100s of titles, one news app for just $10 a month.
Dive Deeper:
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…
Kendrick Lamar returns with first new album in five years, 'Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers'
Kendrick Lamar's new album "Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers" is both a return to form and the end of…
Well, that's one way to deliver baby news: Kendrick Lamar's new album cover
Kendrick Lamar just unveiled a new album cover — and a new baby?
Kendrick Lamar announces Glasgow tour date after long-awaited album release
Rapper Kendrick Lamar will be returning to Glasgow for the first time 2019 as part of his The Mr. Morale…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Kendrick Lamar wins praise for supportive for song about trans family members
Kendrick Lamar has been praised after his new album, 'Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers', contained a supportive track about…
Kendrick Lamar uses his grief-fueled new album to reveal just how human he is
The new album by hip-hop superstar Kendrick Lamar is called Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers and is out Friday.…
Get all your news in one place
Latest Lifestyle news:
How well does the new Australian Curriculum prepare young people for climate change?
You’d be forgiven for not having heard about the long-awaited new Australian Curriculum, which was released with little fanfare in…
Read news from The Economist, FT, Bloomberg and more, with one subscription
Learn More
US military plane flies in 35 tonnes of baby formula from Germany
The first shipment of infant formula lands in Indianapolis to address a critical shortage in the US.
VIDEO: Pugshot: Cops Release Cute Mugshot Of Lost Puppy And Fake Charge Sheet
Police have released a heartwarming fake mugshot of a cute female puppy after charging her for getting lost in Thailand.
What Kate McKinnon Gave to Saturday Night Live
Of the show’s big cast departures, this one will hurt the most.
Kwame Onwuachi's zucchini bread secrets
"Think about food as another love language," the chef says. "Food is the only art form that we ingest"
From analysis to good news, read the world’s best news in one place
Use this marinade for juicier lamb chops
Lamb and peas for date nights in (with yourself)
Greece rebuts British Museum claim Parthenon marbles were ‘removed from rubble’
Museum’s deputy director had told Unesco meeting contested treasures ‘were not all hacked’ from Greek temple

Kendrick Lamar review, Mr Morale and the Big Steppers: A tender opus from the defining poet of his generation

By Ben Bryant
Renell Medrano

Hip-hop’s oracle returns in a crown of thorns for his latest prophecy: a surprising meditation on fatherhood, family and friendship. Kendrick Lamar’s work has always been introspective, but Mr Morale and the Big Steppers – with guest spots from artists including Florence Welch, Beth Gibbons, Summer Walker and Sampha – has a delicacy and tenderness to it that is unprecedented for the father of two from Compton, California.

Because of this, Mr Morale and The Big Steppers is most redolent of Lamar’s second album good kid, m.A.A.d city, which remains one of his most personal records. Lamar’s calling card is conscious hip-hop: introspective, politically astute, with smart wordplay and often jazz-inflected musicianship. He is an artist of contrasts, peppering reflective poetry with brutal putdowns. Mr Morale calls to mind 2013’s “Cartoons and Cereal” – a leaked cut that never made it onto any of Lamar’s albums because of sample clearance issues, yet remains one of his most touching (and loved) songs. In it, Lamar’s dissociated delivery observes a kid watching cartoons while chaos unfolds around him.

Those same themes are refracted through the eyes of a parent in “Worldwide Steppers”, an exploration of fatherhood that is one of Mr Morale’s most interesting and haunting songs. It has a juddering rhythm that hits like a bruised peach, thanks to its soft, thudding sample from The Funkees’ ‘Break Through’. Here, Lamar is “playing Baby Shark with my daughter, watching for sharks outside at the same time. Life as a protective father: I’d kill for her.” He loves to play with contrasts, and so “Die Hard” has a gentle flute line and a blissful melody. “I hope I’m not too late to set my demons straight,” sings LA rapper/producer Blxst in a gentle cameo that tees up “Father Time”. When Lamar does cut loose in Mr Morale, he rarely targets other rappers. It’s true that he namechecks Kanye and Drake here, but it’s only to say that he was “slightly confused” by their reconciliation, concluding that all of them are “grown men with daddy issues”.

In fact, the most ruthless track is “We Cry Together”, which takes the form of an argument between a couple – not exactly a battle rap, but definitely not a duet. Florence Welch sings the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it intro in the unlikeliest guest spot on the album... until Zola star Taylour Paige starts rapping moments later: “You the reason Harvey Weinstein had to see his conclusion. You the reason R Kelly can’t recognise that he’s abusive.” Lamar retorts: “Women in general can’t just get along/ Why R&B bitches don’t feature on each other songs?”

“Purple Hearts” has a Ghostface Killah guest verse and a typically lush, languid appearance from R&B singer Summer Walker. “Shut the f*** up when you hear love talking,” sings Lamar. It’s a prelude to follow-up “Count Me Out”, which rejects fame: “Done every magazine, what’s fame to me?/ It’s a game to me, where the bedroom at?/ Sleep, I ain’t had to flex with that.” The return to what’s real – family, love, friendship – is the thread that ties the album together. In “Silent Hill”, Lamar is “Pushing the snakes, I’m pushing the fakes, I’m pushing them all off me.” And in “N95” – which is about masks but not the Covid kind – Lamar raps: “Take all that designer bulls*** off and what do you have? Bitch you ugly as f***.”

“Crown”, the album’s shimmering, sparse centrepiece, sees Lamar rapping “I can’t please everybody” over south-London pianist Duval Timothy’s “Through the Night” – a moody track reminiscent of Chilly Gonzales. It’s similar to “Mother | Sober”: another piano-driven song with a shivery line from Portishead’s Beth Gibbons’s inimitable voice: ghostly, childlike and clear as glass. Mr Morale & The Big Steppers is a sheaf of songs delving into conflict and reconciliation. It is anchored in Lamar’s own life, right down to a cover that features the first confirmation of the birth of his second child, Enoch. He has earned this moment of reflection.

What is inkl?
The world’s most important news, from 100+ trusted global sources, in one place.
Morning Edition
Your daily
news overview

Morning Edition ensures you start your day well informed.

No paywalls, no clickbait, no ads
Enjoy beautiful reading

Content is only half the story. The world's best news experience is free from distraction: ad-free, clickbait-free, and beautifully designed.

Expert Curation
The news you need to know

Stories are ranked by proprietary algorithms based on importance and curated by real news journalists to ensure that you receive the most important stories as they break.

Dive Deeper:
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…
Kendrick Lamar returns with first new album in five years, 'Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers'
Kendrick Lamar's new album "Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers" is both a return to form and the end of…
Well, that's one way to deliver baby news: Kendrick Lamar's new album cover
Kendrick Lamar just unveiled a new album cover — and a new baby?
Kendrick Lamar announces Glasgow tour date after long-awaited album release
Rapper Kendrick Lamar will be returning to Glasgow for the first time 2019 as part of his The Mr. Morale…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Kendrick Lamar wins praise for supportive for song about trans family members
Kendrick Lamar has been praised after his new album, 'Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers', contained a supportive track about…
Kendrick Lamar uses his grief-fueled new album to reveal just how human he is
The new album by hip-hop superstar Kendrick Lamar is called Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers and is out Friday.…
Get all your news in one place