Photos of Kendrick Lamar throughout his career
by Jonathan Giron, staff writer
After five years of being away from the music spotlight, Kendrick Lamar has finally put out his much anticipated rap album Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers on May 13. There is no doubt that Kendrick has established himself as one of the greatest and most influential rappers of all time, and this album furthers his mark in the rap industry.
Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers is Lamar’s last album with record label Top Dawg Entertainment after a long lasting 17 years. He signed with them in 2005 and released much of his music with them up to this point. Lamar decided to part ways after co-founding pgxLang, a multidisciplinary media company with business partner Dave Free in 2020. The goal of the company is personal to both Lamar and Free and they want to share the experiences of their creators through different media services that go beyond being a standard record label. Lamar has always taken his projects beyond the usual stereotypes of rap and has loved incorporating controversial topics and storytelling into his music. His previous award winning albums like good kid, m.A.A.d city, To Pimp a Butterfly and DAMN all focused on topics like self destiny, racism and Lamar’s own childhood life growing up in Compton, California. This album was no different and Lamar put out another creative and meaningful album.
Lamar has been hinting at this album since Aug. 20, 2021 in a creative and exciting way through a website called oklama.com. It is a blank white page that gets updated with folders containing messages and photos about the new album. On Aug. 20, 2021 a yellow folder titled “nu thoughts” was added which contained a long message explaining his split from TDE. He also explained his religious thoughts, self reflections and promise of a new album in the future. Another update to the website would not come until almost a year later. On February 13, 2022 a music enthusiast called raptalksk had put out a tweet that read, “Kendrick Lamar is officially retired”. At the time there was speculation that Lamar had retired due to the lack of music that he was putting out however no official statement had been made. It wouldn’t be until April 18, 2022 that Lamar would put this speculation to rest after he responded to the tweet with a link to his website “oklama.com”. On that day, the website contained a new untitled gray folder with a PDF of a letter from pgLang confirming that Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers would be released on May 13, 2022. As we got closer to the albums release date on May 3, a new untitled black folder appeared with a picture of Lamar holding a book titled “Mr Morale & the Big Steppers” and two CD’s one called Morale, and the other Stepper. Written on the bottom of the CDs was the phrase “Master Copy.” Lamar fans believed that it signified a double album, and they were right. On May 8, Lamar put out his single “The Heart Part 5” with a music video. In “The Heart Part 5” music video, Lamar stands in front of a red screen as he raps and uses deepfake technology to morph into O.J. Simpson, Will Smith, Jussie Smollett, Kobe Bryant, Kanye West, and Nipsey Hussle. He uses these people to show the different perspectives in our world and how each of them have left a mark on society. He sums it all up by explaining the positives and negatives of Black culture and how different aspects of it intertwine in their community. His leading song had many hidden messages and increased the excitement for what the album would bring.
Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers came with a lot of mixed feelings and although the album was meaningful, the features were not what the fans had expected. The album contained 18 songs and accumulated to one hour and thirteen minutes. Every song in the album is worth taking a listen to but out of the 18 songs, my personal favorites from the album include “United in Grief,” “N95,” “Die Hard,” “Father Time,” “We Cry Together,” “Auntie Diaries,” “Mr. Morale” and “Mirror”. Although all these songs can be talked about in their own perspective, the main ones that shocked me and other Kendrick Lamar fans were “Father Time,” “We Cry Together” and “Auntie Diaries”. All these songs are well put together and the main reason these songs are getting a lot of attention is due to his wonderful use of storytelling and hidden messages that make these songs hard to forget. “Father Time” talks about his rough relationship with his father and the lack of love he felt as a child. “In We Cry Together”, Lamar and Taylour Paige go back and forth hurling harsh insults to one another to portray the toxic relationships that occur in today’s society. Although Lamar has become one of the first rappers to ever write a song supporting the LGBTQ community with “Auntie Diaries”, it was considered one of the most controversial songs on this album. In “Auntie Diaries”, Lamar touches on the topic of homophobia as he explains how he came to accept two trans relatives. The song was meant to show Kendrick Lamar’s support for the LGBTQ community; however, listeners are critiquing the deadnaming, misgendering, and homphobic slurs used in the song. People online loved his message and the song, but felt that the slurs were unnecessary and wrong. Other users defended Kendrick Lamar by saying he used it to show the raw and honest ways homophobia is incorporated into society. Kendrick Lamar has not commented on the situation and I don’t believe he will comment on it anytime soon. Kendricks production and musicality were shocking in this album and it will take much more time to fully understand all of these songs.
Although the album’s storytelling was magnificent, it lacked some important features that I expected. With this being his last song with Top Dawg Entertainment, I expected a lot more influence from them in this album. Nobody in TDE helped promote the album and what was more disappointing was that not one rapper in TDE had a feature. I understand Kendrick wanted to focus on promoting his new company pgLang, but I still feel like TDE should have had more influence on the album. Kendrick has always been one of the most influential rappers in our generation and Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers showed the world how impactful his music can be. Although the songs were meaningful and relative to societies problems, Kendrick’s use of vulgar words and phrases has some people calling it too controversial. His previous music has been known to touch the hearts of many communities in America, and with time we will see if this album can do the same.