Kendrick Lamar reflects and introspects on ‘Mr. Morale and big steps

Kendrick Lamar has been the king of emotionally charged storytelling for almost a decade now. Across his unrivaled discography, the Compton rapper has masterfully fused diaristic accounts of his upbringing with sharp social commentary. Five years after his Pulitzer-winning fourth studio album, SLIM.Lamar returns with Mr. Morale and Big Stepsa sprawling and vulnerable project proving that the rapper still has plenty of personal layers to reveal.

Instrumentals were never a weakness for Lamar, but they were never an obvious strength for him either, often overshadowed by his otherworldly lyrical abilities. While Lamar’s rapping is still the main attraction on Mr Morale, his instrumentals provide nuanced emotional backdrops for his lyrics, which tie the project together in amazing ways. From the album’s first track, “United in Grief”, Lamar’s instrumental evolution is immediately evident: the song begins with short, ominous piano chords that transition into a smooth, jazzy texture before being immediately replaced. by a frenetic drum break. Later in the album, on “Auntie Diaries”, Lamar describes his journey of coming to terms with the gender identities of two transgender parents with a powerful instrument that moves from a glitchy, lo-fi beat to a glorious orchestral chord progression. . Yet Lamar’s message of personal growth is undermined by his repeated use of homophobic slurs and disdain for his uncle and cousin. These loaded words caused some serious conflict among fans and raise the question of whether a true alliance can result from such harsh language.

What is the use of Mr MoraleLamar’s guiding star is Lamar’s candid discussions of personal relationships and the history of family trauma. The rapper has been remarkably private about his personal life since entering the public eye, making this deep exploration of romantic and family struggles almost a novelty. We hear about Lamar’s fiancée and mother of two, Whitney Alford, on the track “Father Time,” as she says, “You really need therapy,” which Lamar responds to on the defensive that he doesn’t “need therapy”. , the fuck are you talking about that? Throughout the album, he admits his infidelity to Alford, tracing the roots of this behavior to an unstable relationship with his father and subsequent indulgence in sex to cope. Lamar speaks through these moments with unabashed candor, revealing the therapy session-like narrative structure of Mr Morale.

As the album nears its midpoint, Lamar begins to express vulnerabilities far deeper than his disconnect from modern pop culture. The song “We Cry Together” depicts a heated domestic argument between Lamar and a woman, described in the song by actress Taylour Paige. Above a dissonant piano line, the argument boils down to the woman accusing Lamar, and all men, of electing Donald Trump in 2016, and Lamar accusing all women of being fake feminists with no real virtues. It’s a tough listen due to the emotional weight behind Paige and Lamar’s words, but it’s also Lamar’s cutting-edge storytelling, rivaling 2012’s powerful narrative. Good kid, MAAD City.

Throughout the second half of the album, Lamar opens up even more: on the emotional ballad “Crown”, Lamar repeats the line “I can’t please everyone”, referring both to his legion of fans and personal connections. He also expresses dismay at his own status as the king of hip hop (“Heavy is the head that chose to wear the crown”), contrasting sharply with Lamar’s use of royal imagery to describe himself on past songs. like “Compton”, “i” and “DNA”. On the album’s penultimate track, “Mother I Sober,” Lamar joins forces with Portishead’s Beth Gibbons and finally lets it all out as he discusses his experiences of sexual assault in his family, substance abuse and generational trauma dating back to slavery. While Mr Morale is a bit scattered conceptually leading up to this point, “Mother I Sober” ties it all together as Lamar unambiguously reveals what Mr Morale is all about: itself.

As “Mother I Sober” bleeds into the final track, “Mirror,” the listener encounters the voice of Kodak Black. After nearly seven minutes of emotionally charged testimony about the generational harm of sexual violence, it’s almost unsettling to hear Black’s voice declare, “I choose myself. The Florida rapper has a history of sexual abuse allegations, with the most high-profile of these accusations coming 2016, when a high school girl confides in her school nurse that Black raped her in a hotel room after a show. Given the deep-rooted trauma that sexual abuse caused in Lamar’s own family, it’s hard to reckon with Black’s functionality throughout the project.

Dilemmas like this turn out to be puzzling but not entirely irrelevant given Mr Moralethe general theme of ambivalent virtues. The track “Savior” best distills this contradiction, as Lamar states in his opening lines, “Kendrick made you think about it, but he’s not your savior.” Lamar wants to distance himself from the moral pedestal on which he was placed as a one of the greatest rappers of our generation. The album, in many ways, serves as a timeline of his flaws and vices, making it futile to consider Lamar a poster child for perfect ethics. Mr Morale may have its moments of inconsistency, but Lamar intentionally exploits those incongruities to form a deeply profound confessional work of art.

Daily Arts Writer Nora Lewis can be reached at noralew@umich.edu and Daily Arts Writer Jack Moeser can be reached at jmoeser@umich.edu.


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