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    Kendrick Lamar: Mr Morale & the Big Steppers review – rap genius bares heart, soul and mind

    After a five-year hiatus, the Pulitzer winner returns with an exhilarating hip-hop feast that ties personal pain to collective trauma – and lets no one off the hook

    Kendrick Lamar

    Kendrick Lamar: Mr Morale & the Big Steppers review – rap genius bares heart, soul and mind

    (pgLang/TDE/Aftermath/Interscope)

    After a five-year hiatus, the Pulitzer winner returns with an exhilarating epic that ties personal pain to collective trauma – and lets no one off the hook

    Alexis Petridis

    Fri 13 May 2022 15.52 BST

    124 A

    s Kendrick Lamar notes on Mr Morale & the Big Steppers’ opening track, it’s been 1,855 days since he last released an album. By his own account, the intervening five years have been something of a rollercoaster ride. He and his partner started a family (his children are on the album’s front cover), he made an acclaimed acting debut, performed at the first ever Super Bowl half-time show centred around hip-hop, and watched as the praise for his work shifted into an unprecedented realm. He won the Pulitzer prize for music, becoming not just the first rapper but the first pop artist period to receive the award.

    As Mr Morale & the Big Steppers makes clear, he also struggled with his mental health, sought therapy and endured a two-year stretch of writer’s block – cured, he suggests, when he “asked God to speak through me”.

    Clearly his prayers were answered in no uncertain terms: on the evidence here, the block ended like a dam bursting. The album is 18 tracks and nearly 75 minutes long. Anyone who learned to be wary of rappers who confused quantity with quality in the CD era, when every hip-hop album came stretched out to a disc’s maximum playing time, should note that there isn’t a moment of padding here.

    Mr Morale & the Big Steppers is absolutely crammed with lyrical and musical ideas. Its opening tracks don’t so much play as teem, cutting frantically from one style to another – staccato piano chords and backwards drums; a frantic, jazzy loop with a bass drum that recalls a racing heartbeat; a mass of sampled voices; thick 80s-film-soundtrack synth and trap beats. On Worldwide Steppers, Lamar’s words rattle out at such a pace that they threaten to race ahead of the backing track, a muffled, dense, relentless loop of Nigerian afro-rock band the Funkees that suddenly switches to a burst of laidback 70s soul and back again.

    On N95, the tone of his delivery changes so dramatically and so often that it sounds less like the work of one man than a series of guest appearances. When it comes to actual guest appearances, it casts its net wide – Ghostface Killah, Sampha, Summer Walker, the singer from Barbadian pop band Cover Drive – and occasionally delights in some unlikely juxtapositions. One interlude features a string quartet and 74-year-old German self-help author Eckhart Tolle discussing the perils of a victim mentality alongside Lamar’s cousin, rapper Baby Keem, whose concerns are more earthy: “White panties and minimal condoms”.

    The album keeps executing similar tonal handbrake turns, from deeply troubled to lovestruck and from furious to laugh-out-loud funny, the latter switch covered by We Cry Together, an ill-tempered duet with actor Taylour Paige that drags everything from the rise of Donald Trump and the crimes of Harvey Weinstein to the question of why “R&B bitches don’t feature on each other’s songs” into a heated domestic dispute. Even by hip-hop standards, there’s a quite phenomenal amount of swearing involved: no one has made more creative capital out of two people telling each other to fuck off since Peter Cook and Dudley Moore reinvented themselves as Derek and Clive.

    Lamar’s lyrical skill is prodigious enough to make gripping rhymes from some very well-worn topics: fake news, the projection of false lifestyles via social media, the pressures of fame. But more notable still is his willingness to take risks.

    Auntie Diaries, a lengthy, heartfelt lobbying on behalf of the trans community, is new territory for mainstream hip-hop. It confesses Lamar’s past homophobia and lashes out at the church and his fellow rappers in dextrous, convincing style. On Savior, he upbraids pop’s censorious moral climate as an unthinking exercise in liberal box-ticking. Elsewhere, the track turns its ire not merely on white people glomming on to the Black Lives Matter movement (“one protest for you, 365 for me”), but the black community and indeed himself.

    Kendrick Lamar performing in 2018. Photograph: Theo Wargo/WireImage

    He employs Kodak Black, a rapper whose lengthy legal issues include pleading guilty to assault and battery. This guest spot will be seen by some as an ethical failing but Lamar seems uninterested in moral purity, and more in how environment and other factors shape behaviour. Tellingly, the next track begins with Tolle: “Let’s say bad things were done to you when you were a child, and you develop a sense of self that is based on the bad things that happened to you…”

    He saves the album’s most shattering moment until the end. Mother I Sober offers a devastating series of verses that draw together slavery and sexual abuse, and deal unflinchingly with a sexual assault experienced by his mother and an episode in which a young Lamar, being questioned by his family, denied that a cousin had abused him. He was not lying but the disbelief that greeted his answer, he suggests, led to feelings of inadequacy that left him “chasing manhood” and nearly losing his partner in the process. It’s difficult but compelling listening, held together by a fragile chorus sung by Portishead’s Beth Gibbons.

    Source : www.theguardian.com

    Kendrick Lamar Returns With ‘Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers’

    Since his 2017 album, “DAMN.,” the California rapper has won seven Grammys and the Pulitzer Prize for music. “Mr. Morale,” his fifth LP, is expected to make a big splash on the charts.

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    Source : www.nytimes.com

    ‎Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers by Kendrick Lamar on Apple Music

    Listen to Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers by Kendrick Lamar on Apple Music. Stream songs including "United In Grief", "N95" and more.

    Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers

    Kendrick Lamar HIP-HOP/RAP · 2022

    When Kendrick Lamar popped up on two tracks from Baby Keem’s (“range brothers” and “family ties”), it felt like one of hip-hop’s prophets had descended a mountain to deliver scripture. His verses were stellar, to be sure, but it also just felt like way too much time had passed since we’d heard his voice. He’d helmed 2018’s compilation/soundtrack, but his last proper release was 2017’s That kind of scarcity in hip-hop can only serve to deify an artist as beloved as Lamar. But if the Compton MC is broadcasting anything across his fifth proper album , it’s that he’s only human.

    The project is split into two parts, each comprising nine songs, all of which serve to illuminate Lamar’s continually evolving worldview. Central to Lamar’s thesis is accountability. The MC has painstakingly itemized his shortcomings, assessing his relationships with money (“United in Grief”), white women (“Worldwide Steppers”), his father (“Father Time”), the limits of his loyalty (“Rich Spirit”), love in the context of heteronormative relationships (“We Cry Together,” “Purple Hearts”), motivation (“Count Me Out”), responsibility (“Crown”), gender (“Auntie Diaries”), and generational trauma (“Mother I Sober”). It’s a dense and heavy listen. But just as sure as Kendrick Lamar is human like the rest of us, he’s also a Pulitzer Prize winner, one of the most thoughtful MCs alive, and someone whose honesty across could help us understand why any of us are the way we are.

    Song Time Disc 1 United In Grief 1 4:15 N95 2 3:15 Worldwide Steppers 3 3:23 Die Hard

    Kendrick Lamar, Blxst, & Amanda Reifer

    4 3:59

    Father Time (feat. Sampha)

    5 3:42 Rich (Interlude) 6 1:43 Rich Spirit 7 3:22 We Cry Together

    Kendrick Lamar & Taylour Paige

    8 5:41 Purple Hearts

    Kendrick Lamar, Summer Walker, & Ghostface Killah

    9 5:29 Disc 2 Count Me Out 1 4:43 Crown 2 4:24 Silent Hill

    Kendrick Lamar & Kodak Black

    3 3:40 Savior (Interlude) 4 2:32 Savior

    Kendrick Lamar, Baby Keem, & Sam Dew

    5 3:44 Auntie Diaries 6 4:41 Mr. Morale

    Kendrick Lamar & Tanna Leone

    7 3:30

    Mother I Sober (feat. Beth Gibbons)

    8 6:46 Mirror 9 4:16 May 13, 2022

    18 Songs, 1 Hour, 13 Minutes

    pgLang/Top Dawg Entertainment/Aftermath/Interscope Records; ℗ 2022 Aftermath/Interscope Records

    Source : music.apple.com

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