After 5 long years of waiting Kung Fu Kenny is finally back with the release of his fifth studio album "Mr Morale & The Big Steppers". To say the hype for this was high is a massive understatement. The past five years have been eventful to say the least from basically the whole Trump Presidency, the BLM movement to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and of course COVID, there's no book (however long) that could be written to describe everything that has happened the past half-decade. Kendrick Lamar is a rapper who has soundtracked a whole political movement so obviously many people were quite eager to hear what he had to say. When "Mr Morale" was announced via a letter on his website the whole internet fucking exploded, impatiently counting down the days till its fateful release.
The album is out and everyone and their mother has an opnion on it. "It's mid + YB better" say some internet intellectuals , "it''s album of the year" others reply - truly a mixed reaction. I know I kinda stopped reviewing things, but I feel like I HAVE to say something about this. To put it simply, to me, this is an album that sounds a lot better on paper than it actually does. An industry legend making a project about maturing as a person, trying to find his place in the world and realizing his past mistakes? Great, fantastic even, but the real thing is not exactly what you would expect from that synopsis. Don't get me wrong, I still like this album. This is Kendrick we're talking about, I just don't love it
The album begins with "United in Grief", a song about grief (no way) or more specifically how old Kendrick would grief - engaging in materialistic hauls and shitting on others. A big theme on this album is therapy and here we have a prime example of a pre-therapy K Dot. The song seems to set the tone for a brilliant introspective jazz rap record, yet unfortunately the tone is really only set for about half the album. All of these songs have some good elements, especially lyrically, but I've listened to this album like 3 or 4 times already and I don't remember half of these songs. What I AM gonna do is focus on some songs I do have something to say about.
"Father Time" is definitely my favorite song on the record. A reflection on the not-so-good lessons his father taught him. An exploration of the long ingrained toxic masculinity passed down from generation to genration and how for years he's always tried to keep his emotions inside of him even though it really isn't the natural thing to do. The line "When Kanye got back with Drake, I was slightly confused
Guess I'm not mature as I think, got some healin' to do" sounds a lil goofy at first if I'm being honest but it really stuck with me for it's pure honesty. All this is accompanied by an amazing hook performed by British musician Sampha (who btw should also drop something of his own ong).
"We Cry Together" is another therapy session, or rather an argument (or an argument pre-therapy K DOT would have) with his partner (here performed by a very Rico Nasty-sounding Taylour Page) over a beat. It really gives major "For Free" vibes and its honesty is once again very memorable even though the execution might not be perfect. I am really happy that The Alchemist got to work with kendrick, though!
"Crown" sees oklama coming to terms with the fact that he might need help over a stripped back instrumental piano piece. Kendrick tries to express the pressure has platform has put on him using a line from Shaekspere's "Henry IV" ( "Heavy is the head that chose to wear the crown" (oftenly misquoted as “Heavy is the crown,” which btw how do you misquote a line from a god damn book like big guy it's written down) to describe his condition/state.
! (Disclaimer: I am not trans so you really don't need to listen to my opinion on this but I feel like the song perfectly exemplifies the things wrong with this project) !
"Auntie Diaries" is the song that has gotten everyone talking and I think it's a perfect example for the condition this album suffers from, great idea but not a great execution. Kendrick making a song about how learned to accept the LGBTQ+ community and more specifically his trans family members? Awesome, I'm down but the way he talks about it is a bit strange to hear in 2022. Over the song a young Kendrick learns to except his Uncle and cousin for who they were and realizing how the discrimination the LGBTQ+ community faces is not too indiffrent from the racism he talks about in his music, which is fantastic to hear in a genre that has quite a large homophobia issue. However, this is done using slurs for the , the usage of which he likens to the usage of the n-word ( which generally I do agree that they should be treated similarly) this is a little bit tone deaf in the moment though. If a white rapper like say Jack Harlow (Ik he sucks but he's the most relevant white rapper atm) said "I used to say (the actual nword) but now I don't anymore" people would probably be quite upset ( definitely more upset than people are at Kendrick) because at the end of the day you're still saying it. I love the idea of the song in theory, and I still think it's a good song but the execution makes me cringe a little bit.
"Mother I Sober" is a final release of catharsis after this hour long therapy. Kendrick just lets everything out.
So yeah that's the project all in all a bit of a mixed bag but I still think it's quite solid even though some songs were kind of forgettable. Was it worth the wait? I don't know yet and I knowe there's a lot more dissecting of this project to be done.