Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers by Album Kendrick Lamar Album Review by Greg Walker for Northern Transmissions

UMG/Aftermath

9.5

Kendrick Lamar

Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers

“I’m not in the music business, I been in the human business,” Kendrick Lamar raps on the closer to the first disc of his much anticipated new release, Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers, an ambitious double CD project, and reportedly his last with Top Dawg Entertainment. It’s not that he’s not bringing in the dough: the album deals with all of the adult problems we go through, relationships, self-awareness, societal problems—and money gets its fair share of attention. “I was 28 years young, twenty mill’ in taxes / Bought a couple of mansions, just for practice.”

But the artist who dealt with the issue of police brutality with nuance and hope in the break out hit, “Alright” in 2015, which certainly fueled the fire for the nationwide movement of anti-racism in America, doesn’t shy away from the human issues that he, the black community, and humans in general deal with in life. This album, which came after a four-year hiatus and some crippling bouts of writers’ block, is two discs worth of lyrical genius and musical prowess that lives up to the hype and finds Kendrick as brave as ever, sharing the world as he see it. “My truth too complicated to hide now / Can I open up? Is it safe or not? / I’m afraid a little, you relate or not? / Have faith a little, I might take my time.”

His faith is about as human, about as real, (about as full of expletives,) as you can get in modern entertainment, and he credits God with his resurgence into the spotlight. “Shut the fuck up when you hear love talkin’ / If God be the source, then I am the plug talkin’.” And according to Kendrick, it’s time for some of us to deal with our “daddy issues” (“Father Time”), stop side-stepping relational issues (“We Cry Together,”) let go of people-pleasing (“Crown”), and deal with the harder things that have happened to us with sobriety (“Mother I Sober”). But it’s all dealt with in Kendrick’s truthfully complex and artistically brilliant way.

“Do you want peace? / Then watch us in the street / One protest for you / Three-sixty-five for me / Vladimir making nightmares / But that’s how we all think / The collective conscious / Calamities on repeat.” For Kendrick, this is just a way of life, dealing with the conflict-riddled human condition and offering a bit of compassion, perspective, and forward thinking. Songs about his aunt and cousin who were trans before widespread national awareness, the sexual abuse of his mother, his fellow rappers, the black community, his own personal battles with his ego, his insecurities, a world that only cares when it’s convenient or advantageous.

That’s nothing to speak of the music. This album, like many of his albums, (notably the jazz masterpiece To Pimp A Butterfly,) dabbles in rap form with all sorts of modern music, including classical, funk, pop, and underground. You could say that the meat is Kendrick’s thought-provoking lyrics, but here it is all meat, so to speak. It’s an hour and change of your life, that might change the trajectory of your life forever, with its moving instrumentation and its painfully honest words.

With appearances by a slew of other artists, including Florence Welch, Kodak Black, Ghostface Killer, Beth Gibbons, and the list goes on, it is a community venture and it’s meant to help the community. “Who keep ‘em honest like us? / Who in alignment like us? / Who gotta heal ‘em all? Us.” This album is a man, a community, and a nation in as perfect alignment as you can get, with so much that is wounded and broken. With issues that are being dealt with with too much simplicity, too much division, too much doubt and hopelessness. “Cause critical thinking’ is a deal-breaker / Faith in one man is a ship sinking.” Kendrick continues to be a movement, much bigger than one man.

Order Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers by Kendrick Lamar HERE