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With Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, Kendrick Lamar Chooses Himself and Makes a Masterpiece: Album Review

kendrick lamar Renell Medrano

“I choose me, I’m sorry.”

The last five words on Kendrick Lamar‘s Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers hit the hardest for anyone who “did the work,” as trained and untrained therapists like to say. Kendrick’s fifth album, out today (May 13th), is a lot of things: part political analysis, part social critique, with a dash of familial observations. But from start to finish, it’s all therapy.

Kendrick’s latest effort is the Compton emcee putting himself on the couch and asking, “Why?” Why is he addicted to women and cheating? Why is he overwrought with guilt when he can’t help old friends? Why does he bathe in toxic relationships? Or even why he’s so damn competitive when it comes to rap?

Kendrick created a double LP sure to inspire tons of ink spillage from the pop culture industrial complex. And you know what? Every drop of said ink is worth it. Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers is another bonafide masterpiece from a cat who seemingly can’t miss when he steps in the booth. Through examining his own psyche, he cracks open the mind of those of us with melanin in our skin.

“United in Grief” starts side one with a voice imploring Kendrick to “tell them the truth.” He begins on a path detailing his insecurities, quirks, and flaws. After more than a decade, Kendrick is a deity to more than a few people who worship at his altar. But that’s not a position he wants to inhabit for even a few seconds of the day. The above song explains that he’s just as materialistic as the rappers whom we compare him to.

Meanwhile, “N95” details his problems with the masks we — and him — wear to hide our truth. “Worldwide Steppers” gets closer to his truth. He questions his motives for sleeping with white women back in the day while admonishing himself for a laundry list of issues. Whether it’s killing other people’s accomplishments, objectifying women, and leaving his old neighborhood as soon as the commas in his bank account made it feasible.

Within the album’s narrative, this is the moment Whitney, his longtime partner, suggests he seeks therapy. And for some, “therapy” is a four-letter word. Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers shows why Kendrick embraced the process and the evolution he experienced as a result.

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