The five-year wait for a new album from Kendrick Lamar – rapper Pulitzer, voice of a generation – is finally over.
“Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers,” Lamar’s fifth studio album and one of the most anticipated new albums in years, hit digital services overnight, with high hopes from fans. and big questions about his next career steps.
Lamar, 34, is one of the few major figures in the contemporary music scene – where a steady 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 set to make an opening week splash 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 follow-up effort, “To Pimp a Butterfly” (2015), he brought in a host of players from the fertile Los Angeles jazz scene, including Kamasi Washington and Thundercat. This album, “a work about life under constant racial surveillance and how that can lead to many kinds of internal monologues, some empowering, some self-loathing,” as Times pop music critic Jon Caramanica, includes “Alright,” which has become an unofficial Black Lives Matter protest anthem.
His 2017 album, “DAMN.”, won five Grammy Awards, although it lost album of the year to Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic.” (The rapper has won 14 Grammys overall.) Lamar, who grew up in Compton, Calif., and made that region’s culture and struggles central to his music, also became the first rapper to receive the award. Pulitzer Prize for Music. “SLIM.” was cited in 2018 as “a collection of virtuoso songs unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers touching vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.” Lamar embraced the accolade, appearing in concert with a “Pulitzer Kenny” banner behind him.
Also in 2018, Lamar and the head of his record label, Anthony Tiffith (known as Top Dawg), were executive producers of a companion album to the movie “Black Panther.” A track 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 sued, claiming her work was used without permission in the track’s video; the lawsuit was settled at the end of 2018.
Since that turbulent year, Lamar has kept a low public profile, making a few appearances on other artists’ songs and, last year, joining Las Vegas rapper (and his cousin) Baby Keem for two songs on the album. by Keem “The Melodic”. Blue,” including Grammy-winning “Family Ties.” In February, Lamar took the stage at the Super Bowl LVI Halftime Show alongside Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Eminem and Mary J. Blige, which put him in the odd position of either being the only young parent in a hip-hop oldies show or – performing songs less than ten years old – perhaps already being a bit of a throwback himself.
Last Sunday, Lamar released a new music video, “The Heart Part 5,” as a teaser for “Mr. Moral.” It has a spoken prologue stating “life is perspective” and then shows Lamar’s face merging with those 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 Fight. The deepfake effects were created by Deep Voodoo, a studio of “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, which plans further projects with pgLang, a new company founded by Lamar and longtime collaborator Dave Free.
The lyrics to “The Heart Part 5” have already been explored for their meaning, as has the image Lamar shared on Wednesday of the album 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 some extent, these may also serve as clues for the next stage of Lamar’s career. “Mr. Morale” will be his final album for Top Dawg Entertainment, or TDE, Lamar’s home since the start of his career, which released his music in partnership with Interscope. He hasn’t announced a new label deal, but has instead embarked on new projects 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 video for “The Heart Part 5” to a series of new Converse sneakers.
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