The stripping of the ego, possessions, and finally the confidence to create again as Lamar states his views over each track becomes a confessional and an in-depth look into his most personal moments on a record. While “Count Me Out” is the first track on the second disc; focusing on the much slower, more introspective piece “Crown” seems like a more significant start.
“Crown” initially was one of the personal favorites from the record as it took the pacing of Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers and halted it into something that was deeply reflective and almost difficult to face. It works like a funhouse mirror that instead of displaying entertaining angles and warped portraits, displays the worst about the person.
Opening with no percussion throughout the entire mix, the production is handled beautifully by Duval Timothy and while somber, ”Crown” is quickly a stunning display. Lamar describes in his first verse, “You walk around like everything is in control, favor come with favors and you can’t say no. Go out the way to make the coin available, that’s what I call… love.”
Buried in a tonality of regret and despair, Lamar doesn’t hide in any ways on “Crown,” instead he forces himself to stand amongst the crown of thorns and subjects himself to this pulverizing and unrelenting weight.
This weight in form becomes heavier and heavier like a boulder lifted by Sisyphus, eventually illustrating a chorus, “One thing I’ve learned, love can change with the seasons. And I can’t please everybody. No, I can’t please everybody, wait, you can’t please everybody.”
“Crown” comes to a dramatic drowning of vocals that continue to overpower Lamar and crowd him by surrounding him with the chorus. As the piano plays out and the curtain is drawn upon Lamar, both “Savior – Interlude” and “Savior” take a step back into something that is easier to move to, but still provides this intellectual observation.
Baby Keem is the sole narrator on “Savior – Interlude”. Instead of delivering something that is based on creating mosh pits or massive stadium-style 808s, Baby Keem is an energetic but still provocative lyricist that transitions perfectly into one of the highlights of Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, “Savior.”
Lamar raps and writes his ass off on Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, but “Savior” and the record’s second half solidifies to be one of the best musical releases of the year. His introduction describes, “Kendrick made you think about it, but he is not your savior. Cole made you feel empowered, but he is not your savior.”
He continues on with, “Future said, ‘Get a money counter,’ but he is not your savior. ‘Bron made you give his flowers, but he is not your savior, he is not your savior, he is not your savior.”
As the production ramps up into Lamar’s verse, the stomp of 808s and warped claps that stutter and fly through the speakers appear more as a beast being tamed than any sense of form. He steps into this frame illustrating, “Mr. Morale, give me high-five. Two times center co-defendant judging my life. Back pedaler, what they say?… Fun fact, I ain’t taking shit back. Like it when they pro-black, but I’m more Kodak Black.”
Verse one has a handle on transitioning into the chorus with minimal signs of effort, describing, “Hello crackers, I seen niggas arguing about who’s blacker. Even black-out screens and called it solidarity, meditating in silence made you wanna tell on me.” As the chorus then moves in to ask, “Bitch, are you happy for me? Really, are you happy for me? Smile in my face, but are you happy for me?”
The second verse on “Savior” has a gorgeous line that illustrates “Do you want peace? Then watch us in the street. One protest for you, three-sixty-five for me.” And as the march continues on throughout Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, the therapy and recovery theme has this honest confession from Lamar that begins the third verse and moves into the final frame for the track.
“The cat is out the bag, I am not your savior. I find it just as difficult to love thy neighbors, especially when people got ambiguous favors. But they hearts not in it, see, everything’s for the paper.” The elephant in the observational room comes from acquiring some sense of intention on Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers and while Lamar is the centerfold for the record, much of the LP comes off as sacrificial.
The track “Mr. Morale” is the crucifixion of Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. Where Lamar is not only his most bombastic on the piece, but the production from Pharrell Williams is simply amazing. Everything that is overwhelming, overpowering, and militant as if Lamar was leading this charge into his own demise.
“Mr. Morale” has Lamar attacking each verse, first describing, “Enoch your father’s just detoxed, my callin’ is right on time. Transformation, I must had a thousand lives and like three thousand wives. You should know that I’m slightly off fightin’ off demons that been outside better known as myself.”
As Lamar raises his voice and becomes this behemoth, he finished by shouting, “I’m a demigod, every thought is creative, sometimes I’m afraid of my open mind.” When the audience reaches verse two, Lamar addresses his other child here and takes little time to rest between each line.
He illustrates ”Uzzi, your father’s in deep meditation, my spirit’s awakened, my brain is asleep. I got a new temperature, sharpenin’ multiple swords in the faith I believe.” And it is at this point where Lamar brings quite possibly the most important line on Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers.
Lamar rhymes, “Past life regressions to know my conditions, it’s based off experience. Karma for karma, my habits insensitive. Watchin’ my cousin struggle with addiction then watchin’ her firstborn make a million. And both of them off the grid for forgiveness, I’m sacrificin’ myself to start the healin’.”
Perfectly tying up this near hour-and-a-half saga that took five years of waiting from fans, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers cements the power in Lamar’s articulation and how he can conquer his biggest enemy: himself, through writing.