After five years of silence, California rapper Kendrick Lamar, who has become one of the soundtracks of the Black Lives Matter movement, releases “Mr. Morales & The Big Steppers”. A dense fifth album that mixes social criticism with a heavily introspective part.
At 34, Kendrick Lamar is already one of the greatest voices in American rap. As the only hip-hop artist to win a Pulitzer Prize for his last album, Damn, released five years ago, he’s even considered a generational symbol. Thanks to lyrics that draw their influence from black American literature and the ideals of the great figures of social movements.
“Lamar thrived on legend and violence,” summarizes Nicolas Rogès to evoke the character he tells in his biography, “Kendrick Lamar – From Compton to the White House” (The Word and the Rest, 2020). A native of Compton, a town thirty minutes from Los Angeles and associated with gangsta rap for thirty years, he broke free at the same time the California city was breaking free from a violence he was never involved in . .
For his return after five absences, Kendrick Lamar even had the luxury of announcing this with an additional track that does not appear on his new album. He accompanied “The Heart Part 5”, a rap that is as militant as it is angry, derived from a video clip in which, thanks to the deepfake technique, he reproduces the appearance of popular but controversial figures in the African-American community, from OJ Simpson to Kanye West, via Will Smith or the basketball player Kobe Bryant. A track that clashes with the eighteen other more introspective titles preceded by “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers”, a double album on which he willingly conjures up his childhood wounds or his role as a father and an artist.
>> Watch the clip of “The Heart Part 5”:
revelation of his soul
A profound lyricist whose phrasing does not shy away from using metaphor and adept rhythm, Kendrick Lamar shows himself on “United in Grief” from the beginning in search of inner peace, where he comes to trivialization of death returns violence. Before ending in the epilogue with the same chorus as the opening “I Bare my Soul and Now we’re Free.” Throughout the two parts of the album, Lamar will have meditated on inner demons, suppressed emotions, family struggles, the pitfalls of fame, the lack of consideration for transgender people, or his mother’s aggression during his childhood.
In ‘Mother I Sober’, a more soulful and rawer track featuring English trip-hop group Portishead singer Beth Gibbons, he reveals tales of childhood trauma, infidelity and sexual abuse. Elsewhere, Lamar also offers to “turn off the wifi, the microwave, the phone” (“N95”), a return to nature and not using screens that he would have practiced, as he says in “Rich Spirit.” .
>> To see the clip of “N95”:
Densely credited, “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” also calls in R&B singers Summer Walker, singer-songwriter Sampha, Baby Keem, Ghostface Killah, Kodak Black and Thundercat to join the fate of a captive rapper in a world which is shaped like a “dead end” where we would be nothing without each other’s love, as Lamar says on “United in Grief”. Pharrell, The Alchemist, Beach Noise and Boi-1da, among others, were also involved in writing and producing the album.
Olivier Horner with dpa
Kendrick Lamar, “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” (pgLang/Top Dawg Entertainment).
Kendrick Lamar in concert at the Hallenstadion, Zurich, on October 25, 2022 and at the Vaudoise Arena, Prilly (VD), on October 26, 2022.
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