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Kendrick Lamar Says His Album Came From Asking ‘God to Speak Through Me’

Kendrick Lamar’s long, long, loooong anticipated album is here. Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers is indeed a double album, even though it clocks in at just over an hour. It features contributions from Ghostface Killah, Kodak Black, Portishead’s Beth Gibbons, actor Taylour Paige and Lamar’s protégé Baby Keem.

“Writer’s block for two years, nothin’ moved me,” he raps on his new album. “Asked God to speak through me, that’s what you’re hearing now.” Lamar’s usual themes of inner conflict, self doubt and ultimate reliance on faith and family are all there. Sonically, Lamar continues to push the boundaries of artistry, finding bold new ways to deploy his gift. Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers finds Lamar experimenting with both electronica and more tactile instruments, especially the piano. The exquisite opener “United in Grief” is constructed in multiple acts and recalls his To Pimp a Butterfly days, with Lamar slipping in and out of different flows with jazz-like energy.

But Lamar’s lyrics have always been the most bewitching part of his music. Many had expected Lamar, maybe the most insightful lyricist of his generation, to come through with a definitive statement on our Covid-19 pandemic era but he was patient instead — waiting until the dust settled and he had the benefit of hindsight before saying anything. And true to form, he’s less interested in making any grand pronouncements about the world around him than he is in exploring his own internal struggles. Lamar fiercely resists accepting the “voice of a generation” label many have tried to anoint him with. “Sorry I didn’t save the world, my friend,” he says on the album’s final line. “I was too busy building mine again.”

“Seen a Christian say the vaccine mark of the beast then he caught COVID and prayed the Pfizer for relief,” Lamar raps on “Savior.” “Then I caught COVID and started to question Kyrie. Will I stay organic or hurt in this bed for two weeks?” This is indicative of the album’s usual rhythm — taking a current event and twisting it inward as a way of exploring his own reactions to the chaos in the world around him. On “Auntie Diaries,” he wrestles with his feeling about an uncle who transitioned into an aunt, and the religious condemnation he saw hurled at the transition. “Mother I Sober” finds him wrestling with generational trauma, the enormous pain his family has endured and his own frustrated attempts to break the cycle.

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Like every Lamar album, God haunts the lyrics. Whether he’s criticizing his own lack of faith (“Where’s my faith? Told you I was a Christian, but just not today”), the performative acts of other Christians (“I pray to God you actually pray when somebody dies / Thoughts and prayers, way better off timelines”) or declaring his own belief in his cause (“If God be the source then I am the plug talkin'”), Lamar’s relationship with God is fraught but never in doubt. And while the explicit label means Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers probably won’t end up in any Christian bookstores any time soon, the spiritual wrestling match is well worth Christian consideration.

It’s impossible to take the full album in on an immediate listen, but one thing is for sure: Nobody is doing it like Kendrick Lamar is right now. Few ever have.

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