After one of the most abrupt pauses in 21st-century music history, Kendrick Lamar ends his dry spell by putting up one of the most complex and significant albums four years after his last studio project. Often spotlighted as an advocate against racial injustices and gang violence, Lamar’s determination in battling oppressive societal norms was what landed him the responsibility of creating the soundtrack for Marvel’s “Black Panther”. Currently, it stands as the highest-grossing film with an African-American lead of all time. The ideas of the film were related to Kendrick’s morals, highlighting what it means to be Black in both the U.S. and Africa. Unfortunately, this soundtrack was the last time millions of fans would see Lamar release new music, leading to theories and fears of retirement.
Lamar’s impressive career was under how he exploits the nuance of music to parallel certain parts of his past through his impeccable rhyme schemes and phenomenal storytelling ability. His power to manifest lives through words is one of the many reasons he is studied at ISM through the Language & Literature course at both SL and HL. Lamar’s discography has not only garnered praise from celebrities and the media but earned him recognition from former US president Barack Obama as well. Obama claimed that Lamar’s album To Pimp a Butterfly was the best album of 2015.
All this love and applause is what ultimately led fans to a sorrowful path, fearing a legend’s retirement would come too soon.
But on August 27th, 2021, contrary to the popular belief that this rapper was headed for the exit, Lamar’s disappearing act came to a close, due to his appearance in hip hop rapper Baby Keem’s “Family Ties”. It performed up to Lamar’s standard as a song, as well as reassuring fans that he still had the flair to comfortably be at the forefront amongst all rappers. The song was met with success, which caused fans on Instagram and Twitter to beg for the release of a new album.
All hopes and wishes were soon granted as Lamar announced that he was releasing a new album named Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers on the 13th of May, 2022. So when the day of anticipation finally arrived, the album sold the equivalent of 295,000 units (album purchases) during its first week of release, topping multiple other single-week performances by an artist, including Harry’s House by Harry Styles (checkout Naqib’s commentary for more about Harry’s House) and The Weeknd’s Dawn FM. On top of that, 4/10 spots from the Billboard Top 10 hottest songs were all from Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.
Lamar’s latest album remains true to everything he has become known for, everything that he has stood for. Similar to his past works like DAMN. and To Pimp a Butterfly, listeners hear his creatively expressed recollection of stories and moments from his life, experiences that molded him into the rapper many know and love today. The album is comprised of two parts, the first one being The Big Steppers, and the second being Mr. Morale. Both parts feature controversial and taboo themes that rarely voyage into the music industry, namely childhood trauma and extensive abuse. The first part mainly lingered around Lamar’s feelings towards these themes, whereas part two deconstructed them and compared them to his morality.
He also builds on his previous themes of empowerment, by sharing the love he maintains for his transgender relatives despite social pressures in the song “Auntie Diaries”. Lamar’s penultimate song, “Mother I Sober”, offers an unforgettable and unfortunate touch on his past referring to the concepts of slavery and sexual abuse that he saw his mother suffer from at a young age.
Lamar’s legacy is indistinguishable from other legendary icons, extending far beyond the music industry. He has sustained the role as a muse of black representation and an overall activist for global equality. Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers foment as a continuation of a historic legacy and reassures that a legend won’t be retiring anytime soon.
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Staff, Billboard. “The 10 Best Rappers of All Time.” Billboard, 14 Mar. 2022, https://www.billboard.com/photos/the-10-best-rappers-of-all-time-6723017/1-10-lil-wayne/. Tolsen. “Billboard Hot 100.” Billboard, Billboard, 4 May 2022, https://www.billboard.com/charts/hot-100/.