After five years, Kendrick Lamar returns to rap


Renell Medrano

“Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” is Lamar’s first solo album since April 2017.

Kishore Annambhotla, Entertainment and Our World Editor

Five years ago, celebrated Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar released his fourth studio album, “DAMN.” It was met with massive critical and commercial success, earning Lamar the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music. But over the next five years, Lamar distanced himself from the public. Apart from curating the soundtrack for Marvel’s “Black Panther” in 2018, he avoided public appearances and and refrained from sharing details on his future work.

That was, until last month when Lamar sent out a press release with the title of his next album: “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers.” Three weeks later, his highly anticipated fifth studio album was finally released. As rumored prior to its release, the project is actually a double album split into two volumes: “The Big Steppers” and “Mr. Morale.”

One will immediately notice that this album covers a handful of very personal and dark topics. Lamar has never shied away from intimate subject matters, but this project places him in an incredibly bleak state of mind. 

Across these 18 tracks, Lamar discusses religious conflicts, sexual abuse, toxic relationships, and even his own infidelity. Many moments on this record left me deeply uncomfortable or shocked, as if I was eavesdropping on a therapy session.

At the same time, it’s difficult not to appreciate the artistry throughout “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers.” Rich production, well-placed interludes, and curated features help the listener understand and digest the album’s themes.

In addition, there are still glimpses of hope throughout the record. On “Auntie Diaries,” Lamar reveals that his uncle and female cousin are transgender. He explains that he refused to accept this at first due to his Christian identity, but learned to reject those beliefs and love his family.

“The day I chose humanity over religion / The family got closer, it was all forgiven,” Lamar said.

If anything, though, “Auntie Diaries” only represents one of few joyful blips. In my opinion, the song most representative of the album’s tone is the penultimate track, “Mother I Sober.” It is filled with Lamar’s musings on generational trauma and the cycle of abuse in Black families. His vulnerable state in this song perfectly sums up the album’s overall themes.

This album is quite dense and difficult to digest in one listen. I did not mind this, but it may be a roadblock for some listeners. My only major gripe with this album is Lamar’s questionable decision to include convicted felon Kodak Black as a feature on several songs. Some have pointed this out as an artistic decision related to themes of troubled youth, but I found his inclusion in the album unnecessary. 

The intimacy and darkness on this record may be very off putting to some, and I can’t say it will be enjoyable for everyone. But when all is said and done, it’s difficult for me not to recommend you listen to “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” at least once. The amount of effort, detail, and emotion placed into this record warrants attention, and it may be another five years before we hear more from Kendrick Lamar.