Kendrick Lamar’s much-anticipated fifth studio album takes the listener on a very raw, complex journey, making this a highly personal piece of musical art. The album consists of two volumes, ‘Mr. Morale’ and ‘The Big Steppers’, with 18 songs. Hannah Bentley reviews.
In this album, Lamar embarks on an expedition of soul searching, grappling with his identity, and trying to make sense of the current social-political climate, following a turbulent time in America, and the global ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests. Throughout the album, he alludes to mental-health issues and attending therapy, starting songs like Count Me Out with the line “Session 10: breakthrough” read by his wife, Whitney Alford.
In We Cry Together, Taylour Paige, an American actress, voices Lamar’s wife in this theatrical argument, where they try to antagonise each other while “tap-dancing around the conversation” that they really need to have. This gives the listener an insight into the issues of the rapper’s intimate married life.
Lamar raps about his inner-turmoil
He addresses the way many people look up to him as a virtuous figure (hence the crown of thorns he wears on the album cover), which he aims to deconstruct in each of his songs. Lamar raps about his inner-turmoil caused by the pressure of fame, questioning his self-worth and the impact of his music. He draws specific attention to this in Crown, a slow contemplative song where he repeats the line “can’t please everybody”.
Silent Hill follows- a very purposeful choice of song order. He features Kodak Black, an American rapper, who . This pop/trap track includes Lamar rapping about his baby daughter, and Kodak addressing his difficult childhood and lack of a father figure. Whilst this song exposes the common hardships of the black community, and the need for nuance in these difficult situations, the inclusion of Kodak Black is somewhat problematic.
This made for slightly uncomfortable listening
The album more broadly discusses redemption, specifically when Lamar raps about his infidelity, and expressing some sympathy for R. Kelly, , and Kodak Black. Lamar uses his lyrics to link their criminal behaviour to childhood abuse and experiences of black trauma. This makes for slightly uncomfortable listening, but is nonetheless thought-provoking.
A song that impressed me was Auntie Diaries. This is an incredibly touching song, which acts as a personal monologue about Kendrick’s experience with a transgender aunt and cousin. He addresses the presence of homophobia and transphobia in the black community. Additionally, he points out his own hypocrisy, using homophobic language, whilst telling a white fan to not use racial slurs.
Ended the album on a strong note, with the funky and upbeat song Mirror
I was particularly moved by Mother I Sober, a poignant six minute and 46 second track, talking about wanting the best for his children and hoping to “break the curse” of the generational trauma he has personally experienced. Lamar ends the album on a strong note, with the funky and upbeat song Mirror, stating that he will take time to focus on himself and his family, leaving fans wondering when he will next release new music.
The album acts as an exorcism of his thoughts on a wide range of politically polarised topics. At times the album seems to lack cohesion, possibly due to discussing a range of deeply complex issues. It feels like an amalgamation of his four previous albums with Top Dawg Entertainment label, with some songs sounding like they are lifted out of his more commercial album ‘DAMN’. Because of this, in some cases, the album feels sonically inconsistent.
Kendrick uses masterful lyrics and skillful musicality, to lead the listener through his authentic thought process, exposing the complex emotions and struggles that he endured during his time away from music production, and illustrating effects of generational trauma in the black community. The themes in this album, and the way he navigated through each topic, is very emotive, however, the execution of some messages, I feel, are reactionary and provocative, slightly missing the mark. Therefore, some songs are troubling to listen to.
Featured image courtesy of Alex Watkin. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.
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