REVIEW: Kendrick’s  ‘Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers’  


Kenny Sun | Flickr

Maya Alexander

Let’s get one thing clear: Kendrick Lamar has nothing more to prove. After releasing  albums “To Pimp a Butterfly” and “DAMN.” back-to-back, he has been praised as the “greatest of all time.” Lamar has comfortably secured his spot as the greatest rapper of his generation. One would be half-pressed not to acknowledge the possibility of Lamar taking claim to a spot on the Mount Rushmore of greatest rappers of all time.

With this as the backdrop, Lamar has emerged with a new full-length album “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.” Released on May 13, 2022, “Mr Morale & the Big Steppers” was recorded over four  long years of isolation.

Coming off of the Pulitzer Prizewinning album, “DAMN,” a lot of the criticism levied at Lamar’s latest album stems from those wanting more of a statement. They want another flagship, anthemic album born out of the politics of the time. “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” isn’t that. At least not yet.

However, Lamar’s latest album might take the honor of being the rapper’s most introspective work up until this point. In a review for NPR, music critic Marcus J. Moore breaks down the tension that has appeared in Lamar’s personal life and has boiled over to becoming the only lens through which the rapper can create his art.

“As usual, there’s palpable tension between what he’s thinking and what he’s saying, and he peels off just enough of himself to reveal a more complex being,” Moore wrote in his review. “But this time, he seems less concerned with how he looks doing it — pushing boundaries harder than ever, simmering in the aftereffects of the solitude he’s practiced for so long, toeing the border between personal reflection and interpersonal reality.”

Moore hits at the core of what this album is trying to accomplish. After being lauded with awards  and propped up as the lyrical prophet of the 21st century, Kendrick reveals the past doesn’t deliver the full image of the man beyond the music.

No song on the album exemplifies this sentiment more than track 14, “Savior.” Throughout the song, Lamar is brutally open in his attack on the increasing vapidness that comes at looking toward artists like him as a rescuer.

The song opens with the lyrics, “Kendrick made you think about it, but he is not your savior/Cole made you feel empowered, but he is not your savior.” In the first verse, the rapper gets more reflective singing, “Like it when they pro-Black, but I’m more Kodak Black/ Tell me where the monеy at, ayy, where the homiеs at?/ Universal callout, I can members only that, ayy.”

Lamar’s previous projects had turned him into one of the unofficial leaders of social justice movements like the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. However, in “Savior,” Lamar grants himself permission to use his own voice to push back on that martyrdom that others have bestowed upon him due to the type of music that he had created.

Even though Lamar seems to be fighting back against the image that others have made of him, he doesn’t resort to dropping all semblances of what has made him one of the all-time greats in the game.

Taking the song “Rich Spirit” as an example, the song with its braggadocio rhyming style is a satirical critique of the excess of material things that currently encapsulates the culture. It’s fun and critical at the same time and this hits at the core of Lamar’s genius that he once again — see:

“HUMBLE.” —has made an extraordinarily catchy and listenable song that’s meant to be a critique of the same people that listen without digestion.

In some ways, “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” seems like an unfinished album. Instead, it’s a project full of heart and a new understanding of self that has manifested into a robust album serving as a bookmark to a career on the brink of realizing its full potential.