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Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers review: Kendrick made us think about it, but he is not our saviour

After a five-year hiatus since the release of his Pulitzer-award winning album Damn, during which the world has witnessed the pandemic, Trump’s tenure and the intensification of the Black Lives Matter movement, Kendrick Lamar’s album could not have been more anticipated. Lamar’s stylistic redirection towards introspection results in a project that acts out the healing processes of lifelong traumas and attainment of perspective on personal pain.      

Mr. Morale traces Lamar’s journey through therapy. Early tracks are embedded with confidence; on ‘United in Grief’ and ‘We Cry Together’ his introductions claim to “tell them the truth” and that “this is what the world sounds like”. Songs on the first half of the album see Kendrick defiantly pouring out his emotions. ‘N95’ rejectds material goods as a means to happiness, whilst ‘Worldwide Steppers’ sees Lamar open up to self-criticism and begin to examine his sex addiction. Taylour Paige’s impressive vocals on ‘We Cry Together’ renders the track a stand-out on the album; emotionally argumentative and comically down-to-earth (“I’d rather fuck on your cousin – Bitch, you said you gon’ fuck who?”), and despite the apparent messiness of the “fuck you” rebukes, the song retains impressive rhythmic flow.

The progression into the ‘Mr. Morale’ half of the album is where Lamar reveals the fully fledged impact and expressions of his healing process. Introductions on these songs take a step back from his initial confidence. On ‘Count Me Out’, the same melody used in ‘United in Grief’ now more modestly claims “we may not know which way to go in this dark road”. The track, ‘Saviour’, beginning with the expression that “Kendrick is not your saviour” is more concerned with attainment of happiness than truth, success, or fame. Whilst ‘Auntie Diaries’’ proclamation that “heart plays in ways the mind can’t figure out” is followed by Lamar narrating the development of personal response to transsexuality within his family. Kendrick’s exploration doesn’t consider the impacts of transphobia or homophobia on the LGBT+ community itself, but this focus remains exactly in line with his point. Lamar rejects the expectation that his music should be relied on to serve as salvation for broad swathes of the population; voicing his personal perspective is what can convey truth to the listener.

Image ‘Kendrick Lamar Hovefestivalen’ courtesy of Tom Øverlie, P3.no via ‘Flickr’, licensed under CC 2.0

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