Kendrick Lamar – “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” review

It’s really here: The 5th full-length album from Compton emcee, songwriter & actor Kendrick Lamar. Coming up in ‘04 off his debut mixtape Y.H.N.I.C. (Youngest Head N***a in Charge): Hub City Threat (Minor of the Year), he would go on to follow-up with 2 more tapes as well as an eponymous debut EP before breaking out in the fall of 2010 off his 4th mixtape O(verly) D(edicated) & then Section.80 that next summer. Then came him signing to Dr. Dre’s very own Interscope Records imprint Aftermath Entertainment, where Kendrick has made himself home since then. Especially given that good kid, m.A.A.d city & To Pimp a Butterfly have quickly become some of the most beloved hip hop albums ever made in their own rights for good reason whether it be gkmc coming off as a hood movie on wax or TPaB delivering relevant social commentary on top of jazzy, funky production. Kendrick’s last album DAMN. however was definitely his most commercial one yet & I don’t listen to it as much as his other work, but it’s still a great listen nonetheless with it’s phenomenal duality concept. But only 3 months after performing the Super Bowl halftime show, Kendrick has finally returned in the form of the double disc Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers to fulfill his Top Dawg Entertainment contract.

“United in Grief” opens up the album a piano & drum instrumental from oklama himself surprisingly alongside Sounwave amongst a few others talking about mourning differently whereas “N95” works in some synth-horns & hi-hats provided by Boi-1da & Baby Keem to declare that “You’re back outside, but they still lied”, obviously referring to the COVID-19 pandemic. I also loved when he says “You entertain the mediocre, need to stop it. You entertainin’ old friends when they toxic” during the outro. “Worldwide Steppers” takes a more tenser route with co-production from Tae Beast sampling “Breakthrough” by The Funkees talking about how “we’s them killers”, but then the DJ Dahi co-produced “Die Hard” shoots for a more catchier vibe down to the hook shared by both Blxst & especially Amanda Reifer flipping “Remember the Rain” by Kadjha Bonet encouraging listeners to not let your past keep me you from your best.

Meanwhile on “Father Time”, we have Kendrick over some solemn boom bap production sampling “You’re Not There” by Hoskins ‘Ncrowd detailing the relationship that he had with his pops with a killer hook from Sampha & the “Rich” interlude is basically Kodak Black detailing what he learned in the business over some bare pianos. “Rich Spirit” turns things into more spacious territory with some finger-snaps, snares & hi-hats talking about staying strong mentally, but then “We Cry Together” is pretty much Kendrick & Taylour Paige (should’ve been Rico Nasty but it is what it is) re-enacting a legitimate argument that K-Dot had with his fiancée Whitney Alford over an Uncle Al beat flipping “June” by Florence + the Machine. It’s tense, but feels reminiscent to “Kim” off of Eminem’s iconic 2000 masterpiece The Marshall Mathers LP.

Ghostface Killah & Summer Walker tag along for the smooth love ballad “Purple Hearts” to the complete the 1st disc even though I can’t stand the “yeah baby” at the end of the hook & the 1 line on Summer’s verse co-written by fellow Compton representative/Shady Records signee Westside Boogie about eating ass had me rollin’ while “Count Me Out” opens up the 2nd disc by mixing trap influences with some catchy vocal melodies taking aim at his detractors. “Crown” is a vulnerable piano ballad admitting that he can’t please everybody while “Silent Hill” easily has the worst hook on the album, although I appreciate Kendrick & Kodak riding a nocturnal trap beat talking about pushing snakes off them.

Following that, the “Savior” interlude is in the same vein as “Rich” from the string/piano instrumental to Baby Keem recalling some memories that he had growing up while the actual “Savior” song itself has an irresistibly catchy groove to the beat from Cardo asking if one is really happy for him as well as admitting that he started questioning Kyrie after catching the rona. “Auntie Diaries” starts off with a moodier aesthetic before getting triumphant at the end with Kung Fu Kenny discussing his uncle & one of his cousins being transgender while the song “Mr. Morale” opens up about the heavy shit that’s been on his mind as of late over a Pharrell instrumental with a peppy, futuristic tone to it. The penultimate track “Mother I Sober” is definitely the saddest on the album with it’s bare pianos along with former Portishead frontwoman Beth Gibbons on the hook & K-Dot reflecting on witnessing his mom being sexually assaulted when he was 5 years old as “Mirror” finishes the album by apologizing for choosing himself over anyone else over a colorful beat with an empowering hook.

5 long years later & Kendrick is parting TDE with what I consider to be hip hop’s best double album since Big K.R.I.T. dropped 4eva’s a Mighty Long Time only 6 months after DAMN. came out. Hell, I find Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers to be superior to it’s predecessor because I really admire that he decided to come back after all this time to reflect on his life past & present over production mixing together it’s more trappy, poppier cuts with the politically charged jazz rap from the greatest hip hop album of the 2010s even down to the latter’s experimental, neo-soul undertones.

Score: 4.5/5

Various Artists – “Black Panther: The Album” review

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With the Black Panther coming out a week from today,  Top Dawg Entertainment is giving us the soundtrack alongside Aftermath Entertainment & Interscope Records. The opener “Black Panther” by Kendrick Lamar (who curated the whole soundtrack) talks about being a king over a gloomy piano instrumental. However, there’s one point where it gets abrasive. The song “All the Stars” is a spacey love duet with Kendrick & SZA that’s just ok. The track “X” by ScHoolboy Q, 2 Chainz & Saudi gets celebratory over a decent trap beat while the song “The Ways” by Khalid & Swae Lee is a duet about this attractive woman over a moody trap beat. The track “Opps” by Kendrick, Vince Staples & Yugen Blakrok gets into the mind of criminals over a hip house beat while the song “I Am” by Jorja Smith gets insightful about change & how we aren’t meant to be free over a funk rock beat.

The track “Parademic!” by SOB x RBE is an eerie gangsta rap tune while the song “Bloody Waters” by Ab-Soul vividly talks from the point of view from an organized criminal over a kick-back beat. The track “King’s Dead” starts off with a eerie beat & while Jay Rock’s flow is absolutely deadly, but the Future bridge is so hilariously bad. However, they make up for it during the 2nd half when the beat switches into something more hard hitting & Kendrick comes in with an angry verse filled with references to the film’s antagonist Erik Killmonger.

After the “Redemption Interlude”, we then go into the actual song “Redemption” by Zacari & Babes Wudomo. Here, they get sexual albeit in an underwritten & generic fashion. The following song “Seasons Change” by Mozzy, Sjava & Reason talks about escape the ghetto over a somber yet reggae-infused instrumental. The penultimate track “Big Shot” by Kendrick & Travi$ Scott talks about the celebrity lifestyle & the flute sample that Cardo uses on here is absolutely beautiful. Also, I love how Kendrick reuses the first couple lines from his “New Freezer” verse for the hook. The soundtrack then finishes off with “Pray for Me, where The Weeknd & Kendrick talk about heroes burden over an electropop beat.

While I wouldn’t call this a future classic by any means, this is still a solid soundtrack album. It’s not too overproduced like many soundtrack albums nowadays, it’s well written & most of the performers do their thing

Score: 3.5/5

Kendrick Lamar – “DAMN.” review


With his magnum opus To Pimp a Butterfly celebrating it’s 2 year anniversary last month, Black Hippy member Kendrick Lamar has now delivered his 4th full-length album with the whole world watching. The opening track “BLOOD.” starts off with some harmonious choir vocals, but then we hear some dramatic strings & Kendrick recalling a story of a blind woman shooting him after trying to help her. The second track “DNA.” talks about his heritage & while the beat starts off with some heavy bass & a guitar that’s somewhat buried in the mix, it then changes to some hard hitting drums & a vocal sample. Seriously, hearing this will make you get wild. The track “YAH.” has a mellow instrumental & it sees Kendrick melodically talking about following his intuition. The blatant jab at FOX News reporter Geraldo Rivera at the beginning of the 2nd & final verse of the song was well deserved, too. The song “ELEMENT.” is basically about how he’ll always stand strong at what he does & the vocal sample on here is haunting as Hell. The track “FEEL.” vents about a number of different emotions over a wavy vocal sample & some keyboards. The song “LOYALTY.” is a duet with Rihanna about just that & the reversed, sped-up Bruno Mars sample that can be heard from start to finish was really cool. The track “PRIDE.” is Kendrick talking about what he would probably be like in a perfect world over a psychedelic instrumental from Internet guitarist Steve Lacy. We get some constant voice pitch changing during the first verse, but then second verse is just monotoned. The album’s lead single “HUMBLE.” sees Kendrick telling everyone to be humble to him over some ominous keys & even though I wasn’t all too crazy about it when it first came out a couple weeks ago like quite a few people were, I will admit that it has grown on me. The song “LUST.” has a melancholy beat from BADBADNOTGOOD & while it starts off by going into the mind of a woman living in the hood, Kendrick then gets introspective about post-fame life as well as how Americans protested & eventually went back to living their regular lives as a result of Donald Trump being elected our current president back in November. I can absolutely appreciate Kendrick dedicating the track “LOVE.” to his fiancé Whitney Alford, but the hook from Zacari sounds exactly like The Weeknd & it just comes off as very annoying. The song “XXX.” with U2 (albeit minus The Edge) starts off Kendrick aggressively going in while on the phone with a friend coming to him after his son died, but then he somberly talks about never doubting Barack ever again now that we have Donald Trump as our current president. I also really love how the beat during the first verse has some explosive bass as well as police sirens, but then it transitions into some drumming provided by Larry Mullen Jr. as well as some relaxing piano keys. Also, can’t forget about the beautiful Bono hook on here either. I’m not gonna lie, this song really makes me want U2 to drop Songs of Experience later this year. The track “FEAR.” vividly recalls 3 fearful moments when Kendrick was 3, 17 & 27 over a gloomy beat from The Alchemist enhanced by a soul sample. The penultimate track “GOD.” is basically Kendrick saying he feels like God with all the success he has seen over the years over some spacey production, but the delivery during the hook & the first verse was just alright. The album closes out with “DUCKWORTH.”, where Kendrick tells a story about Top Dawg Entertainment founder Anthony Tiffith almost killed Kendrick’s father over a soulful instrumental from 9th Wonder & the beat change about halfway through the track is NASTY! While I’ve been hearing some people saying they were expecting this to better or worse than To Pimp a Butterfly, all I wanted from him was to put out a good album & that’s EXACTLY what I got on here. The Kid Capri intros that you’ll hear on a few tracks give me a nice throwback feeling & while I’m not gonna deny that it’s more commercial than his last 2 albums, but there are only a few moments on the album where it actually bugs me. Despite these few weak moments, Kendrick has shown once again why he’s my favorite MC in this current generation

Score: 4/5