Five years to wait for greatness doesn’t seem like a lifetime, but in the case of waiting for Kendrick Lamar’s newest record, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, a lifetime of waiting would still be worth it.
As one of the strongest voices in music through the generation, Lamar has been on radars for well over 10 plus years now, breaking into mainstream success with good kid, m.A.A.d city, and gained national attention with both To Pimp A Butterfly and DAMN. Now 10 years since good kid, m.A.A.d city, and what feels as if decades between modern events, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers takes an introspective grasp into writing and production from Lamar.
Truly one of their most expressive and impressive records, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers has hidden gems throughout the LP where both lyricism and exemplary instrumentation shines as a new high for Lamar.
“United In Grief” is simple in approach, but after initial handshakes, Lamar paints layers on top of a canvas to illustrate this rapid-fire machine gun of constrictive nature on sound. Sam Dew is actually the first vocals on Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers who describes, “I hope you find some peace of mind in this lifetime. I hope you find some paradise.” As Whitney Alford interrupts Dew and describes, “Tell them, tell ‘em, tell them the truth… tell ‘em, tell ‘em, tell ‘em, tell ‘em you’re –” as her dialogue is abruptly cut.
When Lamar finally enters the frame, he illustrates in this somber, nearly disconnected tone, “I’ve been going through something, one-thousand-eight-hundred-and-fifty-five days. I’ve been going through something, be afraid.”
The production then changes from the subtle and soft vocalization with layered backing into this breakneck dip and sprint of percussion where tinted windows roll down and reveal a firing squad at Lamar’s command. Instead of Valentine’s Day Massacre, the audience is instead riddled with a lyrical barrage.
Lamar explains, “The new Mercedes with black G-Wagon, the “Where you from?” it was all for rap. I was 28 years young, 20 mill’ in tax. Bought a couple of mansions, just for practice, five hundred in jewelry, chain was magic.” The real centerpiece of the verse comes in the refrain that continues to etch into the speakers, “I grieve different, I grieve different.”
A struggle of man vs. self and man vs. nature proceeds to rear its face on Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, transferring onto the track “Worldwide Steppers” where Lamar is flowing over a simple, but ultimately engaging piece produced by TaeBeast, J. LBS, and Sounwave.
A singular bassline bumps along like a jazz house nightclub as whispers and samples of “What the fuck” from Radel Ortiz play over Lamar’s lines. In the first verse, Lamar explains this inner struggle of paranoia and dissociative pain between writer’s block, the horrors of what lurks outside the glass at home, and the anxiety of stares in public.
This inner struggle becomes external when Lamar aims closer toward the media and inner workings of the music business. He illustrates, “Hollywood corporate in school, teaching philosophies, you either gon’ be dead or in jail, killer psychology. silent murderer, what’s your body count? Who your sponsorship? Objectified so many bitches, I killed their confidence, the media’s new religion, you killed the consciousness.”
Moving into just about the midpoint of disc one on Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, “Father Time” becomes a lift of spirit instrumentally even when the subject matter is straight in the gutter.
Aggressive, hard-headed, and impossible to reason with, “Father Time” is a beautiful two-part revelation with Sampha on the feature. To see Lamar illustrate these characteristics that explain, “…I got daddy issues, that’s on me. Everything them four walls had taught me, made habits bury deep.” As the piano roll cuts in and the immaculately gentle percussion knocks along, Lamar can continue on.
He explains, “that man knew a lot, but not enough to keep me past them streets. My life is a plot, twisted from directions that I can’t see.” This helplessness turns to the realization of knowing to be a fractured narrator and using verse two as a revival of self.
In a heartbreaking discovery, Lamar returns after a brief intermission from Sampha and is able to be compassionate and show growth between verses. He illustrates, ”I got daddy issues, that’s on me. Lookin’ for ‘I love you,’ rarely empathizin’ for my relief. A child that grew accustomed, jumping up when I scraped my knee. Cause if I cried about it, he’d surely tell me not to be weak.”
Following in verse two, Lamar admits his faults and comes to a compromise within the verse. He describes, “…guess I’m not mature as I think, got some healin’ to do. Egotistic, zero-given fucks and to be specific, need assistance with the way I was brought up.” He advances on to describe, “What’s the difference when your heart is made of stone, and your mind is made of gold, and your tongue is made of sword, but it may weaken your soul?”
The struggle to find a positive force of nurtured love on Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers is a continuous reoccurring theme. And while Disc One is an emotional standout for performance from Lamar, Disc Two is a graceful demise that wraps the spirit in white cloth and is anointed in precious scents, showing a baptism by fire and necessity.