Kendrick Lamar drops a new masterpiece

Kendrick Lamar: Mr Morale & the Big Steppers is rap genius and a landmark album, says Stevie G in his Downtown column
Kendrick Lamar drops a new masterpiece

Kendrick Lamar: Mr Morale & the Big Steppers - rap genius.

It all happened quite quickly in the end! We’ve waited for five years for the follow up to Damn, but Kendrick Lamar announced Mr Morale & the Big Steppers a few weeks ago, having suddenly dropped The Heart Part 5 as a taster just a week prior. Rhyming over Marvin Gaye’s seminal I Want You, Kendrick was back with a bang. But what about the album itself?

By the time most people in Ireland woke up last Friday there were already full blown dissertations on Twitter dissecting an album that deserved a bit more respect and digestion. This is not bubblegum rap; it’s arguably the greatest rapper of his generation following up a run of classic albums that is rare in music history. His last three albums have all been classics and even the filler stuff between albums has been very good. A rapper who once contributed verses to pop songs by Emelie Sande, Maroon 5 and Taylor Swift is now very much in control of his own narrative, and he has the world at his feet. Mr Morale & the Big Steppers is rich in ambition and it marks another landmark album for the Compton MC.

Kendrick can’t really be out-rapped by anyone but first up I want to talk about the music. The analysis of the lyrics is great but lots of the commentary on this record seems to brush over the fact that he is a musical artist first and foremost. The sonics on this album are predictably brave and brilliant and Kendrick moves between genres and beat switches with typical ease.

Regulars such as Sounwave, Dahi and Bekon handle production, with the Alchemist, Pharrell, Baby Keem, Boi-1da and many more also contributing.

Guest spots from Keem, Ghostface Killah, Taylour Paige, Kodak Black, Tanna Leone and more are accompanied by vocals from the likes of Sampha, Beth Gibbons, Sam Dew, Blxst, Amanda Reifer.

The music is amazing. Effortlessly moving through free jazz, soul, r&b, trap and funk (and often in just one song!), it’s territory on which Kendrick has mined successfully before, and he is comfortable on pretty much any rhythm. The samples are at times mesmerising, and we can hear echoes of psychedelic rock, jazz and soul everywhere. Crucially, the guest spots, interludes and musical variety still offer up lots of space, and Kendrick knows when to step aside too. The R&B and soul on this album is first class, and the contributions from Sam Dew, Blxst and Summer Walker are outstanding. I personally love the mid-tempo jams here. Sampha has been described as a ‘cheat code’ when it comes to rap, and he never misses, and while the appearance of Beth Gibbons might seem left-field to Americans, most of us over in this part of the world will be delighted to hear the Portishead singer on such a high profile project that might bring more ears to their own great body of work.

Kendrick knows he’s probably the best rapper in the game, but it doesn’t mean he’s found the whole journey easy. In the five years since Damn, he’s won a Pulitzer Prize and started a family, but even then he was put on a pedestal as the ‘saviour of rap’.

“I can’t please everybody” is repeated as a mantra on Crown, and it’s almost as if Kendrick recognises that a backlash will eventually come, though he does add, “that I love when you count me out”, elsewhere on another great track. He ends the album with another powerful refrain; “I choose me I’m sorry”.

Kendrick admits that he’s been “going through it” and this album goes deep into childhood trauma, marital infidelities, religion, gender identity, therapy and lots more, with the rapper once again opening up on his own personal contradictions in an unfiltered fashion.

Only rap can be so direct, and it’s sometimes only rap that seems to draw the ire of many when it shines light on uncomfortable subjects. Kendrick admits he hasn’t got all the answers, and some of his words may not rest easily with me, but I do respect the honesty and this record makes you think about a lot of things too.

It’s challenging , it’s entertaining, it’s full of bangers, and it’s another important chapter in one of hip-hop greatest bodies of work.

We are blessed to live in the time of such greatness, and this album will take time to absorb fully. I’ve been listening to it non-stop since Friday morning and I know I’ll be listening to it for years to come too.

Welcome back, Kendrick Lamar!

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