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Kendrick Lamars 'Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers': Surrealism & The Collective Unconscious

Updated: May 24, 2022

I remember the summer before 9th Grade, it felt like a transformative summer. We all knew life was about to change and we lived like it. My friends and I would go to Joes, the pizza shop near our suburb that we basically grew up inside, we’d get a slice for a dollar and smother it with Joe's special barbecue sauce, we’d get an Arizona then hang out at the park all day and make vines, we’d go to the movies and play basketball in our Aeropostale shirts, cargo shorts, 3D glasses and silly bandz. Life was perfect. On one of those random summer nights I was on YouTube and came across Rigamortis, a song by this artist named Kendrick Lamar. It blew my mind. This guy was rapping so well, and so fast, he would get progressively faster each verse alongside these crazy horns. The video had people playing trumpets and drums in the middle of the street. Everything about this song blew my 13 year old mind. I listened to Section 8.0 and it was amazing. It felt deep and dark but I don’t know if I really understood it, I don’t think I revisited it much either.

Fast forward to ninth grade, we were finally in High School, our faces started to change, we were getting taller, our voices were changing, the girls were different, and our world was rapidly changing. Within the first month of my ninth grade year 2 kids from my school were killed due to gun violence. Drake even mentioned it on the song No Guns Allowed with Snoop Dogg. That was also simultaneously around the same time Good Kid Maad City dropped.

As a black kid I have a completely different relationship with Kendrick Lamars music than many of his fans that frequent festivals. Kendrick Lamar was the only person accurately representing my reality. I didn't grow up in the 90s, Tupac was a myth to me, every rapper was talking about flexing or being the killer, nobody was talking about it how I saw it. I was a kid from the suburbs, but I was still a good kid in the mad city, surrounded by gang violence, drugs, and an oppressive institution, and I couldn't articulate it as profoundly until I heard that album.

Kendrick was this revolutionary conscious artist that was able to make these insane bangers with messages, and incredibly deep and cinematic concept albums that reflect himself, society and the world. He never sacrificed the music for the lyrics, everything meshed perfectly, he was breaking grounds sonically and lyrically, while also being accessible to a massive mainstream audience, which is literally insane if you just read his lyrics. Israelites who talk about Dr. Sebi don’t make it much further than your local mall, but Kendrick was able to create this incredibly accessible, yet completely out of the box production, with his masterful lyricism, storytelling, and vocal inflections. From the beginning Kendricks unique taste is what made him stand out. Dave Chappelle described Kendrick as someone with the perfect blend of influences, with jazz heavy production, the ability to create mainstream hooks while also maintaining artistic integrity, substance and conscious messaging, and just being a raw writer.

The control verse is what made Kendrick my favourite rapper. This wasn’t just a guy here to make some money, this wasn’t just a guy here to rap and get fly, or get models, he was here to change things and raise the bar, that meant lyrically, sonically, the way videos are shot, and the way that society operates. Kendricks taste continued to evolve, his music continued to get weirder and more avant garde, his taste went into visuals like the unique Black & White style in the videos for To Pimp A Butterfly or the Gordon Parks inspired music videos for Damn. The videos from TDE always looked and felt like it was an in house production. They felt like one of those ambitious art movements you learned about in your art & history classes with Jay Rock, Ab Soul, School Boy Q, Kendrick and Sza, it was this creative avengers of musical talent.

Kendrick was this commercial conscious rapper making eclectic artful music, like if Andre 3000 had ever gone solo and then morphed into a gangster rapper. Kendrick was a conscious rapper, but I don’t mean the usual conscious music we were accustomed to, this felt revolutionarily honest, it didn't take a moral high ground, Kendrick was seeking answers and making insights. He was looking at the world and seeing how it related to him. A lot of conscious hip hop is very bland and admonishes materialism and things of that nature, this was something else. Kendrick Lamar's lyrics were spiritual, relating to the human condition and it always felt like he was really looking for change, and it looked like he could create it.

The HiiiPower video is the perfect example of the type of artist Kendrick Lamar was, and who he became to a generation of people. The song talks about Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, the state of Black America, society, wars in the world, the video incorporates clips from Osama Bin Laden and various Al Jazeera news clips. Kendricks Section 8.0 album was about a leader coming to the understanding that something was very wrong in a burning world, and that he does not have the answers, but if the entire generation continues to question, and rallies around some ideas and values, we could teach each other and find some solutions. Kendrick dropped 3 classics after that album, each one more sonically daring that the last, and each one seeming more prophetic and profound than the last. No two albums sound like each other, each one is uniquely deep, their is barely any overlap in content or production. There are repeating themes musically like Kendrick has been influenced by Jazz from the beginning, but he makes it his own and uses the improvisation and creativity of jazz to create these new sonic landscapes where he lays his lyrics.

With each project Kendrick got more spiritual, as his wealth & fame grew, he saw how deep the problems he was trying to solve were. He got fame and wealth but still had friends dying in the hood, he was going through all the temptations that came with his new found plateau and role in society, he was trying to balance his new life with his faith, integrity and values.

His career had gone to another level, his words resonated to the point that they were used during revolutions, people placed their hopes, dreams and aspirations on this man to be a savior, not just of hip hop, not just of music, not just of Compton, and not just of black people. Kendrick went on to win multiple grammys and a pulitzer prize, it was clear that his fame had reached a critical mass and other people were watching, and then he disappeared for 5 years.

Kendrick came back with The Heart Part 5, a song that I could write multiple books about. To call it a song is diminishing what it was. The song featured this incredible Marvin Gaye sample chopped up to create this mesmerizing backing vocal for what seemed like a psychic session. Kendrick discusses this toxic culture and how it feeds each other into this never ending well of toxicity, where even if a leader rises up with solutions, they are killed because that's the culture. Kendrick called himself a spirit medium multiple times on his album, and in this particular video he channels the spirit of his friend Nipsey Hussle for a farewell verse to his fans & family, but he also talks about himself as "all of us." His face morphs from Kanye to OJ Simpson to talk about how the conditions of America, and even more specifically how the conditions of Black fame in America leads people in a certain direction, like how the Kardashians are antagonizing Kanye to turn him into OJ Simpson, or Chris Rock and Will Smith. The line "Hurt people hurt more people" is the thesis of the album that followed.

On May 13, 2022 Kendrick Lamar dropped his album Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. It’s been 3 days, I’ve listened to the album more than 10 times, I’ve read the lyrics with the music and without the music.

Firstly, I think this album is amazing. I think the music is beautiful, It’s catchy but all of these songs are incredibly profound, Kend