Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers review: The Emancipation of Kendrick Lamar

Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers review: The Emancipation of Kendrick Lamar

“To be or not to be, that is the question” -WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

“I want you – the right way” – MARVIN GAYE

My mother told me, when I was young, that she didn’t know if I would make it, if I would have a long life. Because I was black. Because I was a man. Because I asked questions, talked and did too much. Because my emotions were unpredictable: sometimes incredible joy, sometimes unbearable depression, both rooted, to be frank, in childhood trauma and generations of abuse and neglect.

Moreover, my mother knew, deep in the bowels of her own history, that I – we – lived in a country that didn’t seem to want us or want us in the right way, except for entertainment, except for sports. , gambling, jokes, except for our culture. Because I could be killed, crucified, crushed, for real, by ugly, oppressive white racism, and ugly, internalized black racism. Many of us feel that, whether we say it loudly, as Kendrick Lamar brilliantly and shamelessly did on albums like the Pulitzer Prize-winning SLIM., or keep it largely to ourselves for years, as Kendrick has done in the same way since he was a shy, socially awkward ghetto boy, just like me. Because to be Black in America – especially the urban poor on whom Kendrick focuses much of his art – is to be a trapped, pimped butterfly with battered, bloody wings as you struggle to soar inside a concrete box.

That’s why Kendrick Lamar matters. His very spirit gives voice to what it is to be who we are, especially the black male experience, the way other black male writers named Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Amiri Baraka, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, August Wilson and Kanye West did it before him. But, in the same way, his art hugs and brings closer to you all people, all identities, because who hasn’t felt the brutal loneliness of the simple fact of existing that Kendrick rhymes with? Or the hunger for freedom that torments your belly that his verbal gifts evoke? Or those close cousins, mentioned above, that we call joy and depression that he tirelessly digs into his art, sometimes in the same line or song?

But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that legions of black men and black boys in particular are desperately, consciously, unconsciously looking for something, someone, who can speak for us, who isn’t afraid of to be us when we are totally afraid to be ourselves. Hip-hop has been lacking drugs and self-aware, self-critical superheroes since, well, Kendrick’s last solo album five years ago. To cut and paste some old school sayings, hip-hop saved a nation of millions, my life included, but we must also honor the truth that hip-hop has been as dumb and socially ignorant as the reality TV and the worst aspects of social media for, say, at least the first two decades of this century. That said, Kendrick isn’t perfect, never claimed to be, that’s what makes him so refreshing, his unbandaged scars are there for everyone to download: he got into this game crazy young, a Charles Dickens-esque character with a lucky Forrest Gump streak and had to grow up fast under the blinding celebrity spotlight and high expectations; Kendrick has been accused of sexism over joints like “Be Humble”; and for sure he used language that made me cringe powerfully, including his overwhelming fondness for the n-word and the b-word.

But then I remember the toxic things I said, wrote, did when I was so much younger than I am now, without really considering every part of humanity either. My hope, as he continues to grow as a man and an artist, including with and beyond this new album, Mr. Morale and Big Steps, is that Kendrick Lamar understands, or will understand, that saving half the race (if we are talking about the binary), black or human, means that we are not saving the whole race, black or human, and that we need more than the limited thinking of the black boys’ club; we need a regular heavy dose of the equal legacies of Zora Neale Hurston, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry, Nina Simone, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Angela Davis, Alice Walker, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, jessica Care moore, Lynn Nottage, and the mother of his two grandchildren, Whitney Alford. Or, remember, there wouldn’t be one of Kendrick’s main idols, Tupac Shakur, without the giant of a woman and human and thinker and actress that was his mother, Afeni Shakur, she of the movement of civil rights, she from the Black Panther Party, she the mom in Tupac’s “Dear Mama”. His life matters too.

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