Kendrick Lemar scores big with the “Big Steppers”



“Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” was released on March 13 as Kendrick Lamar’s 5th studio album

By Liam Klein, Opinions Editor

Kendrick Lamar is widely considered one of the greatest rappers of all time. The kid from Compton has over 70 million certified record sales in the US alone, 14 Grammy awards and three platinum albums to his name. While these numbers are extremely impressive, Lamar’s success becomes more clear when considering the last album he released before the May 13 release of “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” was “Damn,” which was released over 5 years ago on April 14, 2017. This lack of new music left fans hungry, leading to lots of excitement in the rap community over Lamar’s return. 

Needless to say, after the announcement of the album, fans were ecstatic. However, before the release of the album itself, Lamar dropped “The Heart Part 5” on May 8 as a promotional single. The song quickly went viral due to the unique music video that went along with the release of the song. The video depicts Lamar performing in front of a red wall before making several seamless transitions into other famous figures using deep fake technology to project onto his face. The figures that appear are O.J. Simpson, Kanye West, Jussie Smollett, Will Smith, Kobe Bryant and Nipsey Hussle.

The first track on the over hour-long album is “United in Grief.” In the intro Lamar states, “I’ve been goin’ through somethin’, One-thousand eight-hundred and fifty-five days, I’ve been goin’ through somethin’, Be afraid,” which is a reference to the exact amount of time since his last studio album release. The track starts off slow with a simple beat based on piano notes, but it gradually evolves into an energetic and drum centric song. Throughout the track, there are moments in which the piano returns and Lamar repeats the line “I grieve different,” a somber reminder of the pain and vulnerability that still grips him to this day. 

The second track on the album is “N95,” a reference to the N95 face masks commonly worn throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Lamar uses the track to criticize responses to the pandemic, rapping that “You’re back outside but they still lied.” The repeated use of the phrase “take off” takes aim at the fake and over-the-top culture that is far too common today. The song is energetic, with an infectious chorus and unique flow switches to truly show off Lamar’s lyrical skills. 

The first feature on the album comes on the fourth track, “Die Hard”. The song is one of the best on the album with smooth vocals from Blxst and Amanda Reifer. Lamar uses the hypnotic beat to open up about the struggles he has had with honesty in his relationships and his inability to open up about his feelings due to past trauma from previous relationships. However, over the course of the song he accepts that he must overcome his past and let go in order to be the best he can be. 

The tenth song on the album is “Count Me Out.” It is one of the slower tracks on the album, showing Lamar’s ability to switch between faster-paced rapping and more melodic singing through its usage of numerous beat switches. The track starts off with Lamar trying to put on an act to prove his love interest wrong. However, throughout the song he changes because he feels more of an obligation to be honest and authentic. This ultimately culminates in the outro, where he leaves his partner after realizing he’s happier simply being himself.

After some more classic Lamar tracks, the next major feature comes on “Savior” which features Baby Keem, his cousin and a talented artist in his own right, as well as Sam Dew. 

The song starts off with Lamar stating: “Kendrick made you think about it, but he is not your savior, Cole made you feel empowered, but he is not your savior, Future said, ‘Get a money counter,’ but he is not your savior, ‘Bron made you give his flowers, but he is not your savior”. He offers a stark reminder that the public figures many admire and idolize are only human. 

Each of the verses of the song focuses on a different social issue: racial issues in the world, Covid-19 and political correctness, his personal struggles, etc. While the song is good overall, verses from featuring artists such as Baby Keem leave a lot to be desired. 

Perhaps the most underrated song on the album is “Mr. Morale,” the second-to-last track. The song starts off by sampling a clip from a 2012 YouTube video in which a man goes on a passionate rant over the Dallas Cowboys’ poor performance in a 27 to 7 loss. The song has an uptempo beat and the feature from Tanna Leone serves as a great bridge between Lamar’s heavy hitting verses. 

Similar to the rest of the album, the song covers themes such as generational trauma and excess. Lamar mentions both R. Kelly and Oprah Winfrey as an allusion to generational trauma, as the two figures who have both publicly talked about their connection to abusive relationships albeit on opposite sides. 

The last track on the album is “Mirror,” and while it isn’t anything too special from a listening standpoint, it serves as an excellent conclusion to the album. Lamar tackles the pressures of fame and the contrast of living selfishly despite his modest and humble public image. This can clearly be encapsulated in one lyric: “Sorry our things saved the world, my friend, I was too busy buildin’ my redepmt’”. Along with this, he alludes to his ongoing therapy, as well as the birth of his newborn daughter. 

Needless to say, this album is extremely deep and complex. It tackles difficult ideas such as trauma, vulnerability, personal growth, honesty with oneself, struggles with relationships and the pressures of the world. The album is much more philosophical and deals with much more emotional pain and distress than his previous albums. 

From a listener’s perspective, the album is much slower-paced than many of his previous albums and this may be a turn-off for many listeners, which is part of the reason why the album has had a mixed reception from the music community. Its mixed reception isn’t a testament to the quality of the album itself, though, but more about the state of hip-hop currently. The album is by no means an instant classic but nor is it a disappointment—its uniqueness is very rarely seen in the hip-hop genre. Because of this, “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers”   shouldn’t be compared to Lamar’s previous albums due to how different it is. Instead, it should be appreciated as Kendrick Lamar’s heartfelt and personal return to the rap world and public eye.