Our first impressions of this fifth album
Pascal : What a strong start after barely three songs. BPMs [beats per minute] shovel, multiple rhythmic variations, an arsenal of flows once again renewed.
Marissa : It’s something that strikes me all the time, and even more with this album. Kendrick is 10 rappers at once. He has flows who adapt to his words, to the rhythms. Even the tone of his voice changes. It has so many facets, it’s impressive.
Pascal : No other rapper is so cinematic. He is not only an exceptional storyteller, but, as you say, his ability to embody several characters and to borrow different points of view is also unique. A combination of talent, culture and humanity. He had announced it to us in a certain way by launching the promotional cycle of his album with the phrase ” I am. All of us “. His experience is obviously his own, but it is also universal. By revealing more personal aspects of his life, he reaches a wider audience. Rarely have we seen such vulnerability in rap.
Marissa : Never have I heard Kendrick Lamar be so intimate. He is in full confession, from beginning to end. He says in the first song that he went to therapy and the album seems to be an extension of the soul-searching he did. It’s upsetting.
A favorite song, after two listenings?
Marissa : I would say Savior. The song begins with a voice saying ” Kendrick made you think about it, but he’s not your savior “. By confiding in such a raw way, he shows that he does not want to be perceived as the messiah, as a saviour. There is also the awesome Aunty Diaries, where he makes a connection between the black community and the queer community. Trans identity is rarely addressed in rap. Kendrick does it, he whispers it. It is an example of flow who adapts. He talks about the evolution of his thinking from an aunt who became a man, to a cousin who became his cousin. That’s wonderful.
Pascal : Hard to say which is my favorite, but We Cry Together gave me chills. We are witness to a violent scene of marital argument in which many male-female issues are discussed with the frenetic piano of Alchemist in the background. Not a song to listen to over dinner, but absolutely brilliant.
Marissa : Another one that gave me chills and not necessarily in a good way is Worldwide Steppers. His lyrics made me want to put the album on hold, to catch my breath. That he invites Kodak Black on this song, even if he only speaks 12 words (I counted), when he pleaded guilty to domestic violence charges last year, for me, it is a limit which is exceeded (and which is even more so when Kodak returns to the song silent Hill). Kendrick knows very well what it means that this man is the first we hear on the track. He reveals all his sins on this song, there is discomfort there. On this record, his honesty is sometimes hard to hear. And he adds to the song Saviorsaying : ” Like it when they pro-black, but I’m more Kodak Black “. He talks about Kodak, but he says a lot about himself.
Pascal :I have no doubt that much of what is being told echoes his own beliefs and values, but Kendrick, like other rappers, willingly takes on the role of spokesperson for his community and even the condition and historical representation of it. In my opinion, the presence of Kodak Black does not mean that Kendrick supports his actions, but I have the impression that he wants to ensure that his reality is expressed and legitimized. I think he prefers to let it be known that “his people” exist rather than to defend them. The repetition of ” I can’t please everybody “, in the song Crownpretty much sums up what I’m saying.
Marissa : Return to “ I am. All of us”. This is something very clear in Kendrick’s words: he refuses to use the slips of certain people to define the whole community. There is a solidarity that can be difficult to understand, painful to observe.
Despite the quality of Kendrick Lamar’s work, it also has a certain heaviness, both in terms and in its rendering. Is this the case here too?
Pascal : For me, listening to Kendrick Lamar is a task. Not unpleasant, far from it, but serious. You have to be in a certain state of mind. There are songs in his discography that can be listened to without thinking too much, but to really appreciate his genius, it is important to pay attention. This album is no different, but musically it is perhaps more accessible than To Pimp a Butterflybut less than DAMN.
Marissa : Generally speaking, there are very few Kendrick Lamar songs that I wouldn’t listen to during a picnic with friends. If only because there’s a musicality that always hits the mark, it’s always pleasing to the ear, in my opinion. Even when it scratches a little.
What about the beats ?
Marissa : The funky and jazzy side of To Pimp a Butterfly is not there as much. Neither the more pop side of DAMN. – which was the result of many collaborations – even if there are exceptions – he still sampled Florence + the Machine! It’s more orchestral this time, we hear strings, a lot of piano. The tempo is a roller coaster from one song to the next, maybe that’s also why we listen to 18 songs and there are no downtimes. I think it’s his most digestible album, instrumentally speaking, while being very heavy in the lyrics. I really like the contrast.
Pascal : I completely agree with you. Despite the very dense talk, there is a way to nod your head, tap your feet and maybe even dance while listening MM & TBS. N95 is a banga, as the saying goes. Longtime collaborator Sounwave is behind the majority of the pieces. The excellent Boi-1da, DJ Dahi, Cardo, DJ Khalil and Pharrell Williams also contribute to the album, in total cohesion. Speaking of collaborators, my delight to see Ghostface Killah’s name under the title Purple Hearts was only exceeded by listening to the song. My favorite MC with the best of his time, a dream. Beth Gibbons, from Portishead, is also a nice surprise.
Is Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers proves that Kendrick Lamar is the king of hip-hop?
Pascal : Without a doubt ! All his albums are remarkable. You may not like each of his songs, but they all have their purpose. After each of his last three albums, I asked myself: what can he do now? I still wonder that today. He returns each time with an offering that does not exceed my expectations, but rather makes me realize that I do not have the ability to anticipate what he is capable of.
Marissa : The throne definitely belongs to him. There’s something quite fascinating about seeing an artist never repeating himself, evolving, but always maintaining a level of excellence the way he does. At the end of the first listen, I feel a mixture of sadness, pity, anger, deep compassion. I feel overwhelmed. In short, yes, for me, we are dealing with the best of Kendrick Lamar.
Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers