Review: Mr. Morale or Mr. Mediocre?

Kendrick Lamar’s fifth album monotone, mediocre 


Fair use from Aftermath/Interscope Records

Anya Panday

It’s been five years since Kendrick Lamar released his last album “DAMN,” and with such a big gap, the response to “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” was astounding — with Spotify and Apple Music crashing the day after its release from fans flocking to listen to Lamar’s newest creation. However, once you actually listen to Lamar’s fifth album, it’s clear that he played it safe.

“Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” is a double album featuring 18 songs split between two nine-track sections. It features many collaborations, and sticks to a mainly hip-hop theme, but also explores elements of jazz and funk. The album has many highs, but it has just as many lows — making for a largely average album.

There are a few notable songs on the album, one being “Mother I Sober,” A sharp contrast from the rest of the tracks on the album, “Mother I Sober” takes on a largely soft and spoken tone. The beat is largely the same, and it’s paired with beautiful piano. Usually a beat like this would create a monotone feel, but the piano accompaniment is so organic that it morphs the beat into something new. The simplicity of the backing music really allows the songs theme to shine: being anti-substance abuse, an addiction to sexual intimacy and coping with questions about assault as a child. Overall, “Mother I Sober” is a harrowing song that stands apart from the rest of Lamar’s album for its delicate addressing of hard topics.

Another notable song is “United In Grief,” The first song on “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” this song sets a unique tone for the album. Starting off with organic vocals, mixed with pure talking, “United In Grief” sets up this album to shine. One of a few featured artists on this album, Sam Dew, begins the song singing through Lamar’s inner lens. This is a common theme on the album, and “United In Grief” does a good job at setting this up. Lamar covers several topics within “United In Grief”, a notable one being his unfaithfulness in his marriage with Whitney Alford. With a variety of pace, tone and sound, “United In Grief” is never boring. Lamar utilizes modern beats, orchestration and rhythm to create a compelling sound. However, this cannot be said for all of Lamar’s songs.

While there are some high points within the album, Lamar creates just as many lows. For the majority of “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers,” the beginning of the songs are promising. They start with organic beats, unique vocals and distinctive rhythm. However, as the songs progress they tend to morph into generic sound. By the end of the songs, it’s hard to tell them apart since they’ve all transformed into a generic “Kendrick” sound.

But the lowest-low of “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” has to be the song “Auntie Diaries.” The song has a strong theme: a child learning to accept a trans relative. This song had the potential to be amazing, to change hip hop and begin a trend of inclusivity and address a controversial topic … until Lamar used a slur 10 times. “Auntie Diaries” is supposed to be an ode to trans acceptance, with a goal to convince people to stop saying anti-LGBTQ+ slurs. However, to achieve this Lamar decided to use said anti-LGTBQ+ slurs. The slur Lamar used in “Auntie Diaries” has a deep history that’s intertwined with LGTBQ+ violence and hate. While Lamar attempted to make a great point, it ultimately fell flat and came off as offensive and out of touch.

Overall, “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” high moments are easily forgettable with the amount of mediocre filler music in between. Is this a bad album? No. But it’s certainly not one to rave about either. This album is a good choice for a summer playlist or background music, but don’t expect to be completely encapsulated in the sound.