On Kendrick Lamar’s fifth studio album, “Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers,” Kendrick takes a close look at himself, his flaws and his trappings. He doesn’t excuse himself but analyzes how they came about, from family issues to larger connections to black culture and collective trauma. In what people call conscious hip-hop, Kendrick addresses his misogyny, transphobia and other sins to understand himself for his posterity better. Much like previous Kendrick albums, “Mr. Morale” uses lush jazz hip-hop beats to make soulful and transcendent pop that defies categorization.
Kendrick Lamar’s trajectory throughout the 2010s is one of the most fascinating of his generation. Being part of the XXL freshman class in 2011, Kendrick was little known outside the west coast. Separating himself from his contemporaries, Kendrick used jazz-esque arrangements and political lyrics that weren’t as cool at the time. His major-label debut was with “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City,” which was a bit more of an introspective, dark party album but was still rife with funky mixes and political messaging. It wasn’t until “To Pimp a Butterfly” in 2015 that Kendrick would fully come into his own. Leaning heavily into his unique qualities, he would realize the potential of jazz-rap with the help of funk master Thundercat and others. He also wielded bars like molotovs setting the world ablaze in the name of black nationalism. Kendrick stayed true to his vision, never compromising his art or principles and became the greatest of a generation.