Album Review | Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers

This album was released on May 13th this year. Needless to say, before listening to this album I was incredibly excited. That’s easily the most excited I’ve been for an album all year. Kendrick Lamar is one of my favorite rappers, and To Pimp a Butterfly is my favorite album of all time, so when he announced this album my hype was uncontainable. The Heart, Pt. V greatly boosted my level of anticipation for this record too. I was already super excited, but that song was fucking amazing, so it made me even more excited. If you follow me on Twitter you already know how I feel about The Heart, Pt. V, so I won’t get into it here. That shit is incredible though. Especially the music video. Anyway, I didn’t really have a lot of expectations for this project. I mean, there were rumors a couple years ago that there would be more of a Rock influence on Kendrick’s latest work, but I didn’t really know whether those were true or not. All I knew before checking out this project was that it’s technically a double album, despite being shorter in runtime than To Pimp a Butterfly. Honestly, I was actually kind of expecting the album to be at least 20 tracks, but I’m not gonna complain since I was only off by 2. The features were pretty intriguing to me as well. I was kind of taken aback by the Kodak Black feature since I think he’s a really bad musician and a terrible human being, but I lowkey had faith that Kendrick could make it work. I’m gonna be honest; I kinda don’t know how to conclude this preamble. All you need to know is that I was super excited, and that I love Kendrick Lamar’s music. So yeah. Without further ado, let’s get into it…

The album begins with an amazing song called United in Grief. I’m just gonna say it; this is my favorite song on the first disc of the album. This song is perfect. I have no issues with it at all. The way the opening verse sets up all the themes of the album is really awesome. Kendrick’s flow is of course fantastic too. I love the piano contribution from Duval Timothy, and when those fucking drums come in for the hook?

Duval Timothy is really one of the unsung heroes of this album in my opinion. He contributed piano to multiple tracks on this project, and it really elevated things for me. The whole “I grieve different” refrain is really awesome to me too. Again, there’s really nothing about this track that I don’t like. The production? Fire. Kendrick’s rapping? Fire. The hook? Fire. It might actually be my favorite intro to any of Kendrick’s albums. I think it’s dope af. The following track is another really awesome song called N95.

Before checking out the album, I was curious to see if Kendrick’s writing would be as anaphoric as it was on DAMN., and it certainly is on this track. Every line in the first verse starts the same way. It’s not an amazing verse or anything, but I thoroughly enjoyed it—mostly for Kendrick’s flow. The writing isn’t bad at all though. It’s just not super thought-provoking. Not that everything Kendrick does has to be super deep. I’m just saying it’s not one of the most impactful moments on the album for me. I like the verse though. It’s cool. I really like the hook on this track too. To me, each verse on this track is better than the last. The closing verse in which Kendrick spits with that weird, voice-cracking delivery is easily the best part of the song for me. His flow is really nice.

Can I vent all my truth? I got nothin' to lose
I got problems and pools, I can swim on my faith
Cameras movin' whenever I'm movin', the family suin' whatever I make
Murder is stackin', the president actin', the government taxin' my funds in the bank
Homies attracting the feds when I'm bracking, look at my reaction, my pupils on skates

I don’t love the song quite as much as I did when I first heard it, but I still think it’s a fantastic track. It’s dope as hell to me. The music video is pretty cool too. The following song is called Worldwide Steppers, and it’s another one of my favorite tracks on the album. I think the production is fire, and Kendrick was rapping his fucking ass off on this track.

Writer's block for two years, nothin' moved me
Asked God to speak through me
That's what you hear now, the voice of yours truly

Kendrick spits with kind of a Spoken Word-esque flow on this track, and it kinda reminds me of something Saul Williams would do. I really love the way the first verse ends. It caught me off guard the first time I listened to it, but I thought it was hilarious.

Synchronization with my energy chakras, the ghost of Dr. Sebi
Paid it forward, cleaned out my toxins, bacteria heavy
Sciatica nerve pinch, I don't know how to feel
Like the first time I fucked a white bitch

I really like the way this song is structured too. Kendrick is pretty much just rapping the entire time. I love the background vocals that come in as part of the instrumental, and the piano contributions from who I assume is Duval Timothy are fire. I have zero gripes with this song. I think it’s dope af. The following track is called Die Hard, and it’s one of the less popular tracks from this album. I’m not surprised that people don’t like this song as much since it’s one of the more commercial-friendly sounding tracks, but I still enjoyed it personally. I think the production is fantastic, and Blxst & Amanda Reifer sound really great to me on the hook. Kendrick has a more sing-songy delivery than on the preceding material, and I think he sounds pretty great. Honestly, I actually think Blxst & Amanda Reifer stand out more than Kendrick himself on this track. Not that Kendrick was bad at all; he sounds really good, especially on the first verse. The hook is just the best part of the song to me. The production is really nice too. There’s not really anything in particular about this song that I dislike, but it just doesn’t blow me away like some of the other tracks. I like it a lot though. I think it’s dope. It’s followed by another one of the best songs on the album, Father Time. It was pretty cool to hear Grandmaster Vic on the intro of this track since he’s done some work with Sylvan LaCue. Anyway, I think this track has one of the best instrumentals on the album. The piano-driven production is glorious. The lyrical content about having daddy issues is pretty relatable for me too. I mean, I don’t actually think that Kendrick went that deep into the subject matter, but it’s still a very well written song. Well, I’m probably not being fair. The first verse is pretty surface level, but he goes a lot deeper in the second verse.

I got daddy issues, that's on me
Lookin' for "I love you," rarely empathizin' for my relief
A child that grew accustomed, jumping up when I scraped my knee
'Cause if I cried about it, he'd surely tell me not to be weak
Daddy issues, hid my emotions, never expressed myself
Man should never show feelings, being sensitive never helped
His momma died, I asked him why he goin' back to work so soon?
His first reply was "Son, that's life, the bills got no silver spoon"

I can’t really decide what my favorite aspect of the song is between the production and the hook from Sampha. Speaking of which, I need a new Sampha album as soon as possible. He sounds fantastic on this track. I thought the line from Kendrick about Drake & Kanye was pretty interesting, albeit a bit random.

When Kanye got back with Drake, I was slightly confused
Guess I'm not mature as I think, got some healin' to do
Egotistic, zero-given fucks and to be specific
Need assistance with the way I was brought up
What's the difference when your heart is made of stone
And your mind is made of gold
And your tongue is made of sword, but it may weaken your soul?

I have no issues with the song honestly. I mean, I know I said the first verse was kind of surface level, but I don’t mind since the second verse is so good. The song is dope af. It’s followed by Rich (Interlude), which was the only track that I didn’t care for on my first listen of the album. I like it more now though. I think the piano-driven instrumental from Duval Timothy is fantastic. This is a solo track from Kodak Black in which he spits with kind of a Spoken Word type flow. I have to admit that I can’t understand most of what Kodak is saying just because his Florida accent is so thick. However, when I look at the lyrics on Genius, they actually are kind of interesting.

A bunch of lost souls in survival mode
It wasn't no way for us unless we found our own
Runnin' in stores, kickin' in doors, nigga, give me my glory
Nigga play with me, he ain't gon' live to tell the story
You know, this the type of shit we glorify, everybody gang-gang
Most of the people that you grew up with are now in the chain gang

Kodak’s inclusion in this album is pretty controversial, and for good reason. Personally, I think he’s a total piece of shit who needs to be held accountable. I don’t really get why he was so heavily featured on this project. I’m not gonna pretend to be super upset though. I mean, if it was up to me he wouldn’t be on this album, but with that said, I enjoyed all of his contributions to some extent. This interlude isn’t amazing or anything, but I think it’s pretty good. Again, I used to skip it, but now I just let it ride. The following track is called Rich Spirit, and it’s another one of the more commercial-friendly sounding tracks. I think it’s fire honestly. The production from Sounwave, DJ Dahi & franO is fantastic, and Kendrick’s melodic delivery sounds great. I think the hook is catchy as fuck too. All of the verses are very well written as well.

The morality can wait, feedback on low latency, I'm glitching from the face
As my thoughts grow sacredly, I'm runnin' out of space
Ask Whitney, she okay, never mind a hundred K
Why you lyin' on Benjamin? He turnin' in his grave
I'd be lyin' if I said I wouldn't give this shit away
The aloof Buddha, I'm Christ with a shooter
Praise to Muhammad, I might nigga noose ya

I really like his flow on the final verse in which he ends every bar with “brother” like he did on Family Ties. I think the lyrics on this track are good, but I mainly enjoy the song for the sonics. It’s dope as hell to me. Track 8 is one of the most talked about songs on the album, and it’s called We Cry Together. It’s basically a modern version of RZA‘s Domestic Violence. Personally, I’d rather just listen to the RZA song, but I think this track is very well done. The way Kendrick and Taylour Paige were going back and forth was really cool. It’s a shockingly entertaining argument. I do find Taylour’s voice kind of irritating personally, and I’m not crazy about her flow on the final verse. I also really don’t like the way this song ends. I mean, I get why they ended it like that, but it’s just kind of awkward to listen to Taylour Paige saying “fuck meeeee.” The production from The Alchemist is fire though. The song is pretty dope to me. Again, I enjoy Domestic Violence more, but I think this shit is incredibly well done. It’s a dope song. The final track on the first disc of the album is called Purple Hearts, and it’s easily my least favorite song on the album. I still like it to some extent though. The production is really great. I think the hook is pretty good, but I have to admit that Kendrick saying “yeah bay bee” is kind of off-putting. His actual verse is very good though. I even like the second verse from Summer Walker.

It ain't love if you gon' judge me for my past
No, it ain't love if you ain't never eat my ass

That’s probably my favorite couplet in the whole song. The closing verse from Ghostface Killah is really great too though. Nothing about this track really blows me away, but I definitely enjoyed it to some extent. Again, it’s my least favorite track on the album, but I still think it’s good. The second disc of this album is a lot better in my opinion. It starts with Count Me Out, which grew on me a lot after repeat listens. I mean, I liked it the first time I heard it, but now I love it. I think the production is phenomenal, and the female choir vocals in the background are fucking glorious. That’s definitely my favorite aspect of the song. I wouldn’t love the song nearly as much as I do now if not for that choir, which is odd because I usually don’t care for choir vocals. It’s really well done here though. I think the first verse from Kendrick on this track is fantastic too.

Masks on the babies, mask on an opp
Wear masks in the neighborhood stores you shop
But a mask won't hide who you are inside
Look around, the reality's carved in lies
Wipe my ego, dodge my pride
Look myself in the mirror
Amityville, I ain't seen nothin' scarier
I fought like a pitbull terrier
Blood I shed could fill up aquariums
Tell all my angels "carry 'em"

He has a very melodic delivery throughout this track that I think sounds pretty good. The only aspect of the song that I’m not crazy about is the manner in which it ends. It’s just kind of awkward to me when he keeps repeating “THIS is me, AND I’m blessed.” That’s just a nitpick though. Overall, I think the song’s dope as hell. It’s followed by a major highlight for me entitled Crown. The piano driven production from Duval Timothy is beautiful to me, and I love the singing from Kendrick on this track. The lyrics are cool, but it’s really just the production and vocal melodies from Kendrick that make this song so good to me. He doesn’t really rap that much on this song, and it’s a really mellow track, so I have a feeling that this will end up being the most underrated song on the album. I love it though. Again, it’s one of my favorite tracks on the project. I think it’s dope af. The following track is called Silent Hill, and it features another verse from Kodak Black. This song has probably my second-favorite hook on the whole album. I think it’s kind of silly-sounding, but it’s very endearing. The opening verse from Kendrick is really awesome to me. I mean, it’s not amazing or anything. I just think it sounds really good. I particularly love how he ends the first few bars with that “uhuh” ad-lib. I’ve seen a few people saying that Kodak outrapped Kendrick on this track, which I suppose is understandable. I mean, I don’t agree, but I can see why some people might have that opinion. He certainly rapped for a longer amount of time than Kendrick. Personally, I would’ve preferred if this was a solo track. Pretty much any other rapper besides Kodak would’ve been preferable for me, but he wasn’t bad here. The song is dope as hell to me. It’s followed by Savior (Interlude), which is a solo track from Baby Keem. This interlude is a lot better than the Kodak Black one in my opinion. It’s just one long verse from Keem over a really nice violin-driven instrumental. I think this is probably the best verse I’ve ever heard from Keem, even though he kinda runs outta steam by the time the track is over.

You ever seen your mama strung out while you studied division?
Your uncle ever stole from you day after Christmas?
Seen both of those in the county jail visits
The first and the fifteenth, the only religion
Noodles in the microwave, shark tank tidal wave
Grandma shootin' niggas, blood on the highway
Crossеs on the dashboard, you just want a platform
I wanna take evеrything that I ask for

Even though the verse didn’t totally blow me away, I really enjoyed the hell out of this track. The production is fire. I think it’s dope af. The following track is called Savior, and it’s another really awesome track. The production is phenomenal, and I really like the hook from Baby Keem. The way his voice kinda cracks when he says “are you happy for me?” sounds really good to me. I think each verse from Kendrick on this track is better than the last too.

Seen a Christian say the vaccine mark of the beast
Then he caught COVID and prayed to Pfizer for relief
Then I caught COVID and started to question Kyrie
Will I stay organic or hurt in this bed for two weeks?

There’s not really anything about this track that I dislike honestly. I mean, it doesn’t blow me away like some of the other tracks, but I still thoroughly enjoy it. I think it’s dope as hell. Track 15 is called Auntie Diaries, and it’s probably the most controversial song on the album just because Kendrick uses trans characters’ dead names as well as the F word. I don’t think my take on it is really that important since I’m a straight cis man. I obviously get why someone in the LGBT community would have an issue with it, and I’d be a fool to say that their criticisms are invalid. However, I think this is one of the best tracks on the album personally. To have an artist of Kendrick’s caliber make a song in support of the trans community is a huge deal. It’s pretty sad that it didn’t happen sooner in my opinion. I think the writing on this song is pretty beautiful to be honest. Even his use of the F slur is very intentional. He’s not using it as an insult here, and he’s explicitly pointing out that it’s wrong. My favorite part of the song comes toward the end where he says that he chose humanity over religion.

I said "Mr. Preacherman, should we love thy neighbor?
The laws of the land or the heart, what's greater?
I recognize the study she was taught since birth
But that don't justify the feelings that my cousin preserved"
The building was thinking out loud, bad angel
That's when you looked at me and smiled, said, "Thank you"
The day I chose humanity over religion
The family got closer, it was all forgiven

The way the production builds over the course of the song really makes the lyricism more potent to me too. I always had a feeling that Kendrick was one of those super hardcore religious fanatics, so the fact that he actually said he chose humanity over religion makes me happy. This is probably my second favorite song on the album honestly. I think it’s a beautiful song. The following track is called Mr. Morale, and this song really grew on me a lot. I wasn’t really that impressed the first time I heard it, but now I love it. The production from Pharrell Williams kinda reminds me of something that could’ve appeared on Childish Gambino‘s last album. I think it’s really great. I also love the way Kendrick rapped on this track, particularly on the second verse.

I think about Robert Kelly
If he weren't molested, I wonder if life'd fail him
I wonder if Oprah found closure
The way that she postered the hurt that a woman carries
My mother abused young
Like all of the mothers back where we from
SSI bury family members
At the repass, they servin' Popeyes chicken
What you know about black trauma?
F&Ns kickin' back is another genre
Tyler Perry the face of a thousand rappers
Using violence to cover what really happen

The uncredited vocals from Sam Dew are fantastic as well. The song also features an artist named Tanna Leone who is signed to pgLang. His contributions to this song aren’t really that substantial, but I didn’t mind him at all. He kinda sounded like Kid Cudi to me, particularly on the outro. Again, this song grew on me heavily after repeat listens. I think it’s dope as hell. The penultimate track is called Mother I Sober, and it’s fucking beautiful. Not only is it the best song on the album, but it’s also my number one favorite Kendrick Lamar song now. I think this might be the best song I’ve heard all year. Kendrick’s writing here is incredibly personal, and I think it’s absolutely gorgeous.

Mother cried, put they hands on her, it was family ties
I heard it all, I should've grabbed a gun, but I was only five
I still feel it weighin' on my heart, my first tough decision
In the shadows clingin' to my soul as my only critic
Where's my faith? Told you I was Christian, but just not today
I transformed, prayin' to the trees, God is taking shape
My mother's mother followed me for years in her afterlife
Starin' at me on back of some buses, I wake up at night
Loved her dearly, traded in my tears for a Range Rover
Transformation, you ain't felt grief 'til you felt it sober

The hook from Beth Gibbons is fucking amazing too. I love how delicate her voice sounds, and the lyrics are incredible.

I wish I was somebody
Anybody but myself

Every single line on this song is incredibly well-written, and I love Kendrick’s vulnerable-sounding delivery.

Mother’s brother said he got revenge for my mother’s face
Black and blue, the image of my queen that I can't erase
'Til this day can't look her in the eyes, pain is takin' over
Blame myself, you never felt guilt 'til you felt it sober
A conversation not bein' addressed in Black families
The devastation, hauntin' generations and humanity
They raped our mothers, then they raped our sisters
Then they made us watch, then made us rape each other
Psychotic torture between our lives we ain't recovered
Still livin' as victims in the public eyes who pledge allegiance
Every other brother has been compromised
I know the secrets, every other rapper sexually abused
I see 'em daily buryin' they pain in chains and tattoos
So listen close before you start to pass judgement on how we move
Learn how we cope, whenever his uncle had to walk him from school
His anger grows deep in misogyny
This is post-traumatic Black families and a sodomy, today is still active
So I set free myself from all the guilt that I thought I made
So I set free my mother all the hurt that she titled shame
So I set free my cousin, chaotic for my mother's pain
I hope Hykeem made you proud 'cause you ain't die in vain
So I set free the power of Whitney, may she heal us all
So I set free our children, may good karma keep them with God
So I set free the hearts filled with hatred, keep our bodies sacred
As I set free all you abusers, this is transformation

If you can listen to this song without feeling anything, you don’t have a soul. It’s one of the best songs I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s a fucking masterpiece to me. Sensational. SENSATIONAL! Okay, the last track is called Mirror. I think this song makes a lot of sense coming right after Mother I Sober. The celebratory sound of this track gives it an aura of acceptance. I think the production is fantastic, and I love the sung hook. Kendrick raps on this track, but I honestly mainly enjoy it for the production and hook. The rapping is still good though. It’s not like it didn’t add anything to the song at all. So yeah. I think it’s a fantastic outro. It was nice of Kendrick to give this album a happy ending. It’s dope as hell.

When I first listened to this album, I loved it. However, I REALLY love it now. In fact, this is now my second favorite Kendrick Lamar album behind To Pimp a Butterfly. I love how personal Kendrick got on this album, and there’s not a single track here that I didn’t enjoy to some extent. I think this shit is amazing, even though the second disc is way better than the first one in my opinion. I honestly don’t have any consistent gripes with this record. I guess my only complaint is the lack of an Anna Wise feature. I always enjoy hearing her work with Kendrick, so her absence was slightly disappointing. I don’t know that I’m ready to call this album of the year because Aethiopes hit me harder on my first listen, but I will say that this album definitely contains my song of the year for now. I think this project just further solidifies Kendrick Lamar as one of the greatest musicians of all time. This shit is dope af. I love it.

Favorite Song: Mother I Sober
Least Favorite Song: Purple Hearts


Watch the videos below for more thoughts on this album.

Grade: A

Tell me if I'm trippin'

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