kendrick lamar – mr. morale & the big steppers

Pt.1 

MM&TBS is an ambitious, driven record from the premier hip-hop artist of this decade and last. ‘The Heart pt. 5’ was its aperitif—a Marvin Gaye-sampled disco track that belittled ‘gang culture’ from the liminal plane in between Kendrick’s history, self, and fame. It showcased an incorrigibly theatrical performer wielding his vocal fuel. 

The ground-trembling opener (‘United in Grief’) to Kendrick’s first long-playing statement in five years is one of questions. It is compelling to hear an artist held in such high moral and musical esteem acknowledging his limitations without meekly relinquishing persona. The production is mercurial and agile—the most gripping across both discs.

Pt.2

Like the therapy session it has been read as, MM&TBS is subverted and propelled by its flickering moods. They can be seen through the queue of beats, which, despite sufficient vigour, are sequenced without recourse to a cohesive listening experience. Though the best tracks are some of Kendrick’s most inspired (‘Father Time’, ‘We Cry Together’), the choruses at times hang aimlessly, sounding unusually weak (‘Crown’, ‘Silent Hill’). It is, lyrically, the most diffuse album in Kendrick’s discography, bound only, dauntlessly, by themes of personal shame and outward questioning. While it falls short of the expected magnificence, MM&TBS probes importantly. 

22/30

A favourite: ‘Father Time’ 

‘Mr Morale. & The Big Steppers’ is out now via pgLang / Top Dawg Entertainment / Aftermath / Interscope.

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