This project is a gritty but beautiful therapy session. It delves into the most vulnerable and raw recesses of Lamar’s life as he attempts to find resolution from his inner demons.
Truly impactful albums aren’t always easy to listen to. Oftentimes they represent issues in society that are neglected and even avoided. They do this by conveying true human experience in musical form, giving listeners a unique bridge to the artist’s intended message. Take Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On or Nas’ Illmatic, for example. It’s something that isn’t seen too often in music, yet Lamar does it with consistency.
Lamar has proven himself as not just one of the best rappers of our generation, but one of the most influential artists. From Grammy wins to the Pulitzer Prize, Lamar has a hall-of-fame-worthy music career already and not many knew what to expect with this project. Compounded with the fact that it’s been five years since his last release, fans were starving for new music.
What he delivered was something that didn’t cater to fans’ expectations, but seemed like it was more for Lamar himself: a therapy session of sorts. Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers is Lamar’s fifth studio album and is 18 songs of gritty but beautiful human experience.
It’s an album that takes the listener from grinding their teeth to being on the verge of tears, to simply appreciating Lamar’s mastery of his craft.
Lamar does a great job at cultivating a sound that is uniquely his own, and the production across the entire project is amazing. Every song sounds really clean and you can hear the time and effort put into it.
The album is split into two discs: the first nine songs and the last nine songs. The first disc functions as the beginning of the metaphorical therapy session. Essentially, it centres around Lamar venting his troubles (directly and indirectly), how they’ve led to deeper issues, and the vices he uses to cope.
For example, “Father Time” is about how his father taught him never to show weakness and how that fostered toxic masculinity in him. “Worldwide Steppers” is about how he saw having sex with white women as a form of reparations and how it has affected him as a father.
“We Cry Together” is definitely a standout. It’s a masterful recreation of a couple, Lamar and Taylour Paige, arguing. Unrelenting onslaughts of insults are exchanged until the couple’s lust for each other takes over. It’s a great representation of the unhealthy relationships people stay in due to a false sense of loyalty, and at the cost of their personal well-being.
Paige’s performance is nothing short of remarkable and is representative of how Lamar brings out the best in the artists who feature on his projects. Sampha’s chorus on “Father Time” and Ghostface Killah’s verse on the backend of “Purple Hearts” also make perfect contrasts to Lamar that serve to advance the project as a whole.
Overall, the first disc leaves the listener a bit down as Lamar has introduced these issues he has without any real resolution. This brings us to disc two: the back half that makes the album great.
The last nine songs centre around Lamar’s recognition that resolution to his issues can only be reached through looking in the mirror; it’s the resolution reached through the therapy undergone in the first disc. He talks about how the self can be the biggest detriment to many of us and how recognizing this is essential to achieving any sort of lasting fulfillment in life.
The chorus of the final track is Lamar repeating “I choose me, I’m sorry”. It’s Lamar acknowledging that he is tired of wearing the metaphorical “Crown” placed on his head and being a sort of “Savior”. In choosing himself, he is choosing personal fulfillment over the expectations of the world around him.
Whether it’s his ‘daddy issues’, his saviour complex, or his infidelity to his fiancé, Lamar determines that choosing himself and his family over embracing the saviour complex is necessary in order to find happiness.
This is done by ensuring the mirror to himself is clear of distractions, being willing to look into that mirror instead of victimizing himself, and recognizing that inevitably he is the biggest threat to his own personal fulfillment.
Content aside, this album is full of amazing production and intriguing features, and it really demonstrates Lamar’s growth as an artist. It’s a phenomenal album.
Kendrick Lamar is the type of artist that will be remembered as a pioneer of his genre and his music is something that everybody should listen to at least once.