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: Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images
Fight The Power: 11 Powerful Protest Songs Advocating For Racial Justice
From Childish Gambino's "This Is America" to James Brown's "Say It Loud," these racial justice protest anthems demonstrate the ongoing—and still deeply relevant—sound of activism
From the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma to the streets of Ferguson, activism certainly has a sound. Whether it’s the slow hum of Pete Seeger's "We Shall Overcome" or the energetic repetition of YG’s "FTP," when the chants of freedom slow, we often hear an emotional outcry about political issues through music. The current state of unrest in the United States surrounding the violent treatment of Black people and people of color at the hands of police has caused a resurgence of music addressing the current state of affairs directly in lyrics and tone.
As we celebrate Juneteenth (not to mention Black Music Month), a date that signifies liberation for African American people as Gordon Granger announced in Galveston, TX that the enslaved people there were free in 1865, we have to recognize the importance of music when it comes to freedom, protest, survival and celebration in Black culture.
Music has always been deeply rooted in African culture. It only continued after men and women were captured and enslaved in the U.S through the Middle Passage. For slaves, it was a form of communication and later became so much more. That tradition of music has continued over centuries as each new movement—specifically involving the fight for self-love, equality, and fair treatment for Black Americans—creates its own soundtrack.
2020 will see its own host of songs that highlight the times, from Meek Mill’s "The Otherside of America" to H.E.R.'s "I Can’t Breathe," which she recently premiered in her performance for IHeartRadio’s Living Room Concert Series. But before this moment, there were a few of the songs that have been at the center of protest, revolution, and radical political change over the years.
"Say It Loud," James Brown (1968)
Being proud to be Black was almost a foreign concept commercially during this time and James Brown took the lead on empowering Black people all across the world. "Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud," became an affirmation recited far and wide specifically in such a turbulent year as 1968. This was at the height of the Civil Rights movement and the same year Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.
"Comment #1," Gil Scott-Heron (1970)
A poem featured on his debut album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, Heron was challenging the white left-wing student movement. In his estimation, there was no common ground based on what Black people had endured for centuries that college-educated students from the suburbs would understand. The song was later sampled by Kanye West in "Lost In The World" featuring Bon Iver.
"What’s Going On," Marvin Gaye (1971)
Based on the real-life experience of Gaye’s brother who returned from Vietnam with a much different outlook on life, this song asked what was happening in America. This was a turbulent time where Black soldiers were not receiving the same benefits as their white GI counterparts when returning home from the same fight. And much like Scott-Heron, Gaye was exploring the hippie era clash that, to many Black people, didn’t have a real grasp on poverty and systematic racism plaguing the community.
"Fk Tha Police," N.W.A. (1988)
A song met with much discourse including the arrest of N.W.A. members in Detroit during a 1989 tour stop. The group was apprehended following their show after being told by the DPD not to play the song in their set. Unfortunately, not much has changed and streams have skyrocketed amidst global protests for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor more than 20 years later
"Fight The Power," Public Enemy (1989)
The song originally appeared in Spike Lee's "Do The Right" thing, which explored racial tension in a Brooklyn neighborhood and would become Public Enemy’s most popular song to date. Later released on their album Fear of a Black Planet, the song was received with high acclaim including a GRAMMY nomination for Best Rap Performance.
"Changes," 2Pac featuring Talent (1998)
2Pac was seen as both an activist and a young man wise beyond his years, though his career was also marred by controversy and rap beefs. Songs like "Changes" are more representative of the former. Here, Pac was chronicling the fact that things have been the same in Black communities over the years. When listening back, you can hear how poignant his words were over 20 years later.
"Glory," John Legend and Common (2014)
The Oscar-winning song from the original motion picture soundtrack to "Selma" directed by Ava Duvernay came at the epicenter of the country’s most recent unrest. Two years after the death of Trayvon Martin, the song was the perfect bridge from the Civil Rights movement of the '60s depicted in the film into today's current fight for equality.
"Alright," Kendrick Lamar (2015)
To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar’s sophomore release, was a sharp contrast to the cinematic good kid, m.A.A.d. City but yielded the freedom song of a generation. Crowds at protests and university auditoriums across the country erupted into the song's potent lyrics, "But if God got us then we gon be alright!" The GRAMMY-winning song became the unofficial anthem to the Black Lives Matter movement after the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mich., and Sandra Bland in Waller County, TX at the hands of police.
"F.U.B.U.," Solange (2016)
A nod to the 90s hip hop apparel company, the acronym stands for For Us, By Us. The song appeared on her third studio album A Seat at the Table, her most critically acclaimed and political album to date. Both the song and album highlight Black entrepreneurship, culture, and trauma.
"Freedom," Beyoncé ft. Kendrick Lamar (2016)
This hard-hitting track samples "Let Me Try" by Frank Tirado and comes as a reprieve in the album sequencing but packs a powerful message. The ending also features audio from Jay-Z’s grandmother Hattie White. At her 90th birthday party she explains, "I was served lemons, but I made lemonade"—apropos in the discussion of the American Black experience.
"This is America," Childish Gambino (2018)
Accompanied by a captivating visual directed by Hiro Murai that paired dancing with African influence, and violent yet thought-provoking imagery, Gambino's effort made everyone pay attention. The song garnered the multi-disciplined artist a GRAMMY for "Song Of The Year," and his first No. 1 single while leaving both critics and fans alike in deep conversations about its political symbolism.