Updated: Sep 16, 2022
By Jack McLaughlin
As Kendrick eloquently puts in the first track, it had been “1,855 days” since the release of 2017’s “DAMN.” During that time, fans have been anxiously waiting for the follow up to the Pulitzer Prize winning project.
“Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” is the ambitious answer, a double album released in May which depicts the personal journey that Kendrick took over the last few years.
The album is split in two halves - the first nine tracks are known as “The Big Steppers” while the last nine are referred to as “Mr. Morale.”
This project has an emphasis on less catchy, more emotional tracks. It is a departure from previous albums “To Pimp a Butterfly” and “good kid, m.A.A.d city.”
This aspect has steered people away, claiming that it “has no replay value,” but I disagree and think this is his best project since 2015’s “To Pimp a Butterfly.”
“United in Grief” is the powerful intro to the project. The opening line, “I hope you find some peace of mind in this lifetime,” grabs the listener immediately and doesn’t let go as the song continuously grows more intense until a blaring car horn cleverly transitions into an energetic beat switch.
The dramatic core of the first half is “We Cry Together,” in which Kendrick and Taylour Paige play out a temperamental argument between a couple accompanied by harsh instrumentals.
The song brings interesting social commentary, featuring a line where Paige berates Kendrick in a fit of rage saying, “You the reason we overlooked, underpaid, underbooked, under shame.”
This unconventional structure expresses the song’s serious themes with a force that demands to be heard.
“Count Me Out” kicks off the second half. Sharing a similar intro structure as “United in Grief,” it takes its time building up with a choir repeating, “And I’m trippin and fallin” before an evocative and devastating scream gets let out as the song truly begins and serves as a fantastic intro to the new section.
Fellow artist Baby Keem, who is Kendrick’s cousin, is featured in this half of the album in the track “Savior” and its interlude. His inclusion here further strengthens the musical bond they started in Keem’s 2021 project “The Melodic Blue.”
“Auntie Diaries” and “Mother I Sober” are the emotional backbone of the album. The first of these tracks tells the story of Kendrick’s family members who are transgender and the difficulty they have being accepted by their family and community. The latter track focuses on Kendrick coming to terms with traumatic abuse he suffered as a child.
“Mother I Sober” feels like the breakthrough point in the therapy-session setting that is persistent throughout the entire project. The song contains the most raw emotion of his discography - it acknowledges difficult events that have happened in Kendrick’s life.
The final lines delivered by his fiancé Whitney Alford make the ending feel like you just got off an emotional rollercoaster - a breath of fresh air with an overwhelming feeling of relief.
“Mirror” rounds out the project in a reflection of the journey taken by Kendrick in the last five years. “I choose me, I’m sorry” being repeated throughout the chorus vocally represents his discovery of how bettering himself was a crucial choice he made to be able to navigate the struggles he faced.
The “Mr. Morale” side to the record has the best tracks overall, though it does not take away from how enjoyable the first half is.
Both of the sides provide an introspective listening experience that challenges not only Kendrick to discuss complicated topics, but the listener as well.
“Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” is a phenomenal effort by Kendrick who has once again proven himself to be one of the all-time greats of this generation.
A: Worth the 1,855 day wait.