“I Am. All of Us.”: A Kendrick Lamar review

Judah Williams and Jackson Palich

One thousand, eight hundred, fifty-five days. That’s how long it has been since the last Kendrik Lamar album. Finally, though, Lamar has returned to the music industry after a five-year hiatus. He dropped his new album, “Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers,” on Friday, May 13th. This album will be his final release under Top Dawg Entertainment, the label he signed with in 2004. 

Image teasing album’s release
Posted by Lamar on via Oklama website

Five days before the album’s release, Lamar released a single that was not included on the official album titled “The Heart Part 5,” the fifth installment of a singles-based series spanning 12 years. Throughout the near 6 minute track, Lamar speaks through the perspectives of controversial figures he’s been exposed to. 

In the music video, Lamar switches faces with five other prominent Black figures, whose careers have been riddled with controversy in recent years. Fans theorize that he’s speaking through them, as the verses match up with how they’ve been portrayed in the media. 

Although fan feedback was mostly positive to the video, there were a few past fans who seemed to be up in the air about it.  In a Pitchfork review, music journalist Stephen Kearse said, “Lamar’s careful cross-references between societal issues feel less pressing when you can’t see the face changes in real time, deflating the songs momentum and placing it near the back end of the “Heart” series.” Some agree with Pitchfork’s assessment of the face-swaps, as they consider some to be poorly timed.

Lamar and four of five faces: Nipsey Hussle, OJ Simpson, Will Smith, and Kobe Bryant
Screenshots from the YouTube Video

In the actual album, Lamar touches every emotion. It opens with one of his most avant-garde tracks to date, “United in Grief.” Stripped-back percussion and melodies allow Lamar to craft intricate verses and flows detailing the ways he’s processed the world around him. He quickly brings back the energy with tracks like “N95” and “Die Hard,” the former of which already has a music video up on YouTube. Even the lighter tracks don’t shy away from the heavier topics of the album: trauma, identity, love, and most importantly, growth. 

The second half of the album heavily surprised fans with its no-holds-barred approach to its aggressive themes. The track “We Cry Together” displayed Lamar and his supposed partner, played by Taylour Paige, arguing and spewing curse words at each other. Opening with the line, “This is what the world sounds like,” both characters pile on insults and disgruntled comments about failures in each other’s personal lives and relationships. By the end of the song they’ve seemingly forgiven each other, but no true progress has been made. 

The track is set to have its own music video one the way illustrating the back-and-forth argument, after an image of Lamar and featured artist Taylour Paige was shared online.

Picture reposted by Taylour on Instagram

 Tracks like “Silent Hill” featuring Kodak Black have a much more mellow vibe through the instrumentals. “Savior” does as well, featuring Lamar’s cousin and Grammy award-winning artist Baby Keem along with the most aggressive instrumental on the album.

After “Savior” comes “Auntie Diaries”, which is understably the most controversial track on the album by far. It centers around Lamar’s aunt and cousin searching for their identity and how he was  “too young” to understand their struggles. In his younger perspective , he felt that women embracing masculinity was celebrated while men embracing feminine traits was demonized by both his community and society. The public was disgruntled by Lamar’s use of the F slur and incorrect pronouns when talking about his uncle. Some say the song’s message of childhood ignorance gives context to these bad choices, but others claim that it is still unjustified. 

Overall, “Mr. Morale” was a huge success in many people’s eyes. It takes listeners on a rollercoaster of emotions throughout the 18 tracks and is a great way to wrap up the legendary career of Kendrick Lamar with Top Dawg Entertainment.

Personal Favorites:

Father Time- Fan favorite 

Count me Out

Silent Hill

Best Songs:

N95

Father Time

Hard Listens:

Mother I Sober

We Cry Together

Auntie Diaries- Most controversial

Worldwide Steppers

Easy Listens:

Mirrors

Die Hard

N95

Artistic:

United In Grief

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