On the cover of his new album, “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” — which dropped from the hip-hop heavens on Friday — Kendrick Lamar wears a crown of thorns while holding his daughter.
And no doubt, in the 10 years since his insta-classic breakthrough, 2012’s “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City,” the 34-year-old artist has emerged as the king of the rap world, winning 14 Grammys and even a freaking Pulitzer Prize. While contemporaries such as Drake have had more hits, Lamar has earned mad respect as the most important rapper of his generation.
On his ambitious new double LP — evenly split into two parts with nine tracks each — Lamar reflects on both the power and the pressures of his position. “Heavy is the head that chose to wear the crown/To whom is given much is required now,” he raps on “Crown.”
Later, on “Savior,” he makes it clear that he wasn’t trying to strike a Jesus pose with that crown of thorns on the album cover: “Kendrick made you think about, but he is not your savior.”
Still, there is no doubt that, from “Good Kid” to 2015’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” to 2017’s “Damn” to now “Mr. Morale” — not to mention 2018’s “Black Panther” soundtrack — Lamar has been the truth-telling voice and consciousness of hip-hop.
“One of the most fascinating things about Lamar as this cultural icon is essentially he can do no wrong,” Christopher Driscoll, co-author of 2019’s “Kendrick Lamar and the Making of Black Meaning,” told The Post. “It’s worth us marking just how powerful his art is for so many people.”
Indeed, even though it’s been five years — an eternity in hip-hop — since his last studio album, Lamar remains at the top of the game on “Mr. Morale.”
“He is at the top of the heap as far as lyricists, as far as just emcees in general,” said Driscoll. “There’s no one better right now, and everybody knows it … I think the most important thing is maybe for us to all recognize that now is the time to celebrate the fact that he’s released this and he’s giving more of himself to us.”