At long last, Kendrick Lamar has released his new album Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, his final album for Top Dawg Entertainment. Lamar announced the record last month with a link to his Oklama website, which revealed the LP title and release date.
Lamar has been teasing his “final TDE album” since August of last year, when he launched his mysterious Oklama website and released an allusive statement on his next body of work. “I feel joy to have been a part of such a cultural imprint after 17 years,” he wrote of Top Dawg Entertainment. Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers follows his Pulitzer Prize–winning 2017 full-length Damn.
Earlier this month, Lamar posted another link to his Oklama site, this time leading to a black folder containing a page called “master.” Upon that page was a photograph of a hand holding both a book with Lamar’s name and “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” on the cover. Two CDs were held on top of the book—one with “Morale” and the other with “Steppers,” each marked as a master copy.
Less than a week before the release of the new LP, Lamar dropped “The Heart Part 5,” his first song as a lead artist since 2018 and the latest in his long-running “The Heart” singles series. Historically, Lamar has shared these tracks as a prelude to a bigger project. “Part 5” arrived with a music video directed by Dave Free and Lamar, in which the rapper’s face morphs into deepfakes of OJ Simpson, Will Smith, Jussie Smollett, Kobe Bryant, Kanye West, and Nipsey Hussle. The visual opened with this quote attributed to Oklama: “I am. All of us.”
Lamar has since revealed the album artwork for Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers: a somber image shot by Renell Medrano. In the intimate bedroom scene, Lamar wears a crown of thorns while carrying a child whose gaze pierces the camera. In the background, a woman sits on an unmade bed holding a baby. Lamar, who has a gun conspicuously tucked into his pants, stares out of the window, as if on the alert for threats.
In the years since he released Damn., Lamar has appeared on songs by Busta Rhymes, Terrace Martin, Sir, and Anderson .Paak. He helmed Black Panther: The Album, the soundtrack to Ryan Coogler’s Marvel blockbuster, and released the Grammy-nominated “All the Stars” with SZA. In March 2020, Lamar and Dave Free launched pgLang, a “multi-lingual, at service company” that creates multimedia content for high-end brands.
“Family Ties,” Lamar’s 2021 collaboration with his cousin and protégé, Baby Keem, went on to win the 2022 Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance. Lamar joined Keem onstage to perform the song and another collaboration, “Vent,” at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival last month. After joining a bumper-edition Super Bowl halftime show in February, Lamar is set to headline both Glastonbury and Rolling Loud Miami later this year.
Read “How Kendrick Lamar’s “The Heart Part 5” Video Subverts Deepfake Technology” over on the Pitch.