The five-year wait for a new album from Kendrick Lamar – the Pulitzer-anointed voice of a generation rapper – is finally over.
“Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers,” Lamar’s fifth studio LP and one of the most highly anticipated new albums in years, was released overnight on digital services, with huge fan expectations and big questions about his next one. career steps.
Lamar, 34, is one of the few major figures in today’s music scene – where a regular stream of new content is seen as a necessity – who can keep fans waiting that long without sacrificing fan loyalty or critical prestige. Even after Lamar’s extended absence, “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” is expected to make a big splash in its opening week on the Billboard album chart.
Lamar established himself as one of the most ambitious rappers of the millennial generation with his major-label debut, “good kid, mAAd city” (2012). For his sequel, “To Pimp a Butterfly” (2015), he brought in a host of players from Los Angeles’ prolific jazz scene, including Kamasi Washington and Thundercat. That album, “a work about living under constant racialized surveillance and how that can lead to many kinds of internal monologues, some powerful, some self-loathing,” as Times pop music critic Jon Caramanica wrote, contains “Alright,” which became an unofficial Black Lives Matter protest song.
His 2017 album, “DAMN.”, won five Grammy Awards, although the album of the year lost to Bruno Mars’s “24K Magic”. (The rapper has won a total of 14 Grammy wins.) Growing up in Compton, California, Lamar, who has made the culture and struggles of that area a central part of his music, also became the first rapper to receive the Pulitzer Prize for received music. “DAMNED.” was cited in 2018 as “a virtuoso song collection united by its local authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers poignant vignettes that capture the complexities of modern African American life.” Lamar embraced the award and appeared in concert with a banner “Pulitzer Kenny” behind him.
Also in 2018, Lamar and the head of his record company, Anthony Tiffith (known as Top Dawg), were the executive producers of a companion album to the movie “Black Panther”. A song from the LP, “All the Stars,” by Lamar and SZA, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Visual artist Lina Iris Viktor filed a lawsuit, saying her work was used in the track’s video without permission; the lawsuit was settled at the end of 2018.
Since that eventful year, Lamar has maintained a low public profile, with a handful of guest appearances on songs by other artists and, last year, teamed up with Las Vegas rapper (and his cousin) Baby Keem for two songs on Keem’s album “The Melodic Blue.” ‘, including the Grammy-winning ‘Family Ties.’ In February, Lamar took the stage of the Super Bowl LVI halftime show along with Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Eminem and Mary J. Blige, putting him in the odd position to be either the only relative youngster on a hip hop oldies show or – with songs up to a decade old – perhaps a bit of a throwback in itself.
Last Sunday, Lamar released a new music video, “The Heart Part 5,” as a teaser for “Mr. Moreel.” It has a spoken prologue stating “life is perspective” then shows Lamar’s face merging with that of a series of black men of varying levels of cultural heroism or controversy: OJ Simpson, Kanye West, Jussie Smollett, Will Smith, Kobe Bryant, Nipsey Hustle. The deepfake effects were created by Deep Voodoo, a studio of “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who are planning further projects with pgLang, a new company founded by Lamar and longtime collaborator Dave Free.
The lyrics in “The Heart Part 5” have already been searched for meaning, as has the image Lamar shared Wednesday of the album’s cover, photographed by Renell Medrano. It shows Lamar, in a crown of thorns, holding a child while a woman on a bed nurses a baby, like an allegorical religious painting.
To a certain extent, these can also serve as starting points for the next phase of Lamar’s career. “Mr. Morale” will be his last album for Top Dawg Entertainment, or TDE, Lamar’s home since the beginning of his career, who released his music in collaboration with Interscope. He has not announced a new label deal, but instead is new projects started with pgLang, which was announced two years ago as a “multilingual, service company” that will work on a range of creative and commercial projects, from the video for “The Heart Part 5” to a range of new Converse sneakers.