At this point, Kendrick Lamar seems to be a superhero – not just a rapper – who has the ability to create an album that fits the cultural mood and is relevant literally to anyone who listens to it. Each album he’s released has had its own theme and all have had immensely different sounds. That’s what makes him such a talented artist – he can appeal to different crowds and all music lovers with his work. His latest, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, is no exception.
Kendrick Lamar’s fifth album is first and foremost a cathartic, soul-baring autobiography, a collection of songs on which his observational skills go into overdrive. It’s an album that flits between anger, introspection, resentment and activism. With so much depth, it’s clear that this album is going to be a speed bump, if not a brick wall, for anyone looking for ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city part 2.’ It’s also a jarring change in sound, one that will divide some fans, but it’s well worth the perseverance.
Throughout the sprawling 18 track album, there are plenty of surprises in store, especially in the themes Kendrick chooses to tackle, which range from toxic masculinity / femininity / relationships (“We Cry Together”) and absentee fathers (“Father Time”), to gender identity (“Auntie Diaries”), molestation (“Mother I Sober”, featuring Beth Gibbons of Portishead) and self affirmation (“Mirror”).
Although Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is at times one of the most somber rap albums in years and definitely not for the faint of heart, it also has some fun along the way. “N95” finds Kendrick Lamar showcasing his signature blistering flow over booming 808s and synths, while the Kodak Black-supported “Silent Hill” features two of rap’s best trading bars over a hypnotic track. Ghostface Killah also pops up for an incredible guest verse on “Purple Hearts.”
In the end, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is not just a triumph but an invitation—an opening for future artists to be more than just one-dimensional. Kendrick creates an album that will be canonized in the future, something that aspiring rappers can look to and draw inspiration from for years to come. By touching on themes that are normally taboo in the rap world, Kendrick has pushed the boundaries of hip-hop and given us one of the most honest, soul-baring albums of this generation.