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Five early take-aways from Kenrick Lamar’s ‘Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers’

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Kendrick Lamar is within the handful of rappers that have a legitimate claim to the title of GOAT in hip hop.

He’s a brilliant word smith, profound storyteller and a bona fide hitmaker when he’s so inclined. He’s at the point of reverence where his peers, fans and tastemakers speak of him as if he’s from another planet.

Now he’s back, five years after his critically acclaimed “DAMN,” and his fans couldn’t be any happier.

Here are five take-aways from the first few listens of “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers.”

Kendrick Lamar’s music is still an event

It’s been half a decade since Kendrick Lamar’s last album and the hip hop (and generally music) landscape was extraordinarily different then. The genre has continued to move further away from conscious rap and has moved its emphasis towards production in a major way. Regardless Kendrick Lamar’s album had so many people rushing to it that it gridlocked his page on Spotify and Apple Music.

For some people the page wouldn’t even load off Apple Music and they were forced to watch their friends enjoying on Spotify.

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You can count on one hand how many artists create an event when they release their music and Kendrick Lamar is one of them.

No Top Dawg Entertainment features

Kendrick Lamar is a willing collaborator.

All great artists are able to notice their deficiencies and bring in others to supplement them, it’s the reason Kendrick had Drake on “Poetic Justice” and Zacari on “Love.”

Sampha, Blxst, Amanda Reifer, Summer Walker, Ghostface Killah are among the laundry list of features on “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers,” but there are no artists from TDE.

“Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” is Lamar’s last album with the TDE label that helped him rise from an up-and-comer to the GOAT-level artist that he is today so it’s a bit of a surprise.

There’s no SZA slow down, no ScHoolboy Q “YAWK YAWK YAWK” ad-libs and no Black Hippy send off. As of now there’s been no public animosity between Kendrick and the label or any of his labelmates, but excluding them in his final project is a curious decision.

Black Trauma is front and centre

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Kendrick Lamar’s understanding of Black trauma has only grown throughout his career and has been a constant throughout his music.

“Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” is no exception with its most prominent songs being of that nature. Notably “Father Time” featuring Sampha where Lamar breaks down issues people of his generation have with their father or lack thereof due to gang affiliation.

Another track is “We Cry Together” in which Lamar and Taylour Paige rap back and forth to beautifully illustrate a toxic relationship that has a couple hurling vicious insults at each other.

“Auntie Diaries” is Kendrick Lamar’s most controversial song

While Kendrick Lamar is unafraid to tackle difficult topics on his projects “Auntie Diaries” has established itself as one of the most controversial. “Auntie Diaries” is a track about a character who has two trans family members.

The song delves into the upbringing of the character along with their emotions and dealings with an environment that isn’t necessarily welcoming to trans people. The song is insightful in ways, but Kendrick Lamar’s choice of language drew the ire of many.

While it brings light to how Kendrick acted at the time he is portraying in the song, his use of a homophobic slur and misgendering his trans uncle is misguided to most. The track sparked backlash on Twitter.

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Backxwash, a Polaris Prize winning rapper from Montreal, also weighed in on the matter, with disappointment.

“The Heart Part 5” isn’t on the album

Although the song was a single used to promote the album, “The Heart Part 5” isn’t on “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers.”

“The Heart Part 5” fits within the album’s concept, focusing on influential Black people, and its sprawling production style is a match for the album, but it’s not part of Lamar’s double album escapade.

This isn’t out of the norm though as “The Heart Part 1” was a loosie in Kendrick’s early days and “The Heart Part 3” was released days before the legendary “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” but was also left of the project as well.

Demar Grant is a Toronto-based staff reporter for the Star. Reach Demar via email: dgrant@torstar.ca

Source: TORONTO STAR
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