A vulnerable and dense listen to modern hip-hop’s most revered figure

First comes the poisonous peak from Disc 1, destined to be the most notorious track on the album. We cry together is a howling, expletive-laden match with Taylour Paige slamming charges of infidelity, arrested development, gaslighting, power-triggering, guilt-triggering, selfishness, narcissism, Trumpism, “false” feminism and much more. The family home echoes through shattered glass on a deepening piano arpeggio toward a truce born of weakness, not resolve. “This is what the world looks like,” Whitney says.

Mr. Morale and Big Steps is not about sonic innovation. Lamar seems supremely at home in his own jazz-tinged world where sleek piano maintains a harmonic thread and songs can ambush your heart in a way that sounds more like Marvin Gaye than Dr. Dre. The high points on each record, purple hearts and shimmerare irresistible inroads for hip hop agnostics.

Lamar on stage at Lollapalooza Buenos Aires in 2019.Credit:Getty Images

But it’s its emotional ground, especially on the tell-all second disc, that risks perpetuating a reputation that already transcends the genre. It’s telling that he mostly refrains here from the cross-promotional allegiances that have become increasingly common in hip-hop. Kodak Black, Ghostface Killah, and Lamar’s cousin Baby Keem are among the exceptions, all notable for different reasons, but when he mentions Kings Kanye and Drake in passing, it’s only to say he finds them confusing. .

In the home stretch, it’s clear he didn’t come to defend rap’s crown of thorns, but to abdicate in favor of the sometimes strained family depicted on the album cover. “I can’t please everyone”, exclaims the moving piano-voice chorus of Crownone last dejected meditation before he lets go of the floodgates of intergenerational shame and abuse that brought him here.

Twin epics aunt diaries and mother i sober, the latter with its crushing chorus sung by Portishead’s Beth Gibbons, are sublime, poetic purges that manage to transcend the trauma of childhood repression and self-recrimination to soar on exhilarating swells of orchestration. Lamar raps a lot about God, but here you can practically feel the Almighty walk into the room.


Much has been made of Lamar’s declaration that this will be his last album, i.e. for his current rap label Top Dawg Entertainment. What this means for future recordings is deliberately vague, but it clearly draws a line at the end of this one.

“Personal gain from my pain, that’s nonsense / Darlin’ my demons are off leash for a moshpit,” he raps. It’s a disco mosh pit, baby, with Barry White strings. “I choose myself, I’m sorry,” goes the elated refrain. Who can blame him?

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