- Kendrick Lamar just released his last album with TDE, “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers.”
- Each song is filled with allegories and metaphors that are hard to understand with just one listen.
- Insider breaks down Lamar’s latest album and we even highlight our favorite lyrics from each track.
Kendrick Lamar exorcizes personal and societal demons in “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers,” his first double album and his final project released under the independent label he helped establish, TDE.
The 18-track double album sees Lamar call out the clickbait economy, admit to the ways lust has negatively impacted his life, find grace for public figures fighting invisible demons, and chase after a new definition of manhood. He also talks about some of the sacrifices he made to strengthen who he was when the crown was set aside.
Lamar teamed up with a number of famed producers to pull it off, including Pharrell, the Alchemist, Boi-1da, Sounwave, Duval Timothy, Beach Noise, and more to create the album’s sonic story.
As a listener, who’s guilty of much of what Lamar criticizes the project, I listened closely to the double album, putting it through a series of tests: blasting it through my car speakers while driving to my local Trader Joe’s on Saturday, playing it through my waterproof speaker in the shower, and
it from the TV while cleaning the house on Sunday.
Once my research was complete, I selected my favorite lyrics and assigned an extremely unscientific overall score to each song based on how many of my edges it snatched on the very first listen, and how many times I was forced to run it back since.
Let’s take a trip through my feelings together before I start a GoFundMe campaign to pay for the therapy to process Lamar telling me Tupac being dead means I have to think for myself.
On ‘Savior,’ Lamar forces listeners to consider their idol worship
On track four from disc two, Lamar informs listeners that while they might be inspired by his work and the examples set by J. Cole, Lebron James, and Future they cannot be saved by them. With help from Baby Keem and Chicago singer Sam Dew, the rapper also calls out fairweather friends on this track. He’s suspicious of those “smiling in his face” and isn’t sold on those who “ blacked out screens and called it solidarity.”
Best lyrics: “Seen a Christian say the vaccine mark of the beast / Then he caught COVID and prayed to Pfizer for relief / Then I caught COVID and started to question Kyrie / Will I stay organic or hurt in this bed for two weeks? (You really wanna know?)”
Score: 10/10 Some people I love are still disappointed that I let “them put that thing in my arm,” so it felt validating to hear Lamar rap about suspicions surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine in the Black community.
‘We Cry Together’ centers Lamar and Taylour Paige as they show us exactly how stupid we sound in an argument
Lamar and “Zola” actress Taylour Paige go back and forth on this record where they spit jabs, co-written by The Alchemist, Bēkon, Florence Welch, J.LBS, and Lamar himself. The rapper and actress act out an argument that seems like it was pulled straight from somebody’s IG Story after they’ve been recording their neighbors going at it again.
Best lyrics: “Bitches starin’ at me in Zara, hoes scratchin’ my cars up / Shoulda followed my mind in ’09 and just moved to Georgia”
Score: 10/10 This is the most I’ve appreciated the “having a fake argument” as a means to five a lecture on a song device since 50 Cent’s 2005 hit, “Baltimore Love Thing.” I can’t stop listening to it. (P.s. I always thought L.C. should’ve gone to Paris instead of staying with Jason during the season finale of “The Hills,” and this song proves that I was right once again. Because Paige’s character would’ve been better off in Atlanta. That city rarely fails a pretty girl with a plan.)
‘Father Time’ sees Lamar confront ideas about masculinity
In “Father Time,” the fifth song on the first album, Lamar details what he absorbed from childhood, revealing how those lessons have been useful on his journey to success. He’s aided on the track by British singer-songwriter Sampha.
Best lyrics: “Daddy issues kept me competitive, that’s a fact, n— / I don’t give a fuck what’s the narrative, I am that n— / When Kanye got back with Drake, I was slightly confused / Guess I’m not mature as I think, got some healin’ to do”
Score: 10/10 I’m just glad someone else admitted that petty can be powerful.
‘Count Me Out’ sees Lamar admit that reaching for the crown is a result of his tendency to ‘care too much’
Disc two opens with Lamar saying how much he likes to be counted out by those who doubt him. Here he seems to resolve his misgivings about what is real and what is not seen in “Mother I Sober.” He boldly states “this time around I trust myself.”
Best lyrics: “Some put it on the Devil when they fall short / I put it on my ego, lord of all lords”
Score: 10/10 This is the track with the most replay value for me. It passed the car test with flying colors.
‘Purple Hearts’ references Christ, codeine, and cheating spouses seamlessly
This song closes the first disc with appearances from Summer Walker and Ghostface Killah. With his “crown on Bob Marley” and his “wrist on Yo Gotti,” Lamar explains why he ducks the trappings of celebrity life and chooses to remove himself from friendships with other “rappers” because of his suspicion about their “intentions.”
Best Lyrics: “Summer in the storm, I cannot conform / I just might love you still, just think I love me more / It ain’t love if you gon’ judge me for my past / No, it ain’t love if you ain’t never eat my ass / It ain’t love if you just only tie me down because you seen me in my bag / That’s why I’m anti-everyone before this mask”
Score: 10/10 If there’s something more dependable than Walker having a “forget all y’all, I’m out” attitude, I haven’t seen it yet.
‘Worldwide Steppers’ sees Lamar highlight his shortcomings and reject efforts to reduce art to analytics
The third track on the first disc dives into stories of disassociation, promiscuity, and grief. Notoriously more private than his peers, Lamar rarely delves into details of his relationship. Still, here he shines a light on the developmental stages he’s gone through as an artist, a trauma survivor, and a Black man with his fianceé Whitney Alford at his side.
Best lyrics: “The media’s the new religion, you killed the consciousness (What the fuck?) / Your jealousy is way too pretentious, you killed accomplishments (What the fuck?) / N— killed freedom of speech, everyone sensitive (What the fuck?) / If your opinion fuck ’round and leak, might as well send your will (What the—) / The industry has killed the creators, I’ll be the first to say (What the fuck?) / To each exec’, “I’m saving your children”—We can’t negotiate”
Score: 10/10 One: This should be the official anthem for the creator economy. Two: I am not OK.
‘Crown’ reminds us external praise is linked often to convenience
This song immediately made me think of Beyoncé’s 2003 song “Yes.” The same way Queen Bey asserted that “the first time I say no, it’s like I never said yes,” Lamar says that his rap crown comes with those who get “amnesia” the first time he declines to appease them. Traditionally celebrated for not being big on braggadocious rap bars, he reveals that he purchased cars to fight the feelings associated with the fact that “Favor come with favors and you can’t say no.”
Best lyrics: “But the time it’ll come (But the time it’ll come) / To not be there when somebody needs you (When somebody needs you)”
Score: 10/10 Lamar might use a mic and Tiktokers may use their camera’s
setting, but the message is the same as the song’s closing lyrics: “I can’t please everybody.”
‘Rich Spirit’ marks the value of standing alone at a time when one can easily be guilty by association
Track seven on disc one declares the death of oversized hip-hop entourages and warns of their potential pitfalls. As he fasts from fooling around with randoms and chilling with hangers-on, Lamar tells his peers that they “gotta watch your homies and police” because “clout chasing” is a “hell of a disease.”
Best lyrics: “I would never live my life on a computer / IG’ll get you life for a chikabooya / More power to ya, love ’em from a distance / Why you always in the mirror more than the bitches?”
Score: 10/10 Somehow boasting about boundaries has become the new black. I’m into it.
‘Mr. Morale’ find empathy for Lamar’s fellow celebrities
“Mr. Morale,” the seventh track from the second disc, calls out the evils some have faced before fame. Lamar reframes the perception of public figures who might not receive as much grace for their mistakes and reminds us that fame and fortune might not be the cure-all we would assume it would be. He centers on the trauma of R. Kelly, and wonders aloud if “Oprah found closure.”
Best lyrics: “Tyler Perry, the face of a thousand rappers / Using violence to cover what really happen / I know somebody’s listenin’ / Past life regressions to know my conditions / It’s based off experience / Comma for comma, my habits insensitive”
Score: 10/10 This track feels the most connected to the album’s prelude “The Heart Part 5” in which Lamar discusses living in a land where “hurt people more people.”
‘Savior (Interlude)’ speaks to the lack of civility you can encounter in your own home
In the fourth track on the second disc, which features Lamar’s cousin Baby Keem and German spiritual self-help author Eckhart Tolle, the rapper sets the scene for the following song “Savior.”
Best lyrics: “You ever seen your mama strung out while you studied division? Your uncle ever stole from you, day after Christmas? / Seen both of those in the county jail visits / The first and the fifteenth, the only religion”
Score: 9/10 Lamar expresses how trauma can create reverence for payday. If you’ve ever stepped foot in a check-cashing spot after waiting all day for the mailman to bring salvation to your mailbox, or argued with your cousin about why chicken Cup O’ Noodles is the best flavor, you can relate.
‘United in Grief’ reunites Lamar with the listener after ‘1855 days’ of writer’s block
The first track on disc one sets the tone for the album perfectly.
Best Lyrics: “Paid lottery for it, I ain’t want it in portions”
Score: 9/10 With references to writers block, therapy, and the trends he’s been observing while sitting in silence, this track stoked my excitement.
‘Mirror’ forces us all to acknowledge our own ‘toxic energy’
In “Mirror,” which closes out the second disc, Lamar releases himself from the prison of prestige and encourages the listener to find their own path to freedom because we might be the “main character” but we’re kind of the villain too.
Best Lyrics: “Workin’ on myself, the counselin’ is not easy / Don’t you point a finger, just to point a finger / ‘Cause critical thinkin’ is a deal-breaker / Faith in one man is a ship sinking”
On ‘Mother I Sober,’ Lamar personalizes the references to generational trauma he embedded in ‘Mr. Morale.’
In the eighth track on the second disk, which features Beth Gibbons of Portishead, Lamar shares a story of being gaslit by a parent who didn’t believe his experience with abuse as they were still suffering from their own trauma.
Best lyrics: “In the shadows clingin’ to my soul as my only critic / Where’s my faith? Told you I was Christian, but just not today”
Score: 8/10 I’m not crying. You’re crying.
‘N95’ reminds us that flexing ‘outside’ isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be
Lamar comments on the hypocrisy in our cultural addiction to aesthetics and encourages us to look at who we are beyond how we want to be perceived on the second track of the first disc.
Best lyrics: “The industry wants n— and bitches to sleep in a box while they making a mockery followin’ us / This ain’t Monopoly, watchin’ for love/ this ain’t monogamy, y’all gettin’ fucked”
Score: 8/10 Women have overshadowed men as faces of hip-hop consumerism and there’s something about Lamar rapping about Birkins as the “mask” for designer drip that comforts me.
‘Die Hard’ taps into the fear that there really is such a thing as too much honesty
The long-suffering hip-hop girlfriend narrative is a staple in hip-hop, but it’s slowly being shaken up by songs like these. With help from Blxst and Amanda Reifer, the rapper is upfront about who he’s been and who he wants to be. Old habits are no match for his new ideas.
Best lyrics: “We all got enough to lie about / My truth too complicated to hide now / Can I open up? Is it safe or not? / I’m afraid a little, you relate or not?”
Score: 8/10 The track is even more beautiful because other songs on the project show how he intends to be better.
In ‘Rich (Interlude),’ Kodak Black details his struggles in the industry.
Controversial rapper Kodak Black, who pleaded guilty to charges of assault and battery in an incident involving a teenage girl, jumps in front of the criticisms he knows are coming his way for being featured on Lamar’s album. (Black was later sentenced to probation for the incident, according to the AP.)
Best lyrics: “A bunch of lost souls in survival mode / It wasn’t no way for us unless we found our own”
Score: 8/10 I always appreciate tales of making a way out of no way.
‘Silent Hill’ sees Lamar lean into a trap vibe with Black.
In the third track on disc two, Lamar appears to reject his role as the patron saint of commercially viable conscious rappers with the line “Like it when they pro-Black, but I’m more Kodak Black.” Following Lamar’s verse, Black shares his desire to give his children what he lacked and appears to shed light on at least part of how he became such a controversial figure in the culture.
Best lyrics: “It’s like six o’clock, bitch, you talk too much / You makin’ it awkward, love I mean, it’s hard enough”
Score: 8/10 Anything that makes me think about my favorite scene in “BMF” is fine by me.
‘Auntie Diaries’ is a big swing that brings to mind 2011’s ‘Tammy’s Song’
In the sixth track from disc two, Lamar reveals his own experiences with how the LGBTQ community intersected with his family dynamics.
Best lyrics: “I said, ‘Mr. Preacherman, should we love thy neighbor? / The laws of the land or the heart, what’s greater?’ /I recognize the study she was taught since birth / But that don’t justify the feelings that my cousin preserved /The building was thinking out loud, bad angel / That’s when you looked at me and smiled, said, ‘Thank you’ / The day I chose humanity over religion / The family got closer, it was all forgiven”
Score: 7/10 The song has the ability to have us question who we were before we realized others were watching for quite a while.