Kendrick Lamar highlights societal issues through meaningful lyrics that opens up about his own experiences

Kendrick+Lamar%2C+a+popular+rapper%2C+released+his+latest+album%2C+Mr.+Morale+%26+The+Big+Steppers%2C+on+May+13th.

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Kendrick Lamar, a popular rapper, released his latest album, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, on May 13th.

Rhea Master, Social Media Manager

Contributions by Yashwanth Ravipati

 

Kendrick Lamar released his latest album, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, on May 13th after much anticipation since the release of DAMN in 2017. The 73 minute double album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart, with all 18 songs landing on the Billboard Hot 100. 

Lamar is known for music that goes beyond a catchy melody and an attempt to please fans. Instead, he depicts a story and a struggle that very few other artists are successful at capturing. The relevant and nuanced lyrics he constructs for each song is what won him the Pulitzer for his last album, DAMN. His latest album is no different, with music that puts a spotlight on the societal issues of today.

Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers was a look inside Lamar’s head as he made sense of his trauma and other issues that plague minorities. Lamar touched on topics regarding race, addiction, generational curses, the pandemic, cancel culture, hypocrisy, gender and sexuality. 

His 18 song double album is split into two volumes: The Big Steppers and Mr. Morale. Cumulatively, the songs on “Big Steppers” are upbeat, and talk about Lamar’s experiences with dating and relationships. Mr. Morale, on the other hand, talks about deeper issues such as infidelity, family scars, and abuse. Lamar uses this album to open up about the trauma he’s buried within himself, as well as the plague-like hate in his community.

In making this album, Lamar makes some controversial decisions. Deciding to include rapper Kodak Black became the topic of many discussions. It is an unlikely choice considering the albums large focus around the topics of sexual abuse and cancel culture. 

Kodak Black was involved in a criminal case that lasted years, after being accused of rape by an underaged girl. Black eventually pleaded guilty to first-degree assault-and-battery charges which led to 18 months of probation and a 46-month federal-weapons sentence that was commuted by President Donald Trump.

Lamar uses Black to symbolize the exoneration for past mistakes. At the end of “Mother I Sober,” Lamar says “I set free all you abusers, this is transformation.” Kodak’s participation in the album was a way to give forgiveness to past abusers for their actions.

 

N95

N95 was Lamar’s call to action to “take all that designer bulls**t off;” to take off the Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana and Birkin bags. He is commenting on people’s wasteful spending habits and how expensive things don’t make them prettier on the inside. It also highlights his own hypocrisy. In his previous song, “United in Grief”, Lamar admits, “I bought a Rolex watch, I only wore it once/ I bought infinity pools I never swimmed in.” Furthermore, his company, PGLang, works with big name brands like Calvin Klein and Converse showing how Lamar himself is a part of the problem.

Kodak’s participation in the album was a way to give forgiveness to past abusers for their actions.”

Auntie Diaries

Easily the most controversial track on the album, Auntie Diaries explores themes that Lamar has rarely discussed in his past albums. Lamar identifies the hypocrisy within the African American community regarding equality for LGBTQ individuals. Despite their calls for equality and their fight against racial discrimination, Lamar claims that his community, alongside himself, fail to apply the same principles to the LGBTQ community. 

Through anecdotes about his transgender uncle and cousin he reveals the issues in the way their families and communities treated them. Even though he recognizes their transition, he continues to misgender them. Furthermore, he deadnames Caitlyn Jenner by referring to her by her previous name, Bruce.

Lamar also creates a parallel between the n word and f slur to identify how they serve similar purposes: to degrade the people they pertain to. Despite this discernment, Lamar says the f slur multiple times throughout the song. Lamar’s decisions on this track particularly garnered much controversy as they have been labeled as offensive towards the LGBTQ community. 

However, it is clear that Lamar’s purpose WAS to be offensive. By using the f-slur so freely and misgendering transgender individuals, Lamar is representing the rest of his community, which claims that outsiders saying the n word is wrong, but will use slurs pertaining to the LGBTQ community at their own will. This song is Lamar’s call for acceptance of the LGBTQ community and cohesiveness in the fight for equality.

 

We Cry Together

Heavily influenced by Eminem’s 2000 song, Kim, We Cry Together is a song about toxic relationships and their effect on the individuals involved. However, unlike Kim, Lamar presents a more relatable scenario than the homicidal thoughts Eminem describes in his song.

The song represents a conversation between a couple in which both parties hurl insults at each other. Both people use each other’s insecurities and weaknesses to mold their insults in the most hurtful way possible.

Interestingly, Lamar uses Taylor Paige, an actor rather than a music artist, as his counterpart in the song. The choice evidently pays off, as Paige’s ability to convey anger, sadness, and toxicity through the tone of her raspy voice artistically supplements her insults and Lamar’s storytelling.

We Cry Together is a song about toxicity and hurtful relationships. Lamar speaks on his own experiences in hopes to connect to his audience members stuck in a similar situation, and to alert them about how unhealthy such relationships are. In a similar manner to Lamar’s other songs, he reveals the blinding nature of what people think is “love” and the situations it can force them in.

Mother I Sober

This song takes a different approach, using a soft-spoken whisper rather than an intense rap that normally accompanies Lamar’s music. He uses this song to unpack generational trauma, grief, and long-standing guilt.

Lamar begins with a retelling of his family violence and drama. He describes how his family believed that he was inappropriately touched by his cousin, despite his constant remarks that it never occurred. No one believed him, causing him to feel guilt for the familial violence and disruption caused by the perceived crime.He then goes on to discuss the situation as a recurring issue in many Black families. Claiming that generational discrimination and injustice has caused an increased divide in Black households, Lamar calls for new generations to open up with their family and children rather than avoiding their trauma and issues.

While Lamar discredits the belief that he was sexually assaulted as a child, he also extensively speaks on real cases of sexual assault. He reveals that his mother’s refusal to believe his claims was due to her own experiences being sexually assaulted as a child. Further, he raps “I know the secrets, every other rapper sexually abused,” referring to how many Black male rappers were victims of sexual assault as children. Notably, Denzel Curry, Lil Wayne, and Kevin Gates have all come out with their stories of being sexually assaulted as children, and how their experiences served as inspiration to begin rapping.

As the song comes to an end, Lamar’s partner Whitney Alford says “You broke a generational curse,” followed by their daughter thanking them. Lamar opens up and talks to his daughter, unlike the generations of Black families before him. He calls for all Black parents to follow suit. As the second to last song on the album, Lamar leaves his heart in the lyrics and gives himself some mental solace.

 

The album is not perfect by any means, but that is what makes it special. Society is not perfect and Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers highlights the issues people shy away from.