Photo: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images for Coachella
5 Takeaways From Kendrick Lamar's 'Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers'
Kendrick Lamar's new album, 'Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers,' is a mixture of advantageous lyrics and surprise contributions. Here are five key details to know.
Five years ago, Kendrick Lamar unleashed DAMN., which would win him a Pulizt and cement the MC as a generational talent. With plenty of turmoil going on in America at the time, Lamar grappled with weighty topics like racism, gun violence, and religious ideation in daring and complex ways.
Now, we have Lamar's fifth and final record for Top Dawg Entertainment, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. Clocking in at more than an hour, the album marks a rare opportunity to see the Omega from Compton deliver another soul-stirring and conversation-starting opus to dissect and delve into for years to come.
As is the case with most things dealing with the man formerly known as K. Dot, details of any kind were kept hidden like Keyser Sozé in The Usual Suspect — with updates only arriving tantalizingly close to its release on May 13.
This moment is bittersweet for multiple reasons: Mr. Morale arrived only four months after Lamar performed at Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood alongside Mt. Westmore legends such as Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. But it also marks the end of an era with the Carson, California-founded label that he helped turn from an indie hip hop superpower to a dominant and culture-shifting force.
As the rollout began, it involved another installment of Lamar's popular “The Heart” series, and the album's cover reveal showed him as the father of a newborn son. It all signifies one of the most influential rappers of his generation coming into his own as an artist, entrepreneur and keen observer of this thing we call life.
With so much to unpack still regarding Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers, here are five takeaways that stood out after a few listens.
Beach Noise Now Has The Music World's Attention
Longtime listeners and day-ones can take a look at the liner notes on Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers and note a few familiar names: Boi-1da, Sounwave, DJ Dahi, and Tae Beast have laid their aural fingerprints on some of Kendrick's most cherished songs.
But the three-man team of Beach Noise — Matt Schaeffer, Johnny, and Jake Kosich — showcases the new audio adventure that Lamar and pgLang are embarking on.
As breakout producers on Baby Keem's The Melodic Blue, the trio also produced “The Heart Part 5.” The track — which does not appear on Mr. Morale — builds on a sleek, modernized reconstruction of Marvin Gaye's “I Want You” master recording and became red meat for rap fans who were reminded that only the good kid from the m.A.A.d city could create fervor like this.
Beach Noise's work serves as the centerpiece on tracks such as “United in Grief,” “Silent Hill,” and “Auntie Diaries,” which have become some of the most talked-about entries on Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers.
This Old-School Gemini Doesn't Play Around
Songs like “Control,” “King Kunta” and “Deep Water” have always hinted at how Kendrick Lamar could turn up the temperature, not just subliminally emit lyrical smoke.
Here, “Father Time” might make your ears perk up. Holding the middle spot on the first half of the album, Kendrick delved into his “old school Gemini” bag to address one of hip-hop's most engaging brouhahas between Kanye West and Drake.
“When Kanye got back with Drake, I was slightly confused/ Guess I'm not as mature as I think, got some healin' to do/ Egotistic,” he raps on the song that revolves around “grown men with daddy issues.”
The two rap titans have been at odds for years, only reconciling last December in the name of Gangster Disciple Larry Hoover. And while there's been no definitive update on whether Ye and Aubrey remain cool, Kenny sounds more surprised than incensed that the two high-level competitors were able to bury the beef, making hardcore rap fans happy to be engaged in all of the theatrics.
Mr. Morale Contains Family Ties — In More Ways Than One
The story behind Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is still being unpacked, but what is apparent from the album's cover art — it is a family affair in various unexpected ways.
From the surprising reveal of Lamar becoming a father of two; to his reported wife-to-be, Whitney Alford, credited as a narrator on “We Cry Together”; to his cousin, Baby Keem, appearing on “Savior”; it's clear that Lamar wanted Mr. Morale to be a close-knit affair.
Elsewhere on the album, Eckhart Tolle — the German spiritual teacher and author behind The Power of Now and A New Earth — serves as a narrator on multiple songs: “Count Me Out,” “Savior (Interlude)” and “Mr. Morale.”
Therein, Tolle's messages about transcendental meditation and enhancing one's essential identity help make Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers a spiritually rewarding work.
Big Steppers Arrive From Many Directions
Earlier reports about Kendrick Lamar's fifth album found many believing he would take a hard-rock edge, given how To Pimp a Butterfly merged the most powerful components of jazz and hip-hop.
But with the rapper's penchant for the unexpected, no one would have predicted a billing quite like the artist on Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. Portishead's Beth Gibbons (“Mother I Sober”) and the controversial rapper Kodak Black (“Silent Hill”) on the same LP — who would have seen that coming?
For good measure, add in rising singer/rapper/songwriter Blxst, a surprisingly effortless verse from Zola actress Taylour Paige, R&B's resident mixxy mystic Summer Walker, and a touch of veteran appeal from Ghostface Killa.
Together, they set the stage for Lamar and his pgLang stable of artists (the aforesaid Baby Keem and Tanna Leone) to fulfill grand aspirations.
Mr. Morale Rewards Repeated Listens
As with any Kendrick Lamar offering, Mr. Morale is a heady experience full of layers, lyrics, and processes that take listeners on a roller-coaster ride.
Throughout, major questions abound: Who is Mr. Morale? Why is it important to be a Worldwide Stepper? How will Kendrick's lyrics on “Auntie Diaries” impact the conversation about trans issues in America? Is he coming for Kyrie Irving on “Savior”?
On top of that, does “I am. All of us.” from “The Heart Part 5” play itself out throughout the album?
The rapper takes us on a wild ride that will require multiple playthroughs to break down — which, like the MC himself, is complicated, nuanced and always worth communing with.
Whitney Houston, 29th GRAMMY Awards
Apple Music Exclusive: Watch Classic GRAMMY Performances
The Recording Academy teams with Apple Music to offer historical GRAMMY performances by Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye, Whitney Houston, Shania Twain, Kendrick Lamar, and more
To celebrate the GRAMMY Awards' 60th anniversary and the show's return to New York for the first time in 15 years, the Recording Academy and Apple Music are bringing fans a special video collection of exclusive GRAMMY performances and playlists that represent the illustrious history of Music's Biggest Night.
Available exclusively via Apple Music in a dedicated GRAMMYs section, the celebratory collection features 60-plus memorable performances specifically curated across six genres: pop, rap, country, rock, R&B, and jazz.
The artist performances featured in the collection include Marvin Gaye, "Sexual Healing" (25th GRAMMY Awards, 1983); Whitney Houston, "Greatest Love Of All" (29th GRAMMY Awards, 1987); Run DMC, "Tougher Than Leather" (30th GRAMMY Awards, 1988); Miles Davis, "Hannibal" (32nd GRAMMY Awards, 1990); Shania Twain, "Man, I Feel Like A Woman" (41st GRAMMY Awards, 1999); Dixie Chicks, "Landslide" (45th GRAMMY Awards, 2003); Bruno Mars and Sting, "Locked Out Of Heaven" and "Walking On The Moon" (55th GRAMMY Awards, 2013); and Kendrick Lamar, "The Blacker The Berry" (58th GRAMMY Awards, 2016).
The 60th GRAMMY Awards will take place at New York City's Madison Square Garden on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018. The telecast will be broadcast live on CBS at 7:30–11 p.m. ET/4:30–8 p.m. PT.
Carrie Underwood, John Legend To Host "GRAMMYs Greatest Stories"
Jay Z Tops 56th GRAMMY Nominations With Nine
Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Justin Timberlake, and Pharrell Williams earn seven nods each; other top nominees include Daft Punk, Drake, Lorde, Bruno Mars, and Taylor Swift
Nominations for the 56th GRAMMY Awards were announced tonight by The Recording Academy and reflected one of the most diverse years with the Album Of The Year category alone representing the rap, pop, country and dance/electronica genres, as determined by the voting members of The Academy. Once again, nominations in select categories for the annual GRAMMY Awards were announced on primetime television as part of "The GRAMMY Nominations Concert Live!! — Countdown To Music's Biggest Night," a one-hour CBS entertainment special broadcast live from Nokia Theatre L.A. Live.
Jay Z tops the nominations with nine; Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Justin Timberlake, and Pharrell Williams each garner seven nods; Drake and mastering engineer Bob Ludwig are up for five awards.
"This year's nominations reflect the talented community of music makers who represent some of the highest levels of excellence and artistry of the year in their respective fields," said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy. "Once again, The Academy's awards process and its voting membership have produced an impressive list of nominations across various genres promising music fans a spectacular show filled with stellar performances and unique 'GRAMMY Moments.' We are off to a great start and look forward to GRAMMY Sunday as Music's Biggest Night takes the stage."
Following are the nominations in the General Field categories:
Album Of The Year:
The Blessed Unrest — Sara Bareilles
Random Access Memories — Daft Punk
Good Kid, M.A.A.D City — Kendrick Lamar
The Heist — Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Red — Taylor Swift
Record Of The Year:
"Get Lucky" — Daft Punk & Pharrell Williams
"Radioactive" — Imagine Dragons
"Royals" — Lorde
"Locked Out Of Heaven" — Bruno Mars
"Blurred Lines" — Robin Thicke Featuring T.I. & Pharrell Williams
Song Of The Year:
"Just Give Me A Reason" — Jeff Bhasker, Pink & Nate Ruess, songwriters (Pink Featuring Nate Ruess)
"Locked Out Of Heaven" — Philip Lawrence, Ari Levine & Bruno Mars, songwriters (Bruno Mars)
"Roar" — Lukasz Gottwald, Max Martin, Bonnie McKee, Katy Perry & Henry Walter, songwriters (Katy Perry)
"Royals" — Joel Little & Ella Yelich O'Connor, songwriters (Lorde)
"Same Love" — Ben Haggerty, Mary Lambert & Ryan Lewis, songwriters (Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Featuring Mary Lambert)
Best New Artist:
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Following is a sampling of nominations in the GRAMMY Awards' other 29 Fields:
For Best Pop Solo Performance, the nominees are "Brave" by Sara Bareilles; "Royals" by Lorde; "When I Was Your Man" by Bruno Mars; "Roar" by Katy Perry; and "Mirrors" by Justin Timberlake.
The nominees for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance are "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk & Pharrell Williams; "Just Give Me A Reason" by Pink Featuring Nate Ruess; "Stay" by Rihanna Featuring Mikky Ekko; "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke Featuring T.I. & Pharrell Williams; and "Suit & Tie" by Justin Timberlake & Jay Z.
For Best Dance/Electronica Album, the nominees are Random Access Memories by Daft Punk; Settle by Disclosure; 18 Months by Calvin Harris; Atmosphere by Kaskade; and A Color Map Of The Sun by Pretty Lights.
The Best Rock Performance nominees are "Always Alright" by Alabama Shakes; "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)" by David Bowie; "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons; "Kashmir (Live)" by Led Zeppelin; "My God Is The Sun" by Queens Of The Stone Age; and "I'm Shakin'" by Jack White.
For Best Alternative Music Album, the nominees are The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You by Neko Case; Trouble Will Find Me by The National; Hesitation Marks by Nine Inch Nails; Lonerism by Tame Impala; Modern Vampires Of The City by Vampire Weekend.
The nominees for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration are "Power Trip" by J.Cole Featuring Miguel; "Part II (On The Run)" by Jay Z Featuring Beyoncé; "Holy Grail" by Jay Z Featuring Justin Timberlake; "Now Or Never" by Kendrick Lamar Featuring Mary J. Blige; and "Remember You" by Wiz Khalifa Featuring The Weeknd.
For Best Rap Album, the nominees are Nothing Was The Same by Drake; Magna Carta…Holy Grail by Jay Z; Good Kid, M.A.A.D City by Kendrick Lamar; The Heist by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis; and Yeezus by Kanye West.
The Best Country Album nominees are Night Train by Jason Aldean; Two Lanes Of Freedom by Tim McGraw; Same Trailer Different Park by Kacey Musgraves; Based On A True Story by Blake Shelton; and Red by Taylor Swift.
The nominees for Best Americana Album are Old Yellow Moon by Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell; Love Has Come For You by Steve Martin & Edie Brickell; Buddy And Jim by Buddy Miller And Jim Lauderdale; One True Vine by Mavis Staples; and Songbook by Allen Toussaint.
This year's Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical nominations go to Rob Cavallo, Dr. Luke, Ariel Rechtshaid, Jeff Tweedy, and Pharrell Williams.
This year's GRAMMY Awards process registered more than 22,000 submissions over a 12-month eligibility period (Oct. 1, 2012 – Sept. 30, 2013). GRAMMY ballots for the final round of voting will be mailed on Dec. 11 to the voting members of The Recording Academy. They are due back to the accounting firm of Deloitte by Jan. 8, 2014, when they will be tabulated and the results kept secret until the 56th GRAMMY telecast.
The 56th Annual GRAMMY Awards will be held Jan. 26, 2014, at Staples Center in Los Angeles and once again will be broadcast live in high-definition TV and 5.1 surround sound on CBS from 8–11:30 p.m. (ET/PT). The 56th Annual GRAMMY Awards are produced by AEG Ehrlich Ventures for The Recording Academy. Ken Ehrlich is executive producer, and Louis J. Horvitz is director.
For updates and breaking news, visit The Recording Academy's social networks on Twitter and Facebook.
Photo: Courtesy of Sony Music
Ziggy Marley On 'Rebellion Rises,' Touring, Kendrick Lamar & More
The GRAMMY-winning reggae legend talks about the positive vibes behind his latest project, his admiration for Lamar's 'DAMN.' and more
GRAMMY winner Ziggy Marley still has plenty of fire left in him to spread a message of love for all humanity. On his seventh studio album, Rebellion Rises, which was released May 18, Marley ushered in a new set of songs that not only throw a spotlight on his overall purpose of unity, they also come together to form the album he feels is one of the finest of his career.
With such a rich history to draw from, Marley made Rebellion Rises in the now, with his son Isaiah literally by his side, as evidenced by his presence on the album's cover — Isaiah shows up hand in hand with Marley.
But the galvanizing musical and lyrical material contained within Rebellion Rises is what proves the singer/songwriter is committed to the message initially amplified by his iconic father and proliferated through his own legacy. Songs such as the title track and "Circle Of Peace" on the new album reveal the transcendent messenger Marley has become with lyrics like, "I stand in the circle of peace because only the willing will see their dreams."
Marley has also taken his music and message out on the road, kicking off the Rebellion Rises Tour on June 8 and performing a good deal of his new song — along with some of his and his father's most well-known classics — around the globe before wrapping up back in the States on Sept. 16.
We caught up with the reggae legend right before he headed out on tour to talk about his latest album, how his son has influenced his work, how he prepares set lists for his upcoming shows, his thoughts on Kendrick Lamar, and more.
Rebellion, as it's defined in the dictionary, can take on a negative connotation, as resisting authority, for example. But this album is filled with positive messages, inspirational moments and uplifting passages. Can you walk us through the theme behind Rebellion Rises?
The theme behind the album is really the voice of humanity and also representing humanity, and the rebellion is the awakening of the humanity within us so that we can balance the world with more love, with more unity, less divisiveness, less hate. So that's what we're rebelling for, and that's what the theme of the album is about. We don't want to focus on what we're against; we'd rather focus on what we are for.
I saw an Instagram post where you said that your son, Isaiah, has been a part of the album from start to finish. Can you detail how he played a role?
Isaiah is 2 years old now, so I think he was on tour with me when he was 1. … He has a strong connection to me ... and so he's always around me. So when I was writing the songs, he was there. And he's very smart. He's a very smart guy. So I'm taking guitar and repeat what I'm saying. And then I was taking the photo shoot, he was always in my photos. So he's just a part of this album, really. … He's an inspiration, a little angel beside me, just like being my shadow. So it was cool having him [there] like that.
You mentioned your tour kicking off June 8. With such a growing catalog to choose from, how will you go about picking the set list?
I've been working on that. I'm gonna do a lot of songs from this album, cause this album, for me personally as a listener and not just my ego speaking, but I can be impartial to myself, this album is one of the only albums that I actually can listen to myself, like the whole thing, back to front without skipping or [hearing a song] I don't like. ... I really like this album. I'm planning to do a lot of these songs, new songs on this tour, which we haven't done in the way I'm gonna do it for a long time. The first three songs [are] new songs. … I love them, I love how they feel so I'm working on having most of them on the set list.
I have a set and then I have a master list and then we're like a hundred songs we can pick and choose and see what happens. I have some of my father's songs, which I mix in there. This tour is Rebellion Rises Tour, but in my mind I see it more as a rally for humanity. This is humanity's rally. … This is not about a specific social issue or a specific political issue or religious issue, this is about humanity as a whole and this is the rally for humanity. … I'm really sticking to songs with strong messages that affect and speaks on humanity and what we're going through right now and this album has a lot to do with it.
I read recent piece where you picked your top five albums of all time and one of them was Kendrick Lamar's DAMN. So what is it about Kendrick's music that you think resonated with you?
Honesty. I think honesty and seeing him as being true, not a façade. Some people do their music and then perform, and it's a façade. It's not who they are but the character that they're playing. Kendrick seems true to me. He doesn't seem to be trying to be something else than what he is. I respect that in art and a musician, so that's what I love in music and because of that, because I can sense the truthfulness in that.
I would be remiss if I didn't ask this question. You've won eight GRAMMYs, including three consecutive wins for Best Reggae Album when you've been up for it. Of course we want to know, where do you keep your GRAMMYs?
The GRAMMYs? My wife really manages the GRAMMYs. She's the one who takes care of them and puts them on the fireplace. She takes care of that for me. I'm gonna keep them. I like them. They look shiny still. Them really shiny [laughs].
Photo: David M. Bennett/Getty Images
Zendaya Took 300 Students To See 'Black Panther' Last Weekend
The 21-year-old actress and singer joined the ranks of artists and celebrities who have put money up so schoolchildren from their hometowns could attend free screenings of the blockbuster film
Multi-talented actress/singer and The Greatest Showman star Zendaya joined together with progressive activist and entrepreneur Michael Skolnik to take over 300 schoolchildren from her hometown of Oakland, Calif., to see a special screening of Black Panther.
Zendaya is just the latest celebrity to put together a free screening of Black Panther for members of her community, following on the heels of GRAMMY winners Kendrick Lamar and Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith, who bought out five showings at three cinemas in Los Angeles so children living in the city's Watts housing projects could view the film during its opening weekend. Meanwhile, rapper/singer Travis Scott rented out two theaters in Stafford, Texas, so local kids could attend the movie for free.
Atlanta rappers Big Boi and T.I. were also onboard, with T.I. partnering with Walmart to give out 300 free tickets to a local Black Panther premiere screening, and Big Boi arranging for patients housed in hospice care to also see the film for free.
Wakanda forever...Oakland forever. Thank you to all the beautiful young people of my home town for joining me this weekend. You all, much like this movie, are absolutely brilliant✨ #BlackPanther pic.twitter.com/qsO09ZnQJX— Zendaya (@Zendaya) February 26, 2018
For her own part, Zendaya has also promised on Twitter that she plans to set up additional free screenings for director Ava DuVernay's forthcoming adaptation of Madeline L'Engle's classic fantasy novel A Wrinkle In Time, set for release on Mar. 9. DuVernay has said she hopes her film will help spread a positive message amid a national sentiment of "darkness and division."
Black Panther's director Ryan Coogler has also released a statement in response to the overwhelmingly positive response the film has received, saying, "Never in a million years did we imagine that you all would come out this strong… For the people who bought out theaters, … And to the young ones, who came out with their parents, with their mentors, and with their friends…Thank you for giving our team of filmmakers the greatest gift: The opportunity to share this film, that we poured our hearts and souls into, with you."