It’s been an entire week of listening and re-listening to Kendrick Lamar’s new project, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, which has won acclaim and gathered criticism from both fans and reviewers over the past 7 days. Surprisingly, the 18 track, hour-and-thirteen-minute long album doesn’t include “The Heart Part 5,” which was released with an accompanying music video days prior to the album. Among conversations around music politics, a few points of controversy included the many appearances of Kodak Black on the project, and Kendrick’s unconventional approach at creating a song around trans rights. Inversely, the internet praised the rapper for creating a conceptual project that has a stronger grounding in artistic expression than replayability. After much contemplation, the Sheesh Media writers have had time to piece apart our favorites from our top-favorites, and engage with the online discourse surrounding the project that fans waited five years with baited breath for. Here are a few of our top picks:
“One-thousand eight-hundred and fifty-five days.” Stated in the first verse of rap god Kendrick Lamar’s, new LP, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, the Pulitzer-prize winning artist reminds us of exactly how long it’s been since he last released music. “United In Grief” cures our five-year Kendrick withdrawals while also introducing us to the precision, growth, and elevated level of introspection Kendrick has achieved during his time out of the limelight.
“United In Grief” revolves around an ironic refrain; Kendrick repeats “I grieve different,” a phrase dedicated to the major theme of the LP: self-realization. Kendrick points to two different forms of how he “grieved” in this song: sex and materialism. Lines like “first tour sex the pain away,” and “The new Mercedes with black G-Wagon, The "Where you from?", it was all for rap,” give a window into Kendrick’s past life and values. Through admission of his vices, Kendrick reveals a more mature perspective to kick the album off.
As far as the music goes, expect a hectic collage of jazz piano, driving percussion, and chandeliers of buttery ear-candy elements. – Miles Opton
A couple of tracks into the album it becomes quite clear that Mr. Morale & The Big Stepper is first for Kendrick and second for the people. Compared to his last studio album, which was a combination of personal and poignant cultural commentary, this record centers back to him and his life, intertwined with overarching connections to society. In a way, Mr. Morale & The Big Stepper feels like a call back to basics. Hard truths faced and exit wounds accessed, each track is an attempt to reconcile with the past. This is especially true for the fifth track – and my personal favorite – “Father Time."
Starting with a dialog between the rapper and Whitney Alford, where she points him towards therapy and a bit of Eckhart Tolle, Kendrick tackles generational complexes at the root to understand daddy issues and opens up a conversation around toxic masculinity. From emotional suppression and overcompensation, to forgiveness and understanding, Kendrick looks to shine light on the cause and effect of toxic masculinity in his community and his own life. Each verse broken up by Sampha’s soothing yet eye-opening chorus, “Father Time” perfectly compliments the album's themes, while creating space for further reflection. – Olive Soki
“Die Hard” is a smooth RnB infused track aided by the tender vocals of Blxst and Amanda Reifer. The duo vibrate across the track like yin and yang, and bring out a slower cadence from Kendrick, giving us a rare peek at his unique singing voice. The track seems to be reflective of Kendrick’s own vulnerabilities and downfalls in his relationship with his wife Whitney, and perhaps Blxst and Amanda Reifer represent both parties in the back and forth of their refrians. In Kendrick’s verse 1 he remarks,
“Tell me you in my corner right now
When I fall short, I'm leaning on you to cry out
We all got enough to lie about
My truth too complicated to hide now”
Blxst shared his excitement on Instagram with a photo of the song and a caption that read “couldn’t make this up if I wanted to…”
Amanda Reifer also shared her gratitude towards being included on the project, and she had Twitter buzzing about her dreamy falsettos.
Kendrick is never afraid to make a song that doesn’t align with ideal radio or party play. With similar parallels to “u” from To Pimp A Butterfly, “We Cry Together” is anything but easy listening (although Kendrick gracefully sprinkles in moments of comedic relief) and tells a tale of strained relationships from start to finish. The track is done in tandem with actor Taylour Paige, and employs abrasive ethos, harsh tones and even harsher words to talk about romantic strain in an brashly new and unique way. The plot takes us through the full 7 stages of grief and then reconciliation to boot, leaving people on Twitter to discuss if Taylour Paige has a future career in rapping. – Taylor Overstreet