of hard rap songs on the album.
With his third album, the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Damn,” Lamar turned again towards the mainstream and dropped radio hits like “DNA” and “Humble.” Many likely didn’t expect to see the hardcore rap version of Kendrick on this album, but “Silent Hill” shows us otherwise. Over a bopping bass-infested beat by Drake collaborator Boi-1da, Lamar trades bars with one of the game’s most respected players when it comes to street music in Kodak Black. If you’re trying to find the “banger” on Lamar’s new album, look no further.
Another interesting cut is “Auntie Diaries.” This track finds Lamar spitting four verses about his transgender uncle and cousin. While Lamar speaks about the ways our hearts ultimately lead us, he reminds us that there isn’t much we can control when it comes to our true identities, especially when he says “Heart plays in ways the mind can’t figure out.”
Perhaps the most interesting dynamic on the album exists in “We Cry Together,” a duet. This is a skit-like song which features Taylour Paige, who played the eponymous role in “Zola.” The two go back and forth in what appears to be a lover’s quarrel. By the end of the song, the scope zooms out to discuss the slights we inflict on each other as men and women, respectively.
In what is perhaps the most sonically pleasing song on the album, in terms of chord progressions, Lamar unites with English singer and musician Sampha to deliver “Father Time.” It is primarily a song about “daddy issues” and how hard it can be to grow up with a father who can’t or won’t show you the love you believe you deserve.
In addition, he covers the other side of that twisted coin by reminding us that fathers often want to show us more love, but simply don’t believe they can because of the circumstances of their own hangups, namely their own “daddy issues.” And the cycle continues.
This definitely won’t be Lamar’s most popular album. His catalog is chock full of unbelievably successful works. However, “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” is perhaps his most nuanced and polished work. The ideas are clear, relatable, and well-executed.
We waited five years for a new Kendrick Lamar album and I, for one, am certainly not disappointed. There is lots to love about this new Kendrick, and I look forward to seeing him continue to grow and create music that feels real to him.