Kendrick Lamar’s Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, the most highly anticipated album of the year, is finally here. It’s his fifth overall and his first since his Pulitzer Prize-winning DAMN. in 2017.

The 18-track double album was released at the stroke of midnight on Friday, and it’s a tough and tender opus by the Compton rapper who’s among the most acclaimed artists of his generation.

But that’s not the only good news. On Aug. 9, Lamar will bring his The Big Steppers Tour to the Wells Fargo Center in South Philly. The tour will include Baby Keem — the rising L.A. rapper who is Lamar’s cousin with whom he teamed on last year’s hit “Family Ties” — as well as Tanna Leone, the latest signee to Lamar’s new pgLang label.

Referencing Lamar’s long layoff and return to performing, the concert poster urges fans to “Come help Mr. Morale get out of the box.”

The arena tour kicks off July 19 in Oklahoma City and ends Nov. 16 in New Zealand.

Tickets go on sale noon Friday, May 20, on Lamar’s site

Diving into ‘Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers’

Lamar wears a crown of thorns on the cover of Mr. Morale, which came out exactly “one thousand eight hundred and fifty-five days,” since the release of DAMN., as the rapper calculates at the start of the opening song, “United In Grief.”

Since the release of DAMN. — which won a Pulitzer but lost out for album of the year at the Grammys to Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic — Lamar has clearly been feeling the weight of expectations.

» READ MORE: Why Kendrick Lamar's Pulitzer Prize matters

The album cover shows Lamar with a crown of thorns on his head in a room with his family, a gun tucked in his trousers. The photo by Renell Medrano doubles as a birth announcement: Lamar holds his 2-year-old daughter, while his fiancee, Whitney Alford, is on a bed, nursing a second child.

Mr. Morale is about looking within — and to the ones you love — to find the spiritual sustenance to carry on in the face of pressures from the outside world and care for your own mental health.

On “Worldwide Steppers,” Lamar raps about “life as a protective father” and says of his daughter, “I’d kill for her.” And he reveals that the second child in the photo is “my son Enoch.”

In that song, he partially answers the “what took so long?” question: “Writer’s block for two years, nothing moved me,” he raps. “Asked God to speak through me / That’s what you hear now / The voice of yours truly.”

Fans will be poring over Mr. Morale for days, if not weeks, digging into the 18-track opus, whose guest contributors include Beth Gibbons of Portishead, Summer Walker, Sampha, and Florence Welch of Florence & the Machine.

So, on a couple of quick listens, does it appear to live up to expectations? Was it worth the wait?

The answer is undoubtedly yes.

Three standouts from Mr. Morale


Mr. Morale contains many examples of the rapid-fire rhyming Lamar is famous for, but also switches up his sound with different textures. This contemplative, piano-driven song was produced by British multidisciplinary artist Duval Timothy. On it, Lamar assesses the burden he carries as an artist living with a voice of a generation label.

With inspiration from Shakespeare’s Henry IV and the Gospel of Luke: “Heavy is the head that chose to wear the crown / To whom is given much is required now.” The woozy song recognizes the ephemerality of stardom and comes to a healthy conclusion: “I can’t please everybody.”

‘Auntie Diaries’

This slow burner opens with the couplet: “My Auntie is a man now / I think I’m old enough to understand now.” It’s a song about Lamar reexamining his prejudices, and those of the community and church he grew up in.

It turns on the story of two transgender people, including a cousin formerly known as Demetrious who had been mentioned as far back as his 2012 star-making album Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, and now goes by Mary-Ann.

The rapper repeatedly voices a slur that refers to gay people with the intention of condemning its use, just as he condemns the use of the N-word by white people. Like much of Mr. Morale, it’s a song about growing up and reassessing your perspective on the world. It feels like a breakthrough as a bold example of mainstream hip-hop expressing empathy for the trans community.

‘Mother I Sober’

This penultimate track on the Mr. Morale’s second disc is a masterstroke that makes for a traumatic, moving listen. It addresses decades of sexual abuse in Lamar’s family, including an assault experienced by his mother, and a memory of being questioned when he was 5 about whether he was abused by a cousin.

With Portishead vocalist Gibbons a haunting presence — “I wish I was somebody, anybody but myself,” she sings — the song has a deeply sorrowful tone. But when Lamar speeds toward his conclusion, reaching for the freedom that comes with forgiveness, it’s truly cathartic. And when it’s followed by the warmer, soulful closer “Mirror,” we can all feel the sense of relief.