Rapper Kendrick Lamar mixes introspection and social criticism

After five years of silence, Californian rapper Kendrick Lamar, who has become one of the soundtracks of the Black Lives Matter movement, publishes “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers”. A dense fifth album where social criticism rubs shoulders with a strong introspective part.

At 34, Kendrick Lamar is already one of the greatest voices in American rap. The only hip-hop artist to have been crowned with a Pulitzer Prize for “Damn”, his last album released five years ago, he is even considered a generational symbol. Thanks to texts that draw their influence from black American literature and the ideals of the great figures of social movements.

“Lamar fed on legends and violence”, summarizes Nicolas Rogès to evoke the figure he tells in his biography, “Kendrick Lamar – From Compton to the White House” (The Word and the Rest, 2020). The native of Compton, a city located thirty minutes from Los Angeles and associated for thirty years with gangsta rap, emancipated himself at the same time as the Californian city freed itself from a violence in which he never took part. .

For his return after five absences, Kendrick Lamar even offered himself the luxury of announcing it with an additional title not appearing on his new album. He accompanied “The Heart Part 5”, a rap as militant as it is angry, from a video clip in which he takes on, thanks to the deepfake technique, the appearance of popular but controversial figures from the African-American community, from OJ Simpson to Kanye West via Will Smith or the basketball player Kobe Bryant. A piece that clashes with the eighteen other more introspective titles gathered on “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers”, a double album where he willingly evokes his childhood wounds or his role as father and artist.

>> To see, the clip of “The Heart Part 5”:

Exposing his soul

A deep lyricist who does not hesitate to use metaphors and versified rhythms in his phrasing, Kendrick Lamar shows himself from the outset in search of inner peace on “United in Grief” (“United in grief”) where returns to the trivialization of death and violence. Before concluding, in epilogue, with the same choir as at the beginning, with “I Bare my Soul and Now we’re Free” (“I laid bare my soul and now we are free”). Over the two parts of the album, Lamar will have meditated on inner demons, repressed emotions, family struggles, the pitfalls of fame, the lack of consideration of transgender people or the aggression of his mother while he was a child.

In “Mother I Sober”, a more soulful and raw title featuring the singer of the English trip-hop group Portishead, Beth Gibbons, he exposes stories of childhood trauma, infidelity and sexual abuse. Elsewhere, Lamar also offers to “unplug the wi-fi, the microwave, the telephone” (“N95″), i.e. a return to nature and the non-use of screens that he would have practiced as he says in ” Rich Spirit”.

>> To see, the clip of “N95”:

With its dense credits, “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” also summons R&B singer Summer Walker, singer-songwriter Sampha, Baby Keem, Ghostface Killah, Kodak Black and Thundercat to accompany the destiny of a caught rapper. in a world shaped like a “dead end” where we would be nothing without the love of others, as Lamar says on “United in Grief”. Pharrell, The Alchemist, Beach Noise and Boi-1da, among others, also participated in the writing and production of the album.

Olivier Horner with dpa

Kendrick Lamar, “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” (pgLang/Top Dawg Entertainment).

Kendrick Lamar in concert at the Hallenstadium, Zurich, on October 25, 2022 and at the Vaudoise Arena, Prilly (VD), on October 26, 2022.

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Rapper Kendrick Lamar mixes introspection and social criticism