KENDRICK LAMAR: A MAN AT WAR WITH HIMSELF
Kendrick Lamar is a composer, and his life is the score.
As he continues his musical journey, the Compton maestro’s unique ability to craft culture-shifting projects is a feat very few artists can accomplish during their careers. His latest effort, the boisterous double-album “Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers,” is no different.
The Pulitzer Prize winner’s knack for storytelling is on full display as he dives deep into his psyche to tell his truth. Mr. Lamar openly shares the trials and tribulations of his past and how this, along with the current state of the world, has affected him psychologically over the last “One-thousand eight-hundred and fifty-five days,” as stated on the opening track “United By Grief.”
Since Kendrick’s rise to prominence on the music scene, his insight has been a shining light for not only the music industry but African Americans in particular. Many share a deep connection with Kendrick and his music. The unconquerable emcee is often regarded as hip-hop’s savior, whether he likes it or not.
For the last five years, we’ve been anxiously waiting for the Good Kid from the m.A.A.d City to return, with only rare guest appearances and festival sightings to tie us over. With everything going on in the world, from rampant police brutality, social unrest, and a looming recession to the suffocating pandemic, rap fans are eager to hear what has been on the mind of the cryptic Kendrick Lamar, especially after such a long hiatus.
The West Coast lyricist’s flair for disappearing acts in a culture where artists are releasing three projects a year just to keep up with appearances (and streaming numbers), along with this generation’s lust for mass consumption, could lead to Kendrick’s detriment.
However, Kendrick declares he is not your average rapper on the jazzy track ‘Purple Hearts’:
“Two-steppin’ away from rappers, I don’t trust their true intеntions I’m not in the music business, I been in the human businеss whole life been social distant.”
Clearly, Kendrick is okay with going against the system.
The emotional poet used his time in isolation to reflect on his demons, dealing with the torment of marital issues, sex addiction, homophobia, and childhood trauma. He divulges to the listener how therapy has been his refuge in helping him tackle these painful matters with absolutely no filter.
Mr. Lamar has been known to shy away from the public eye, keeping most of his personal life private outside of the industry. However, he has never been afraid to stand up for what he believes in. He’s taken a bold stance on the current state of political correctness, aka the “cancel culture” plaguing our society, especially during a time when one mistake can cost an artist, politician, or athlete their career.
Kendrick refuses to be bullied into being someone he’s not by today’s culture just to appeal to the masses.
On the resilient ‘Count Me Out,’ “This time around, I trust myself, please everybody else but myself, all else fails, I was myself outdone fear, outdone myself”
Kendrick has no hesitation in reminding the world that we are all flawed human beings and not one of us is perfect. He proclaims to always be himself in a world full of perfectionism, false perception, and Instagram filters.
Throughout the entirety of this project, there is an ever-present tension between who Kendrick was, who he is currently, and who he aims to be. You can feel the constant battle over the past, present, and future. The soundtrack of this wartime saga is a rambunctious mix of jazz, soul, funkadelic, and trap, where Kenrick Lamar expresses his frustration in a variety of ways, jerking in and out of production, unafraid to share his truth even at the expense of damaging his superhero image.
At times the rapper’s frenzy can be too much to handle. Other times his ability to be free from restraint in a time where rappers are clearly clones of each other or too cute to show their scars is a refreshing change from the status quo. It’s a reminder of why we hold artists such as Kendrick (along with rap icons Kanye West and Andre 3000) in such high regard.
Not one to rely on mainstream peers to boost hype and streams, Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers contains only a few well-placed features from a couple of relatively under-the-radar artists, Sam Dew and Tanna Leone (the latter representing his newly founded multi-dimensional media company pgLang), along with current stars Summer Walker, Baby Keem, Blxst, and Kodak Black. Even the legendary east coast wordsmith Ghostface Killah makes a surprising and impressive appearance on the aforementioned ‘Purple Hearts.’
This is coupled with the eclectic production handled by a broad scope of beatmakers, from Pharrell Williams and Soundwave to Boi1da, The Alchemist, and more. These producers’ vast array of musical tastes grant Mr. Lamar the therapeutic soundscape to get out all the emotions he’s been holding onto for the last few years.
One of the most compelling tracks on the album is ‘Mirror.’ Here, Kendrick brings us up to speed about everything that’s going on in his life.
”Personal gain off my pain, it’s nonsense Darlin’, my demons is off the leash for a mosh pit Baby, I just had a baby, you know she need me Workin’ on myself, the counselin’ is not easy.”
This uncensored vulnerability reminds his stans that he is not the music industry’s messiah. He is just another man dealing with the same dysfunction we all deal with.
At age 35, the veteran rapper straight outta Compton is on a mountainous road to self-discovery. As we consume Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers, it is evident Kendrick Lamar still has a long way to go, and there are two Kendricks at war: Kendrick Lamar the rap phenom, and Kendrick Duckworth the man.
Both sides struggle to be seen and heard, but at what cost?
Will Kendrick lose himself trying to stay relevant in a rapidly changing rap game as his career continues? Or will he fall back into obscurity to continue soul searching as he wrestles with his insecurities and flaws?
Will Kendrick’s disciples continue to stick by his side as he continues on his path, or will they grow tired of waiting and latch onto the next “best” thing?
Only time will tell.
Nevertheless, one thing is for sure. We are all at war with ourselves, and Kendrick Lamar is no different.
We’ve been rocking together for five years, but all great things must come to an end.
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