Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers by Kendrick Lamar


(Source: Renell Medrano)

By Ellis Seul (II), Head Editor

By: Kendrick Lamar

May 13, 2022

Genre: Hip Hop

Best Songs: “Mother I Sober,” “Father Time,” “Purple Hearts”

Rating: 8.5/10

After over five years of widespread anticipation, Kendrick Lamar has returned with Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, his fifth studio album and a worthy addition to his already stellar discography. As his final record for Top Dawg Entertainment, the two-part double album provides a reflective, in-depth look into Lamar’s feelings about his past.

Right from the start, the excellent opener “United in Grief” communicates the mood of the album to the listener. The song opens with opposing lines of “I hope you find some peace of mind” and “tell ‘em the truth” before Lamar’s first line of the album, “I’ve been going through something,” which sets the tone for an introspective track. In it, he draws the listener in with a reflection on his career successes and setbacks, accentuated by a punchy piano-based beat. Subsequent songs from the first half of the album (titled Big Steppers) expand on this reflective mood, in which Lamar highlights his tumultuous relationship with his father and resulting fear of being emotionally vulnerable.

Other Big Steppers songs deal with themes of authenticity and honesty, with Lamar pointing out the behavior of those that focus more on keeping up with their appearance than making a change. In “N95,” he calls on people to move away from materialism and virtue signaling. With “Rich Spirit,” he comments on the dichotomies between financial success and maintaining morality alongside loyalty. In “Purple Hearts,” which closes out the first part of the album, Lamar, Summer Walker and Ghostface Killah continue this theme with a poignant inquiry into what love really means; this song offers an uplifting end to the Big Steppers section.

Mr. Morale, the album’s second part, begins with “Count Me Out,” which reprises the intro from “United in Grief” before Lamar discusses learning to open up more in order to prove himself to haters. “Silent Hill” continues to focus on themes of inauthenticity from the first half of the album, whereas “Crown” and “Savior” touch upon Lamar’s struggles with fame. In the former, he talks about his inability to please everyone, and in the latter, he calls out his fans for idolizing him but not caring about him as a person.

On the three tracks following “Savior,” Lamar powerfully confronts many of the societal issues that have plagued him and his community for centuries. In “Auntie Diaries,” he reflects on his journey towards acceptance of two transgender family members, and he also calls out the homophobia and transphobia ingrained in church and society. In “Mr. Morale,” Lamar discusses childhood abuse and trauma before expanding on these themes in “Mother I Sober,” the climax of the album. In this seven-minute epic, Lamar raps about his childhood and the intergenerational trauma within the Black community, culminating in an impactful moment in which he “break[s] the curse,” before a final rendition of the “United in Grief” leitmotif that leads into the final track. The album closer “Mirror” offers an optimistic and fulfilling end to the record, with Kendrick resolving to “choose me” and tune out the negativity in his life.

Although the social commentary on Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers is generally as poignant and well-delivered as on Lamar’s previous records, there are certain songs where his message is obscured and others that have drawn criticism due to his artistic decisions. “We Cry Together” is an interesting concept, but its commentary on figures such as convicted sex offenders Harvey Weinstein and R. Kelly is diminished by the song’s format as well as Lamar’s prominent inclusion of Kodak Black — who has been accused of similar crimes to the aforementioned two — as a featured artist on the album. “Auntie Diaries,” in which Lamar narrates his journey to acceptance of two trans family members, has generated controversy due to his lyrical choices. While the message of the song is clearly one of acceptance, Lamar’s decision to repeatedly use a homophobic slur, deadname and misgender the song’s subjects has rightly been criticized by fans; he could have conveyed his message just as well without making these choices.

On the whole, however, Kendrick Lamar’s Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers is an introspective, meaningful collection of songs. It offers a powerful perspective on social issues that will endure for years to come.