Kendrick Lamar: Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers review – into a state of grace | Kendrick Lamar


A recurring pattern anchors the rapper Kendrick LamarThe long-awaited fifth album from – an album full of meaning. The sound of tap dancing anchors this troubled and sometimes unsettling double album, delayed by writer’s block and the pandemic. He is one who struggles with the trauma of the black experience as refracted through the life of Lamar and his extended family: his partner and two children (who adorn the cover), his mother, his uncles, his aunts and his cousins.

The jerky rhythms of the tap interludes are also bigger. This electrifying, uneasy record stops, starts, and spins, often within the confines of a track. The beats are restless; a few comforting grooves are allowed to build for a very long time. First single N95 looks like a conventional hip-hop banger, but dives headlong into a hornet’s nest of touchy subjects: mask-wearing, hypocrisy and “designer bullshit.” Designed as a side one and a side two, Mr. Morale & large steppers exudes musical and lyrical bravery; it makes way for intimate, orchestral tender points such as Crown – a title that encompasses the Nazarene crown of thorns that Lamar wears on the album cover, Bob Marley’s knitted crown with dreadlocks, and the kind of crown that makes the “heavy” wearer’s head. ”. On the opposite end of the spectrum is a silent summer jam, purple heartswhich tackles the hard work of love in the company of a feature film by Ghostface Killah.

Although there are touches of humor – Lamar’s new nickname seems to be Alright Llama – no tune here could be accused of being superficial or immemorial. aunt diaries brings the experience of Lamar’s trans family members to the forefront, a track whose factual character (“Demetrius is Mary-Ann now”) is offset by its insensitive use of the dead name of Caitlyn Jenner and the repeated chanting of a hate speech playground taunt. Lamar clarifies at the end, “We can say it together, but only if you let a white girl say n****.”

Tap dancing, of course, has long had its place in light entertainment, but as Lamar clarifies on Crown, he’s no buffoon. “I’m not in the music business,” he sighs. He is “in human affairs”. And humans – as we discover throughout these 18 tracks – are flawed, often unknowingly caught in a remorseless grind in which those who have been damaged go on to hurt other people, a cycle of violence that the African-American community bears disproportionately, thanks to the epigenetic echoes of slavery, poverty, and persistent racism.

With dazzling puns and caustic candor, Lamar attempts to unravel the harm done to him and by him, his “daddy issues” (Father time, which features Sampha on the hook), and his discomfort with savior status. Although he is the only rapper to have win a Pulitzer, Lamar resolutely directs his work towards his community, demanding healing, demanding change. He went to therapy and embraced the work of Eckhart Tollea writer whose focus on personal responsibility and creating a compassionate new world makes a notable departure from hip-hop’s usual obsession with Machiavelli, Sun Tzu The art of War and The 48 laws of power by Robert Greene.

British rapper Dave released his own psychotherapy themed book in 2019, and Stormzy had an entire album on heavy crowns, but Lamar’s deep dive (“session 10, breakthrough”) remains vital and spectacular. mother i sober draws on the pained voice of Portishead’s Beth Gibbons in the chorus, as Lamar deals with a large amount of domestic violence, berating himself for not being able to protect his mother, then masking his pain with materialism, intoxicants and compulsive infidelity. He takes to task the white slavers who abused “our mothers and our sisters”.

Being in the world of human affairs, Lamar knows that people have a hard time being honest – another major theme in his work, here and before. “Stop tap-dancing around the conversation!” » yells the actor Taylor Paigeplaying half a rowing couple during We cry together. The character played by Paige has not just her partner, but all of toxic masculinity in her sights. “You’re the reason strong women screwed up,” she shouts, “you’re the reason Trump, you’re the reason Harvey Weinstein had to see his conclusion, you’re the reason R Kelly doesn’t can’t recognize that he’s violent.”

For all the insight and nuance on Mr. Morale & large steppers, Lamar’s work suffers from blind spots. His record label Top Dawg Entertainment (it’s his latest album for them) backed Kelly, a convicted serial sex offender, when Spotify threatened to pull his job. The Scrapbook features rapper Kodak Blackwho pleaded guilty of sexually assaulting a schoolgirl. Many online have drawn the conclusion that Lamar hates the so-called cancel culture more than he hates abuse.

So her journey to a state of grace is clearly a work in progress. But wisdom is a patchwork: you only get fragments of it at a time. And perhaps the album’s most jaw-dropping moment finds Lamar self-flagellating on Crown as loose jazz piano chords fall around him. “But the time will come, not to be there when someone needs you,” he hurt, the weight of this failure being inversely proportional to the tenderness of his voice.

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