Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers Review


Ryan Shore, Contributing Writer

The 34 year old hip-hop legend Kendrick Lamar Duckworth has been a mastermind ever since he touched the mic. When his music career began in the early 2010’s, he immediately made a statement and stuck with it for the future. His debut album, Section.80, is nothing short of inspiring, as it shows the evolution of sound throughout his career. While this album has some incredible moments, and it manages to stay consistent, but there’s noticeable slow points. Overall, the album is great, but the path he takes beyond it is truly remarkable.


15 months after the release of Section.80, Kendrick Lamar shocked the world with good kid, m.A.A.d city(GKMC). The rapper’s second studio LP has grown to become one of the most critically acclaimed hip-hop records to date. While Section.80 was great, GKMC is the record that showed the world what this young rapper from Compton could pull off. Despite popularity worldwide, the tracks that aren’t as praised in the mainstream are just as good if not better. good kid, m.A.A.d city just recently became the first hip-hop album to ever chart on the Billboard 200 albums chart weekly for 10 years straight. While GKMC showed the world Kendrick Lamar’s true potential, people were hungry to see what’s in store for album three.


To claim that Kendrick Lamar shocked the world once again is an understatement. Three years after the release of good kid, m.A.A.d city, Lamar released what is considered by many to be the greatest hip-hop album of all time, To Pimp A Butterfly. The topics of racism, depression, struggles in society, and so much more make this record a tough listen at times. The album was perfectly crafted in order for Lamar to speak on these topics in many different ways. The prime example of a lively song with a tough backstory is “Alright”. With Pharrell on chorus, Lamar goes bar for bar as he makes an anthem that was highly relevant during the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020. That song is proof that no matter how happy, uplifting and fun a track might sound, any song can be powerful in any size, shape or form. “Mortal Man” is the perfect way to close a record like this, as he uses old clips from late rapper Tupac Shakur to make it seem like an interview that he’s hosting. This record is a true classic, and it’s a landmark for not just hip-hop, but music as a whole. 


Kendrick Lamar dropped his fourth studio album, DAMN, which went on to win a Pulitzer Prize award. Many see this album as mediocre, but it’s far from it. A few of the tracks have risen in popularity, but at the end of the day they haven’t lost their spark. However, not every song on this record became as popular as others. In fact, some of those tracks are some of Lamar’s best pieces to date. Take “XXX” and “DUCKWORTH”, for example, they are both fantastic songs, and they definitely stand out in his catalog despite the record being a bit of a let down compared to his past 2 studio albums. The fact that DAMN was a let down in his discography to many proves that he’s reached unbelievable heights despite having only four albums released to date.


After five years of endless predictions, rumors, and speculation, Kendrick Lamar had finally returned.


My thoughts on this album have changed drastically over time. Most people tried to go into this record with an open mind, but a lot of the criticism about this record is that it’s the worst of his albums. Lamar released a track called “The Heart Part 5” which is a pre-album song that he does as tradition. The track was so amazing that it made the new album’s expectations higher than anything possible, and for that reason many were left underwhelmed on first listen. To take a closer look, Kendrick Lamar shows that he’s been healing as a person although many obstacles along the way held him down from moving forward. This record sounds like he made it for himself and no one else. He simply made an honest piece that wasn’t made to check the boxes of a popular or even a perfect album.


The album begins with “United in Grief.” This is a perfect intro for a record like this. Lines such as “I’ve been goin through something” and “I grieve different” were stand-outs, as it seems straightforward right from the gate that things aren’t how they used to be. He raps quickly, his flow is just as strong as it used to be, proving that he’s still in his element. This is one of the highlight songs on the record, as this track created  a lot of excitement for what’s to come. 


“N95” is the most popular song on the record. The past few years, rapper Baby Keem has been a big name in hip-hop. Keem is Lamar’s cousin, so they’ve been working quite closely on music as of recent. This track showed that Lamar has taken a lot of influence from his cousin, and it worked out well. It’s definitely the most “mainstream” track on the record. The record starts very strong showing variety right off the bat. 


American rapper Kodak Black makes an appearance as a guest vocalist for the track “Worldwide Steppers.” His music is definitely outside of Lamar’s realm, but it creates more curiosity to hear how he would use him later on. The straightforward repetitive sound Lamar raps over allows his voice to be the main focus without getting carried by production.


“Die Hard” is a huge turn in Lamar’s sound, but it works out surprisingly well. Blxst has been an upcoming R&B artist for a while now, and many were stunned to hear him on the chorus of this track. This track is on the generic side, but that doesn’t take away from the beautiful performances from the guests, and Kendrick’s meaningful verses. His second verse is one of the most memorable moments on the record as a whole. Lines such as “Subtle mistakes felt like life or death” and “The lost ones keeping me up at night” are heartbreaking, honest, and most importantly, very relatable for many people which connects Lamar and the listener in a way. 


A high point on the record introduces another high right after, as Father Time speaks for itself in a graceful track. There seemed to be flashbacks from his previous record DAMN, as the sample goes backwards for part of the track, and DAMN experimented with a lot of backwards samples. Sampha fits perfectly with this track, as he provides a soothing chorus while Kendrick sounds hungry. The line “Hid my emotions, never expressed myself. Man should never show feelings, being sensitive never helped” is very well said and understandable. It speaks to the feeling that he has to hide his emotions because he doesn’t want to seem like a weak father figure. Amazing track as a whole.


The beginning of the next track,  “We Cry Together”, begins with a grand sample. Kendrick Lamar and Taylour Paige go on to have a 5 minute argument that doesn’t even seem like a song. The fact that the track leaves the listener feeling like they’re intruding on something real is pure genius. The track is brutal, and quite disturbing in the best way possible. 


When I saw the guest list on the track “Purple Hearts”, I was shocked to see Summer Walker instead of Lamar’s label partner SZA. However, the most surprising thing about the whole record was the fact that Summer Walker outperformed Lamar. Ghostface Killah never lost his touch even after three decades in the music world, performing an impressive verse as expected. This was a fantastic way to end the first disc of the record. 


The first side of the record, The Big Steppers, is amazing. It’s definitely more returnable compared to the latter half, but it’s still tough to make that claim. 


The second side of the album, Mr. Morale, begins with “Count Me Out.” This track doesn’t seem to have much going for it at first, but as the verses take place his lyrics are such a confidence rush for self worth. I hear something new everytime I listen. The beat goes silent while he raps and comes back at the perfect time. It’s just a well structured track. 


The next track keeps the laid energy with “The Crown.” The simplistic piano instrumental is great, and Lamar sounds somewhat soulless in a surprisingly good way. He repeats “I can’t please everybody” because it’s yet another way he can talk about his feelings and personal thoughts in a straightforward approach. This is a deep track and it’s very well spoken nonetheless. 


“Silent Hill” is Mr. Morale’s catchiest song. Kodak Black returns to the album to perform a full verse. He’s usually quite mediocre, but Lamar brought out the best in him on this track, and he finds a way to balance quality with him.


Baby Keem, Lamar’s cousin, performs an out of the ordinary, but impressive verse on “Savior Interlude” as it follows with the full track “Savior.” This song shows Lamar back in his old element. The chemistry between Lamar and Baby Keem continues to be quality as expected. The piano with the overwhelming bass work surprisingly well together, and it’s nothing short of amazing. 


The title track, “Mr. Morale” features the most energy we’ve heard from Lamar in a long time. Tanna Leone, who’s recently signed to Lamar’s label, was a great addition to this track, as his chemistry with him is strangely good. The heavy breathing that plays in the background of the track is chilling, which adds such a huge effect to the song. The addition of Pharrell’s production is a highlight for sure. Overall great song.


“Mother I Sober” is such a long but well said track. Lamar’s verses are incredibly hard-hitting, and the fact that the entire track has an unenergetic and soulless sound is mentally draining in a good way. The addition of Beth Gibbons, member of the English outfit Portishead, was never expected, but it’s an interesting collaboration nonetheless. 


The album ends with “Mirror.” It’s satisfying that the album ended with a bang after a long track that ran up to almost seven minutes. This track brings the album full circle as Lamar continuously says “I choose me I’m sorry” as a way to say that he needs to work on self-healing despite the long absence from the public. The orchestral sound was also a great choice for the ending of the record. Beautiful track.


I could talk about this record forever. It’s a piece that never gets boring, and there’s new elements hiding every listen. Kendrick Lamar didn’t make this record to sell copies, it was more of a way to tell the listeners, who have been eager for information, how he’s been feeling over the past few years, and that takes a lot of courage and honesty. He’s finally back in the news, he’s doing a world tour which I had the privilege to attend, and he didn’t need to make a carbon copy of one of his classic albums in order to prove that he’s one of the greatest to ever do it.