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Nov 10 2023 | Hip-Hop

Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers

Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers
Hip Hop
Release date
May 13 2022
Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers
May 13 2022 | Hip Hop

Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers is the fifth studio album by American rapper Kendrick Lamar, released on May 13, 2022, by PGLang, Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE), Aftermath Entertainment, and Interscope Records. After four albums with the label, the double album serves as Lamar’s final project with TDE, of which he was one of the flagship artists.

The album features narration by Whitney Alford and Eckhart Tolle, and guest appearances from Blxst, Amanda Reifer, Sampha, Taylour Paige, Summer Walker, Ghostface Killah, Baby Keem, Kodak Black, Sam Dew, Tanna Leone, and Beth Gibbons of Portishead. Lamar reunited with frequent collaborators Sounwave, J. Lbs, DJ Dahi, and Bekon for the majority of the album’s production.

Upon release, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers was met with widespread acclaim from critics, who praised Lamar’s lyricism and the album’s scope, although a few found it inconsistent. The album has so far spawned two singles; the European release “N95″ and the North American release “Silent Hill”. It debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200, becoming Lamar’s fourth US number-one album.

In December 2020, the Roskilde Festival announced that Kendrick Lamar would be headlining the festival in 2021, noting that “new material [was] on the way”. On April 14, 2021, during an interview with Complex in commemoration to the fourth anniversary of Damn, Lamar’s engineer MixedByAli was asked if the album would arrive in 2021 and replied: “It might, it might, you never know”.

In a blog post on August 20, 2021, Lamar announced that he was in the process of producing his final album under the Top Dawg Entertainment label, writing:

I spend most of my days with fleeting thoughts. Writing. Listening. And collecting old Beach cruisers. The morning rides keep me on a hill of silence. I go months without a phone. Love, loss, and grief have disturbed my comfort zone, but the glimmers of God speak through my music and family. While the world around me evolves, I reflect on what matters the most. The life in which my words will land next. As I produce my final TDE album, I feel joy to have been a part of such a cultural imprint after 17 years. The Struggles. The Success. And most importantly, the Brotherhood. May the Most High continue to use Top Dawg as a vessel for candid creators. As I continue to pursue my life’s calling. There’s beauty in completion. And always faith in the unknown. Thank you for keeping me in your thoughts. I’ve prayed for you all. See you soon enough.

Music and lyrical themes
Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers is a double album consisting of 18 songs split into two sections of nine tracks. Primarily a conscious hip hop record, the album contains elements of free jazz, funk,psychedelic jazz, blues, quiet storm, R&B, soul, trap and West Coast hip hop. Its lyrics provides an independent viewpoint that explores themes such as childhood and generational trauma, infidelity, accountability, therapy, religion, gender identity, fatherhood, fake news, the pressures of fame, and cancel culture.

Much of the album was produced by Lamar’s frequent collaborators Sounwave, J. Lbs, DJ Dahi, and Bekon. Other production contributions came from Boi-1da, Baby Keem, Jahann Sweet, The Donuts, Tae Beast, The Alchemist, and Pharrell Williams, amongst others. Lamar’s longtime partner, Whitney Alford, and spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle are credited as narrators of several tracks. Songwriting contributions came from a variety of artists such as singer-songwriter Sam Dew, production team Beach Noise, and pianist Duval Timothy, in addition to Thundercat, Tommy Paxton-Beesley, and Homer Steinweiss.

Critical reception
Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers was met with widespread critical acclaim. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from professional publications, the album received an average score of 89, based on 21 reviews, indicating “universal acclaim”. Aggregator AnyDecentMusic? gave it 8.8 out of 10, based on their assessment of the critical consensus.

Ben Bryant of The Independent called the album a “tender opus from the defining poet of his generation”, writing, “The rapper’s first album in five years is a haunting and surprising meditation on fatherhood and family”. In a five-star review for The Guardian, Alexis Petridis praised the themes, lyricism and style. Robin Murray from Clash enjoyed the album, saying, “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers is one of his most profound, complex, revelatory statements yet, a double album fuelled by sonic ambition, the will to communicate, and Kendrick’s staunch refusal to walk the easy path”. Steve Loftin of The Line of Best Fit said, “It being one so vulnerable and exposing (including using his family for the artwork), stripping the skin down to the bone, is bold, beautiful, but most importantly, a reminder that an artist like Kendrick Lamar is once in a generation”. Reviewing the album for NME, Kyann-Sian Williams stated, “The rapper’s first album in five years sees him overcome “writer’s block” to triumph with a collection on which his observational skills go into overdrive”. Rob Moura of PopMatters said, “On Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, renowned rapper Kendrick Lamar observes the strife plaguing his kingdom and consciously abdicates the throne”. Writing for Exclaim!, Riley Wallace stated, “Kendrick Lamar lets it all out, and even if it’s the last time we hear from him in this form, he’s metaphorically put his whole heart on the table, with yet another body of work worthy of multiple spins and endless dissection”. Fred Thomas from AllMusic also stated that “While not always an easy listen, the album shows more of its intention as it goes, and ultimately makes sense as the next logical step forward in Lamar’s increasingly multi-dimensional artistic evolution”.

In a four-star review for The Daily Telegraph, Will Pritchard praised the album’s concept and the Kendrick’s ability to take “big swings” on songs such as “Father Time” and “Worldwide Steppers”. Pritchard lightly criticized the “occasional blip” on the album, citing the command to “stop tap dancing around the conversation” in “We Cry Together” as the album’s most obvious misstep.[46] In a positive review, Pitchfork’s Matthew Trammell said, “On his fifth album, Kendrick retreats from the limelight and turns to himself, highlighting his insecurities and beliefs. It’s ambitious, impressive, and a bit unwieldy”. Rolling Stone critic Jeff Ihaza said, “The Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper spends much of his fifth studio album deconstructing his own mythology. The result is at moments brilliant but on the whole, frustratingly uneven”. In a more mixed review, MiloRuggles of Sputnikmusic praised the album’s writing and performance, but criticized the production and perceived lack of cohesion, stating that “the instrumentals rarely serve the performances they exist to enhance”, and that “the listening experience is defined by languorous stretches between big moments, and becomes more of an exercise in patience than an engaging and enlivening journey”. Jon Caramanica of The New York Times opined that “Mr. Morale is probably Lamar’s least tonally consistent work”, “rangy and structurally erratic, full of mid-song beat switches, sorrowful piano and a few moments of dead air”.

Commercial performance
Upon release, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers received the largest first day streams of 2022 on Apple Music, garnering over 60 million streams. In the United States, the album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart, opening with 295,000 album-equivalent units that consisted of 35,000 album sales and 258,000 streaming units (calculated from the 343.02 million on-demand streams the album’s tracks received). Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers became Lamar’s fourth number-one album in the country, and the largest opening week for an album in 2022 so far.

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