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TWOVIEW: Kendrick Lamar - "Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers"

Kirbs View

Hear me out. I love Kendrick Lamar.

Not because of pop-culture peer pressure and wanting other people to think I'm a "smart" Hip-Hop fan that has an understanding high above the fray of the "Tik-Tok bullshit"... Not because I'm afraid I'll get shouted down by all of his true disciples if I don't. Not for any reason other than his passionate intention and his unrivaled meticulousness. He has never said a single word on a record just to say it, there is always a purpose; a deeper story, and meaning. As a fan (when he drops) I feel rewarded by his dedication and respect for the craft and culture. As an artist, I relate to and admire his attention to detail.

While I love Kendrick Lamar the artist, what I struggle with is understanding Kendrick Lamar the societal fixture. The world at large seemingly gets less and less patient every day; less and less willing to put forth the effort necessary to understand things that require extensive thought. And yet, there appears to be infinite patience and understanding for the works of this particular artist. There is no doubt Kendrick Lamar has tons of worthy things to say and so much of it is beautiful and said in such unique ways. But so did Lupe Fiasco. So do thousands of ornately lyrical emcees across the world. There is so much meat on the bone of any Kendrick Lamar release that I KNOW the real heads and the core of his base are truly eating for a lifetime. But there's a lotta lying going on when it comes to Kendrick too. Some of y'all are lying to yourselves and the people around you. You don't feel this man! How can you when you don't know what he's saying? And do you know how I know a lotta y'all don't pick up everything Kendrick lays down? Because I don't.

I'm not gonna fake the funk with this review. Even though I designed my college degree around being able to analyze albums like the ones Kendrick gives us, it was a couple of songs into To Pimp A Butterfly that I realized I only knew what this dude is talking about like 30% of the time. If you are familiar with my work you will understand that this is a tough admission. I pride myself on being able to identify and follow the themes an artist is relaying in their projects, often describing them better than they can. But I'm not gonna pretend today. I'm not gonna pretend like I fully understand the underlying story and the metaphorical value of "Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers" - I do not. What I do know though is that even for a historically honest artist, this was his most honest work to date. This was something different because unlike the relentlessly complex "To Pimp a Butterfly" and "untitled unmastered" and the more simple "Black Panther Soundtrack" and "DAMN"-- he finds a balance in this album much like "good kid, m.A.A.d city" and "Section.80" this time almost alternating track to track with lighter and denser work. Maybe that is the key to understanding the duality of the Mr. Morale thing, but again I won't even speculate.

Because Kendrick had the balls, to be honest, and do something different and keep it simple, I'm going to do the same and abandon my normal methodical approach and give you all my first-listen notes song by song straight off my phone. Hasty judgments for an album you are supposed to be anything but hasty with. Don't hate me. Here goes...

“United in Grief”- To put it nicely, this is an interesting musical composition. To put it rudely this shit is in the way. It’s hard to give the number of focus Kendrick’s words require when the rest of the track is doing so much. Chaos.

“N95” - J Cole flow on that 2nd verse - just saying. *shrug* Musically, this is what I want from a Kendrick song. No wonder it’s the single. I’m still lost at points.

“Worldwide Steppers”- This “beat” is garbage… wtf? Thankfully, it switches for a sec but no one can tell me they actually enjoy listening to this instrumentation… However, the song is redeemed a bit poetically by some of his most relatable understandable bars.

“Die Hard”- I really appreciate the break from the density with some easy listening here. This really may be the most simple Kendrick song of all time.

“Father Time” - The skit and the first verse are unnecessary in my view especially because the 2nd verse is classic.

“Rich Interlude”- Serious poetry by Kodak Black backed by nothing but a very complex piano composition - has to be an intentional contradiction.

“Rich Spirit”- Despite the industry being grossly oversaturated with tough-guy talk it was actually quite refreshing to hear KDot flex this specific muscle. That “christ with a shooter” line was hard af.

“We Cry Together”- Simply a fight w Taylor Paige. This track is “Blame Game” from “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” meets “Kim” from “Marshall Mathers LP.” Kendrick kills simple concepts like this.

“Purple Hearts”- A pretty simple soundscape for once— love hearing an emotional side of Ghostface. Kendrick’s contribution to this is a bit forgettable.

“Count Me Out”- The beat, hook, and flow is hard but what are we talking about in the verses?

“Crown”- This is why he’s one of the GOATS. What a great retort to mine and anyone’s criticisms of how Kendrick reigns.

“Silent Hill” - Yes! Finally, some bang! You made Kodak play your game on the “Rich Interlude,” now go play his. Once again, the hook is universally relatable but I was let down by another overly complex Kendrick verse. I do love the lob he threw to Kodak in the second verse. We haven’t seen Kendrick play point with anyone but the usual suspects like J-Rock

“Savior Interlude”- All strings this time. This storytelling is clearly skillful but I am too exhausted this late in the album for all this.