“One-thousand eight-hundred and fifty-five days” (United in Grief). That is how long Kendrick Lamar fans have waited for a new album. With the album on repeat, here is an analysis of all 18 tracks from Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers:
United In Grief
This is a perfect beginning to a Kendrick Lamar album. He touches on a various topics such as societal suffering, romantic relationships, multi-generational success, grief, and some flexing for good measure, expanding on these aspects in later tracks.
I went and got me a therapist
I can debate on my theories and sharing itUnited in Grief (Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers)
Kendrick details the grief and hardships he has faced throughout his life, and his strategies for coping. He lists these coping mechanisms as therapy, Claritin, relationships, and spending money. Reflecting on his own trauma, Kendrick drives home the point that “Everybody grieves different” through its repetition in the outro. Everyone has different coping mechanisms, and the way one deals with their trauma is up to them to do so without criticism.
Many point to N95 being the best track on the album. Such a claim is easy to see as Kendrick shows off his ability create switch his flow over a ‘bouncy’ beat. This is a song that will have moshpits going berserk as he starts touring on July 19th. N95 is the first track to have a music video. In this, Kendrick did what Kendrick does best. He tells a story using captivating and complex lyrics, leaving much open to interpretation.
The world in a panic, the women is stranded, the men on a run
The prophets abandoned, the law take advantage, the market is crashin ‘, the industry wantsN95 (Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers)
The name N95 is in reference to the type of mask required in certain parts of the world during the height of the pandemic. Kendrick reflects on how a “new world” has been created where society has adapted to a deadly pandemic. N95 rants about the relationship between obsession of personal freedom and extenuating circumstances such as the Covid-19 pandemic. The overarching message conveyed is ordinary people did not have control over their own lives and this “new world” is unacceptable.
Worldwide Steppers is where Kendrick Lamar is Kendrick Lamar. He tackles dealing with the fact that most people would take advantage of other people if it benefited them all while creating music that is pleasing to the casual listener.
The noble person that goes to work and pray like they ‘posed to?
Slaughter people too, your murder’s just a bit slowerWorldwide Steppers (Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers)
Kendrick is following Hobbes theory of human nature: All humans seek to dominate each other and have an extreme desire for respect. According to Kendrick, even “The noble person” is subject to harm to other people, just not in traditional ways. He links this aspect of human nature to social commentary in critiquing those who are “Germaphobic, hetero and homophobic”.
This is the first song on the album artist Kodak Black is on, sparking controversy. He is present throughout the album, however his criminal convictions are said to taint the album.
My personal favorite song on the album. Die Hard encapsulates Kendrick’s doubts and insecurities about opening up. This albums is all about Kendrick opening up about his past and expressing his emotions, and this track captures his hesitations to do so. The track progresses from how past trauma has blocked the expression of emotion to recognizing the importance of overcoming trauma. This is brought on by how his relationships have evolved from disloyal in the past to a current, loving, fulfilling relationship.
I got some regrets (I-I-I, yeah, yeah)
But my past won’t keep me from my bestDie Hard (Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers)
Growing up, Kendrick was surrounded by gang wars and poverty. By the age of 5, he witnessed his first murder. This trauma builds up and turns in regrets. Regret prevents one from reaching their full potential, as they have that trauma blocker in their brain going off. The motif of the album is Kendrick moving on from his past and allowing himself to reach his best.
Father Time (feat. Sampha)
Father time is a further reflection of past traumas, hyper-focusing on issues regarding Kendrick’s father. He seeks out why these generational problems occur and how struggles with mental health are related. Kendrick essentially asserts that ‘daddy issues’ is one of the biggest reasons of the continuance of violence in the community.
What’s the difference when your heart is made of stone
And your mind is made of gold
And your tongue is made of sword, but it may weaken your soul?Father Time feat. Sampha (Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers)
The projection of one on another is what causes these generational troubles Kendrick addresses. When one is emotionally closed off (heart is made of stone), critical analysis (tongue is made of sword), even someone with good intentions (mind is made of gold), their projection on others will be negative. Good intentions come undone when the message is conveyed incorrectly, leading to ‘daddy issues’ and generational trauma. Kendrick speaks to the continuing cycle of unrealistic expectations people are expected to live up too.
Rich – Interlude
This is the second time we see Kodak Black play a major role in this album. This track is more about Kodak Black and his struggles coming up in the music industry. He expresses his progress however reflects on his past and is still fearful of it.
All the game came from the elders like hand-me-downs
Me and my brothers wearin’ hand-me-downs
Now I’m givin’ game back to the old headsRich – Interlude (Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers)
Kodak acknowledges how his past is part of who he is, referencing “hand-me-downs” even going as far as to stress the importance of giving back to his past. He knows that even though he has moved on from his old gang life, it will always be a part of him and will affect him forever. One of two interludes, Rich – Interlude forces listeners to take a step back from Kendrick Lamar’s masterclass performance and consider the overarching message of the album.
Rich Spirit boils down to Kendrick addressing his critics. He expresses his personality and defends it from criticism. Rich Spirit utilizes an elegant and delicate melody to convey a message which is no customary to Kendrick’s more traditional style. He dives into deeper themes and motifs about death, loyalty, and narcissism.
I pray to God you actually pray when somebody dies
Thoughts and prayers, way better off timelinesRich Spirit (Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers)
Kendrick takes jabs on fake support throughout the album, however it is most apparent on rich spirit. He speaks to how many say that they pray for others, but in reality they are putting up a front and are not affected.
We Cry Together
We Cry Together is not a song you would put in your everyday morning playlist. The track is essentially six minutes of Kendrick Lamar and Taylour Paige hurling insults at each other. They play out an ugly argument between a disgruntled couple.
Wastin’ my time and energy tryna be good to you
Lost friends, family, gained more enemies ’cause of youWe Cry Together (Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers)
With Kendrick being gone for 5 years, he faced hate for his absence. This argument between a couple tells a story about how unproductive the nature of these conversations are. Hurling insults get nowhere, and Kendrick relates this to how the hate the received on his hiatus was unwarranted and was extremely unproductive.
Purple Hearts relates those who receive the Purple Heart from being wounded or killed in service to the US government to those Kendrick saw get wounded or killed when he was growing up.
I bless it that you have an open heart, I bless that you forgive
I bless it that you can learn from a loss, I bless it that you heal
I bless one day that you attract somebody with your mind exact
A patient life, flaws, bless ’em twice, and they’ll bless you backPurple Hearts (Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers)
Kendrick indicates how important it is to learn from losses and forgiveness is something that needs to happen. He also addresses how this different style he is implementing is something not all hip-hop fans will accept however change is necessary and should be welcomed.
Count Me Out
Count Me Out shows Kendrick’s progression in his own life. More specifically, this track is about Kendrick moving on from one of his past relationships. He describes his journey from being miserable in a relationship to realizing he deserved more. The tracks details his healing process and how he was able to bandage himself.
Some put it on the Devil when they fall short
I put it on my ego, lord of all lordsCount Me Out (Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers)
Kendrick expresses how some people don’t take the blame for the problems they create. They blame outside, incontrollable powers. Throughout the album he is trying to change this way of thinking by tackling your own problems and breaking the cycle of these generational problems.
Crown juxtaposes two opposites in Kendricks thinking. He compares his current, satisfying life to deep rooted conflicts and trauma eating him from the inside. Another conflict being addressed is in between Kendrick doing his best in his community and him trying to please others.
And I can’t please everybody
No, I can’t please everybody
Wait, you can’t please everybodyCrown (Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers)
Nobody can please everyone no matter what they do. Kendrick is undoubtably wearing the crown, and that places an expectation on him to try to keep everyone happy even though doing such is next to impossible.
Another track featuring Kodak Black talking about money, fake friends, and life problems. Kendrick speaks to how being silent is one of the tools he employs preserve peace and his own mental health. He speaks to how silence is better than saying something untrue, drawing from the saying ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’.
Head up, chest out
Silence, I’m stressed out
Shh, be quiet, I’m stressed outSilent Hill (Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers)
The mental turbulence the previous track, Crown, describes is in relation to the Silent Hill. Kendrick uses silence to deal with stresses of his life. He essentially says he finds comfort in silence and being silent.
Savior – Interlude
The second interlude on the album introduces Kendrick’s cousin, Baby Keem, to the track list. The duo has collaborated on hits such as Family Ties and Range Brothers. Sticking with the family theme, this interlude dives into problems the family as a whole faced and how the entire family was able to overcome said problems.
You ever seen your mama strung out while you studied division?
Your uncle ever stole from you, day after Christmas?Savior – Interlude (Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers)
Baby Keem details the struggles he faced when he was younger. (Note: “Strung out” means being left sedated from drug use). Keem offers insight into his past and in relation, Kendrick’s past.
This track continues with Baby Keem playing a role in the album. Kendrick explains how there is a notion that public figures are viewed as ‘saviors’ and essentially put on a pedestal. He also tackles a multitude of issues in different verse where he addresses racial issues, political correctness, and personal flaws.
Bite they tongues in rap lyrics
Scared to be crucified about a song, but they won’t admit it
Politically correct is how you keep an opinionSavior (Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers)
Kendrick reflects on how current rappers are afraid to share their true thoughts and simply continue with the status quo. He is trying to promote independent thinking and voicing independent thought.
Auntie Diaries displays Kendrick’s willingness to talk about topics most other artists are unwilling to talk about. He narrates the story of two transgender individuals close to him and how he changed due to his experience. He critiques society’s and the church’s views about the LGBTQ community.
My auntie is a man now
Asked my momma why my uncles don’t like him that much
And at the parties why they always wanna fight him that muchAuntie Diaries (Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers)
Kendrick reflects back on how his own family treated those of the LGBTQ community. He goes on to explaining how normalized discrimination was.
Mr. Morale features Tanna Leone, one of the two artists in addition to Kendrick on his label pgLang. Leone, an upcoming artist who recently went on tour with Baby Keem and is also accompanying Kendrick on his, recently released his debut album Sleepy Soldier. The theme of this track follows generational trauma referencing prominent figures as R. Kelly and Oprah Winfrey.
People get taken over by this pain-body
Because this energy field that almost has a life of its own
It needs to, periodically, feed on more unhappinessMr. Morale (Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers)
This track ends with a quote from Eckhart Tolle, author of A New Earth: Awakening to your Life’s Purpose, which discusses ego and generational trauma. He cites a “racial pain-body” and a loop of pain that keep on going.
Mother I Sober (feat. Beth Gibbons of Portishead)
Mother I Sober is Kendrick further opening up about his past. He talks about his upbringing and the abuse he was subject to and experienced. He also opens up about his own shortcomings detailed him cheating on his past fiancé. To break out of this generational loop of toxicity, Kendrick uses positivity, openness, and pride.
All those women gave me superpowers, what I thought I lacked
I pray our children don’t inherit me and feelings I attractMother I Sober feat. Beth Gibbons of Portishead (Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers)
The purpose of this album is to humanize Kendrick, and show that he makes mistakes. He is not a perfect person. Just because he is a popular artist does not mean he is not subject to his own trauma and problems.
Mirror talks about how it is to live with fame. He reflects on the pressure on his and how he choose himself over pleasing other people.
Sorry I didn’t save the world, my friend
I was too busy buildin’ mine againMirror (Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers)
Kendrick clearly has his priorities in order. He will choose himself over others due to the sheer amount of responsibilities placed on him. Kendrick is seen as an idol, almost god-like, but this album serves to show that he is simply human.