Kendrick Lamar makes memorable return with Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers

Lamar wears a crown made up of thorns while holding a child on the cover of his newest album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Promotional material curiosity of pgLang/Top Dawg Entertainment/Aftermath/Interscope Records

Lamar wears a crown made up of thorns while holding a child on the cover of his newest album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Friday, May 13, Kendrick Lamar released his fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers. The album was eclectic, with parts featuring spoken-word songs with simplistic beats while others showcased hard hitting production. 

The last time Lamar released a solo album was April 14, 2017, nearly five years ago. The album, DAMN, covered a range of topics from love and loyalty, to pride, to lust. 

Fans dissected the widely complicated meaning hiding under the album’s simplistic lines, bringing its fame. Fans speculated an album was on the way due to his Day-IN-Vegas, a hip hop music festival, and a Superbowl halftime performance. This showed to fans that Lamar was still interested in the industry and that they could expect more to come down the road.
Lamar shared what he had been spending his time with in a 2022 letter titled ‘nu thoughts‘ released on his website, oklama. He explains that during his break he consistently enjoyed, “Writing. Listening. And collecting old Beach cruisers.” These practices bore fruit, in the quiet and thoughtful parts of his new album. 

His time away has allowed Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers to vary from songs with fast-paced beats like “N95” to personal songs like “Auntie Diaries” and “Father time.” However, these songs don’t stitch together a coherent piece. The listener is left waiting for the album’s message in these early tracks. The varying emotions portrayed by the tracklist don’t bridge. Songs such as “Father Time” and “Rich Spirit”

, two completely different songs, make the album incohesive. 

“United in Grief”, the first track sets a tone for the album. The piece sounds strong from the start and the beat only picks up with time. The lyrics about therapy speak to a generation recovering from the onset of the pandemic. 

On the third track of the first disc, Lamar begins to speak about his five year break. He raps, “Writers block for two years, nothing moved me,” showing that Lamar seems to have been trying out new styles to overcome this writer’s block on his newest album. 

“Die Hard” features a dancing beat and a thoughtful ending verse,“I got some regrets, but my past won’t keep me from my best.” These lyrics and the production of the song adds hopefulness to the at times dark album. 

“Father Time” proves to be the best song on the album. The song talks about the role of Fathers, with a standout lyric, “Cause if I cried about it, he’d surely tell me not to be weak Daddy issues, hid my emotions, never expressed myself.” Lamar opens up to handling emotions from the past, and their impact on his present, breaking down the binding social norm of men being expected to suppress their feelings. These lines in the song challenge the taboo conversation of  toxic masculinity: that  “boys that they can’t express emotion openly; that they have to be; tough all the time,’” according to senior editor Maya Salam in a New York Times article.

 A feature from fellow rapper Kodak Black only provides a more generic feel to the album. However, “We Cry Together” re-captivates the audience. Starting off, the track sounds captivating, beginning with an electric guitar layered over the sample of “June” by Florence Plus the Machine. However, once the rap segment commences, the song begins to be too aggressive. The album seems to go downhill with the introduction of the second disc.

“Count me out” is a top tier song, featuring strong instrumentals and stellar verses. The next few songs, “Crown-Savoir,” don’t add much substance to the album. Their messages are weak and the execution is nothing to write home about. 

On “Auntie Diaries” Kenrick shares the stories of two transgender people in his family. He reflects on how his youth was shaped by homophobic belifes and slurs; striving not from hatred, but ignorance.

The last three tracks wrap up the 18 track album. They add a closing piece that feels needed after so much time. “Mother I Sober” is a very emotional track that features personal lyrics about Kendricks past. It is mostly speaking and not rapping. In this case, the spoken words sound more poetic and meaningful than any trap beats and rap lyrics could achieve.

Despite the downfalls in the tracklist, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers represents Lamar’s powerful return with its standout songs holding deeper meanings. The featured songs will continue to grow into the listeners’ hearts for years to come. I give this 4 out of 5 feathers.