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Nodima
Member since Jul 30th 2008
14955 posts
Tue May-24-22 03:20 AM

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130. "I'll let you have something too"
In response to In response to 100
Tue May-24-22 03:22 AM by Nodima

  

          

It's far from my M.O. anymore, I kept this profile up for a while after I dropped the "professional" stuff but it was mostly dormant post-2017. Granted because it's a RateYourMusic post it opens a bit relevant to that subculture in general but here's a white guy working through some stuff with Kendrick:


(I open the way I did because if you used to read me back in the day, you'd know I was denied writing about Overly Dedicated for PopMatters; for even more context, this was the Section.80 review I wrote: https://www.popmatters.com/kendrick-lamar-section-80-2495978575.html)


(Yes, there are typos. Nah, I won't edit them. That's what editors are for.)


--------


I feel an obligation here. An obligation so abstract as to barely make sense; not only has RateYourMusic continued to thrive whether I indulge or not, but I've tried to make it as clear as I can in sparse missives that I find the idea any one critic's voice means much anymore is foolish. I suppose Fantano has that, and good on him. But I get why any given musician might feel swept up in a tide of unknown origin. I wouldn't ever argue that I personally feel that way, but facts are facts - more artists are releasing more music in more formats than ever before. More critics in more formats. It's an absolute deluge, and I guess I wouldn't ever argue I feel that way personally because I very aggressively bowed out as soon as I did.

The ultimate trickle down of this creative assembly is that the pursuit of being an "expert" in nearly any genre, unless it's the only genre you care about, is absurd on its face. I don't think it ends there - I think an artist ought to realize this, too. Rap has seen the death of the New York crown, the dissolution of the King of the South label, and arguably never paid due to whatever we might've called the Bay Area Top Bopper or Minnesota Nice Guy Supreme. I've lost a step and a half since I last wrote regular, but somehow I doubt we could've done much better as a culture to establish other crowns if we'd tried.

It was all professional wrestling, anyway. Attempts to generate crowd pops and create relatable subcultures anyway. This is pre true social media, I'm talking hip-hop message boards of the late '90s and early '00s, in which a Jim Jones vs. Tony Yayo thread could feel like life or death and it really mattered if you knew what a Fondle 'Em Records LP was because the raps were good or because the raps were good over a Sade sample that couldn't possibly have been cleared. I want to make that point because , for better or worse, the rap game of 2022 to me feels even more like professional wrestling than the heyday, and I think it mostly feels that way because the middle men have been so thoroughly cut out of the picture. In other words, both artist and listener have less inventive than ever before to meet each other in the middle - the marks know what they want before they've seen the product, and the artists can't help but feel squeezed between embracing the niche they could lord over and the mass culture they could (or have) take the reigns of.

Hear me out, because I hear you - when major label artists felt comfortable doing their best work under the banners of DJ Drama, Don Cannon, Trap-a-Holics, Mick Boogie and others, not to mention the countless middle middle men who facilitated imfamous studio leaks like The Empire - you could distinguish quite succinctly what was for the fans and what was for the masses. We used to spend a ridiculous amount of time talking about whether the mixtape was better than the album, in part because it often was but also because it became harder and harder to tell what an artist - particularly a rapper - wanted to rap about, or on top of. It would constantly feel like the best rappers in the world were contriving records out of depleted cash advances while the most charismatic were fighting this endless war against rap as a raw nostalgia mine.

In retrospect, it almost feels funny because the style could never wholeheartedly reject either notion. At it's very foundation is a reverence for the past that belied so much of modern meme culture, while that dependence on both recent and distant pasts demands a pursuit of more expansive, expensive, theoretically more interesting music.

Which leads to Mr. Morale. I'd hesitate to call this a review, partially because I'm out of practice and partially because I don't think this album deserves a review. Let me go back to something I wrote a decade ago, regarding an album simultaneously marketed as both final mixtape and debut album: "Assuming he can reign in some of his stranger, more obtuse qualities and continue to grow as a man, it wouldn't be a surprise at all to see Lamar become one of the decade's most important hip-hop artists."

I'd say, as of 2017's DAMN., Kendrick had done that. Could I explain how it felt to hear "LOVE" at multiple wedding I bartended in the following five years? Weddings that otherwise featured all the usual, bland stalwarts I'm just slightly too high to remember or/and care to mention?

Here's where I'll skip ahead a bit in my argument and ask, does it really matter that Kendrick is so open about his love for early 2000s Eminem, late 90s DJ Quik or mid 2010s Kodak Black? In the sense that a huge portion of our egos wanted to presume Kendrick always had our best interests at heart, maybe. But even a cursory listen of Mr. Morale makes it clear the writer's block, the ghostwriting for cousin Baby Keem and others, the overexposure of Kodak Black on this very album is a rejection of that expectation. You listen to enough conversations about the making of To Pimp a Butterfly and you become acutely aware of how big a mistake that was, happily but not without increasingly acute anxiety. In an industry that had become practically allergic to that kind of release...simply, why?

Mr. Morale seems to attempt to apologize for DAMN. in the most minor key: I can speak to you ("N95", "Savior", "Mother | Sober", "Mirror", "We Cry Together" for better or worse), and I can write a fucking catchy hook ("Die Hard", which borrows smartly from Dua Lipa, "Rich Spirit", "Silent Hill", "Crown") but neither of those traits demand that you relate to me or I to you. I've seen some takes that Mr. Morale is intense or unapproachable, which I find a bit naive: I see a Kanye that hadn't gone so maximal after Late Registration in this album, or (to allow myself just a bit of datedness) an Ice Cube who'd been less concerned with remaining contemporary musically or a box office draw thematically. There's probably a lost Andre 3000 comparison in here as well.

All that being said, if you haven't felt estranged from your father, awkwardly paranoid about your financial and spiritual debt to your mother, regret about the friends you made along the way and influences you internalized while also recognizing you'd seen that soon enough to overcome those hurdles, and maybe considering the ultimate skeleton of this album self aware enough to recognize as much as the world sees you as LeBron James you might (little conjecture here) see yourself as more of a Rasheed Wallace...this is quite a blank slate of an album.

Kendrick makes terrible choices in terms of beats, guest artists, thematic conceits and plain delivery here. It's the first time since just before Overly Dedicated I could confidently say so, and so it feels easy to declare this if not a regression at least a stall. And I have to emphasize that I mean what I said just now - the stark pivot to morality via religion and masculinity via a worry the world has completely turned on his understanding of manhood are to be criticized, heavily.

Catch me ten years ago in a more academic mood and this entire review is about "We Cry Together", but for now I'll just say this - Taylour Paige turns in the most explosive performance of the album and it's not by coincidence. It's both a classic trope of Los Angeles albums for a woman to sneak in and steal the show from all the men in the foreground and a tacit admission from an artist aggressively rejecting his ordainment as the voice of a generation to embrace the villainy he engages in seemingly uncharitable ways throughout an album with such a seemingly unmovable title. Paige's verse acts as both white flag and self-flagellation.

Mr. Morale sounds like a promise of positivity, yet the Big Steppers are undoubtedly rolling stones. "I love when you count me out," goes the open to a second disc that all but the biggest fans will never know exists; in practice, it's just a thematic transition in a Spotify or Apple Music playlist. Maybe someday these new publishers will figure out how to let listeners experience what it once meant to swap from Nelly's Sweat to Nelly's Suit.

Mid jokes aside, and accepting this is where it gets a bit personal, Mr. Morale feels like Kendrick's most universal release yet, to me, in large part because it is so unabashedly his own experience with being a successful, hetero man in a world he so desperately wants to engage in yet just as often clearly feels beaten down by the pressures of that engagement. I can't, obviously, cop to feeling anywhere near the depth of his pressure experience, but I do know that I find the modern media world both infinitely inviting to artistic expression and yet endlessly pursuing a kind of morale middle ground that demands we either all experience and interpret this world within some pretty harsh parameters or just shut the fuck up. Luckily, I don't have to try and make commercial art in that environment, nor am I expected to make art that reflects the times rather than my personal experience.

To that end, it only makes sense that "Auntie Diaries" is where I end this commentary, because I think it takes a pretty supreme sense of self and artistry to write a song that's so enigmatically empathetic and disgusting as that song. Even "We Cry Together" had to resolve in revenge sex and pivot on a pair of Twitter memes. "Auntie Diaries" is a true original in rap, if not this level of mainstream audience at least, and it's got something for everyone. If you've ever sat up nights dissecting your relationship to a friend who's changed their gender and/or sexual presentation, if you've ever seen family or friends reject/embrace a member of the circle due to that choice, if you've ever - in the incredibly niche experience of a hetero male - attempted to juggle your memories of this person as they raised you against the person that you engage with and continue to learn from a an adult...the song's got all of that. But it can also be reduced, quite deservedly, to an explicit act of deadnaming a loved one in order to both sides your way through the current climate of so-called cancellation.

Even more succinctly than before, all I can say to that effect is I felt Dave Chappelle's "The Closer" special was not especially entertaining but elaborated on his various positions in quite thoughtful, moving ways. His actions following that special have proven be, perhaps, those of a venerated fool. I wouldn't be surprised if this section of this commentary eventually winds up in the same dumpster of embarrassment, but particularly following "Savior" it seems clear to me Kendrick wanted to make a very bold faced point to his audience that he is just as fallible as anyone that didn't get "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst" was a cry for help, not a method acting exercise or, even worse, merely a song too intense to listen to more than once.

They used to tell me what you'd call the final paragraph of a review; summary feels too simple to be right, and why would I try to summarize what I'd tried to get at above? My last thought is this: something that I loved when I read about pop and folk music from the '60s and '70s is that critics could explicitly decry an album as one an artist's least accomplished works and yet unequivocally declare that flawed work their favorite work by that artist. Do I see myself there? I don't think it's likely - the most buried of critiques this commentary will offer is that the production seems, to be succinct, layman - but I will say that it hasn't taken long for me to not worry so much about the flaws Kendrick displays on this album, personally, politically or otherwise.

After all, I'm prone to be a piece of shit, too.


~~~~~~~~~
"This is the streets, and I am the trap." � Jay Bilas
http://www.popmatters.com/pm/archive/contributor/517
Hip Hop Handbook: http://tinyurl.com/ll4kzz

  

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Kendrick Lamar - Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers [View all] , Hitokiri, Fri May-13-22 01:14 AM
 
Subject Author Message Date ID
a lot of filler.
May 13th 2022
1
It hasnt excited me how I thought it would...
May 13th 2022
2
They don’t even attempt albums like this anymore
May 13th 2022
3
Aquemeni or Stankonia?
May 13th 2022
5
Stankonia...Damn was his Aquemini
May 13th 2022
8
      On first listen of TPAB I said "He went full Outkast".
May 13th 2022
31
           I still liken TPAB to LWFC
May 13th 2022
53
                same here
May 14th 2022
54
You get it
May 13th 2022
7
Listening now before work
May 13th 2022
4
100% ....first thing I thought was Bobby Digital
May 13th 2022
16
100% biting the RZA
May 13th 2022
19
      Well it's Alc so...
May 13th 2022
20
I like United in Grief and Crown the best
May 13th 2022
6
I'm only now digging deeper into commentary but
May 28th 2022
143
Yall bugging. This shit is greatness.
May 13th 2022
9
first listen was 10/10
May 13th 2022
10
yeah I love this
May 13th 2022
23
This hard af. Its not for the club, its for US
May 13th 2022
11
Auntie Diaries.. gotdamn this goes
May 13th 2022
12
Mother I Sober… shit.
May 13th 2022
14
His most personal album. A challenging listen at times. But 9/10 for me.
May 13th 2022
13
I’m here. Album made me genuinely emotional.
May 14th 2022
55
Need to time for this to settle in
May 13th 2022
15
It's exactly what I expected: honest & vulnerable & creative
May 13th 2022
17
he talking bout it allll...
May 13th 2022
18
I guess he will be an every other album guy for me
May 13th 2022
21
all over the place musically. got excited when i got to silent hill
May 13th 2022
25
      Definitely agree on the delivery leaving a lot to be desired
May 13th 2022
30
Folks need to realize he ain’t for cruising head bobbing
May 13th 2022
22
some of these songs sound like he's going for that though
May 13th 2022
24
You don't have to sacrifice musicality just to be "deep"
May 13th 2022
38
I fucks with this. Hard.
May 13th 2022
26
What are headphones or earbuds are yall listening to this with?
May 13th 2022
27
Momentum 3 wireless cans
May 13th 2022
29
Sennheiser HD800
May 13th 2022
33
RE: What are headphones or earbuds are yall listening to this with?
May 14th 2022
68
ghostface's verse brought tears to my eyes
May 13th 2022
28
I legit cried three times during this album.
May 28th 2022
144
"Critics" VS "The Streets" (I only heard 8 songs so far......)
May 13th 2022
32
RE: "Critics" VS "The Streets" (I only heard 8 songs so far......)
May 13th 2022
36
The twitter/reaction video "streets"?
May 13th 2022
44
      True, but..............
May 15th 2022
79
RE: Kendrick Lamar - Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers
May 13th 2022
34
this is incredible
May 13th 2022
35
RE: this is incredible
May 16th 2022
87
Grammy locked in
May 13th 2022
37
this is for sure winning Album of the Year
May 13th 2022
40
      lol. agreed. if anything else won i'd be shocked.
May 13th 2022
42
      I wouldn't count on that.
May 13th 2022
46
      Rap Album of the Year...this aint winning Album of the Year with Adele
May 13th 2022
52
After Mother I Sober, shit like Mortal Man looks way different
May 13th 2022
39
after 1 listen, it's ok.
May 13th 2022
41
the beat at 2:10 of "Worldwide Steppers" deserved so much more
May 13th 2022
43
RE: the beat at 2:10 of "Worldwide Steppers" deserved so much more
May 13th 2022
45
      Merry Christmas
May 13th 2022
47
      lol thnks
May 13th 2022
50
      WHY THANK YOU
May 19th 2022
98
      Similar track for ya
May 13th 2022
48
           good lookin out
May 13th 2022
51
I don't find it challenging like some people do.
May 13th 2022
49
Two things can be true
May 16th 2022
88
      Millions of things are, and can be, true.
May 17th 2022
90
      RE: Two things can be true
May 19th 2022
99
Am I the only one that hears a slight Migos/Young Thug influence
May 14th 2022
56
Yeah, but I think it plays into what he's trying to do with this album
May 14th 2022
57
He's got a Kodak flow on some of these songs
May 14th 2022
59
      I agree...
May 14th 2022
63
Be a while before I have a take, but think it could've gone more Pablo
May 14th 2022
58
Lol no one listens to pablo
May 14th 2022
60
No one cares about that bullshit Kanye jerkfest
May 14th 2022
61
      Y'all bugging. Life of Pablo gets spin.
May 14th 2022
62
      Hey enjoy man.
May 14th 2022
64
      I got this theory we are out of the Get Out, Black Panther and This is
May 14th 2022
65
      I think people are mad because it isn't something you can play
May 14th 2022
70
      This site is hatekanye.com. Pablo is hot in the real world
May 14th 2022
66
           RE: This site is hatekanye.com. Pablo is hot in the real world
May 14th 2022
67
           You brought up the album. It's a good album. Dude remains trash.
May 14th 2022
73
                To be fair, I brought it up. And I meant in the context of experimentati...
May 24th 2022
131
           popular with white folks..
May 14th 2022
69
           no it ain't. Life of Pablo straight HUFF.
May 15th 2022
83
                you married Black, you don’t count.
May 18th 2022
96
           No way Jose
May 14th 2022
72
                Straight to the point....
May 14th 2022
74
      All these comments aside, I was referring to the experimentation
May 15th 2022
76
Probably my new favorite Kendrick album
May 14th 2022
71
same on all that
May 28th 2022
same on all that
May 28th 2022
145
This shyt is art. I can't even critique it musically yet
May 14th 2022
75
this ^^^
May 15th 2022
80
hell yea. 100%
May 15th 2022
81
The depth of introspection is an incredible achievement on it's own
May 15th 2022
77
Sorry for your loss my guy, RIP to your old man
May 15th 2022
82
Appreciate it
May 16th 2022
85
Parked the car last night, album stopped at Mother I Sober
May 19th 2022
97
Kendrick's "Aquemini" but "Streets" wanted ATLiens...........
May 15th 2022
78
been saying Kendrick is an Outkast disciple... thanks for this.
May 17th 2022
89
the most fun thing in music...
May 16th 2022
84
RE: Kendrick Lamar - Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers
May 16th 2022
86
I tried..don’t like this
May 17th 2022
91
What ?
May 18th 2022
93
Truth be told..the music/instrumentation is really lackluster
May 18th 2022
92
I think its intentional. The words are more important than the beats
May 18th 2022
94
      my favs
May 18th 2022
95
This doesn’t seem like it was written for
May 19th 2022
100
White guy chiming in here !
May 20th 2022
101
Thank you for responding
May 20th 2022
102
      Excellent work
May 27th 2022
137
           Thanks for the reply.
Jun 03rd 2022
160
it's not sitting well w/ my spirit
May 20th 2022
103
My take is that you're correct in the conclusion of the album,
May 20th 2022
104
RE: My take is that you're correct in the conclusion of the album,
May 20th 2022
105
I feel this
May 21st 2022
108
RE: I feel this
May 22nd 2022
113
Have you read Eckhart, tried therapy, etc...?
May 22nd 2022
RE: Have you read Eckhart, tried therapy, etc...?
May 22nd 2022
114
      Sex addiction and alcohol were his coping mechanisms
May 23rd 2022
120
           i think you're deeply misunderstanding me
May 23rd 2022
123
                It is hard to relate...when this is his most personal work IMO
May 23rd 2022
124
                we'll have to agree to disagree
May 23rd 2022
125
                didn't get into this in my "review" above, but this is its gre...
May 24th 2022
132
Have you read Eckhart, tried therapy, etc...?
May 22nd 2022
Have you read Eckhart, tried therapy, etc...?
May 22nd 2022
109
I didn’t get that from the album, for me it was just his confession
May 23rd 2022
121
that's the best part tho
May 28th 2022
146
      i fully understand this perspective
May 29th 2022
155
only 286k first week. woof.
May 20th 2022
106
I'm the biggest Kendrick fan...
May 21st 2022
107
Still the biggest first week of the year.
May 22nd 2022
110
^^^^
May 28th 2022
141
what even is a sale in 2022?
May 22nd 2022
111
Exactly - you can’t compare any numbers from 2022 to 2017.
May 22nd 2022
112
how about we compare numbers from 2022 to 8 months ago
May 22nd 2022
115
      Or compare 2022 sales to 2022 sales.
May 22nd 2022
116
           Anemic year lol
May 22nd 2022
117
                It’s almost June. If he has the biggest first weekend with those numbe...
May 22nd 2022
118
                     1 week later
May 26th 2022
134
                          it's always gonna be a down year if you lived the '90s
May 27th 2022
135
                               Holding number 3 is not impressive
May 27th 2022
136
                                    wtf are you talking about? People are knocking the Kodak feature
May 27th 2022
139
I used to have this Youtube link locked and loaded for this conversation
May 24th 2022
133
lmao at “sales”
May 23rd 2022
122
Right, it’s so odd to me to listen to this and then talk about sales.
May 23rd 2022
126
I think he followed trends
May 24th 2022
129
if them numbers came back right it'd be hailed a success tho
May 23rd 2022
127
      If Steph Curry led the league in blocks that would be hailed as a succes...
May 23rd 2022
128
      no shit.. lol
May 27th 2022
138
      an album on interscope from kendrick lamar will always be commercial
May 27th 2022
140
           ok now tell me
May 28th 2022
147
           idk you tell me why eminem sent out the emergency tweet
May 28th 2022
151
                I...don't pay attention to Em.
Jun 06th 2022
165
           sure, it's a product for "sale"
May 29th 2022
154
      Is "best first week of album sales of 2022" not a success?
May 28th 2022
142
this is a weird hill for you to die on. maybe you have some...
May 28th 2022
149
      im just having fun out here watching folks scramble with the arguments
May 28th 2022
150
           i'm not scrambling...just saying how it is.
May 28th 2022
152
                he's got a Kanye/Drake agenda
May 29th 2022
153
man that buildup on auntie diaries got me hooked.
May 23rd 2022
119
I cried three times during this album.
May 28th 2022
148
single had the biggest one week drop in billboard history.
Jun 02nd 2022
156
That’s not the single. It , like, totally couldn’t be a single
Jun 02nd 2022
158
...
Jun 03rd 2022
159
I couldn't imagine too many people wanting to
Jun 03rd 2022
161
there isnt much album replay value to a lot of people.
Jun 03rd 2022
162
when you leave a label you don’t give them your hot shit
Jun 03rd 2022
164
that shit wasn’t a single.
Jun 03rd 2022
163
die hard, rich spirit sum up the album…
Jun 02nd 2022
157
'Savior' is my shit.
Jun 08th 2022
166
Same.
Jun 08th 2022
167
only song from the album I've listened to since the week of release tbh
Jun 11th 2022
169
a few weeks after release and I aint listened to this shit since.lol
Jun 11th 2022
168
still bumping it. still fire to me.
Jun 12th 2022
170
Yep…still heavy in my rotation. Feels like a movie.
Jun 12th 2022
171
Aceyalone + RZA = Mr. Morale & Big Steppers
Jun 12th 2022
172
yeah, still not really digging it.
Jun 13th 2022
173
I love the last verse in Die Hard
Jun 14th 2022
174
Love Everything About it
Jun 14th 2022
175

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