After years of growing anticipation, Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar has returned with Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers—his first full-length project since 2017’s Damn. Kendrick confirmed its official release in mid-April under his Oklama moniker. The drop date was shared on letterhead for pgLang, the “at service company” he co-founded with longtime friend and business partner Dave Free.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning artist had kept relatively quiet since then, until Sunday, when he surprised fans by unleashing his new song and video for the Beach Noise-produced joint “The Heart Part 5.” The visual, co-directed by Kendrick and Dave Free, shows K-Dot transforming into famous—and infamous—men, including Kanye West, Nipsey Hussle, O.J. Simpson, and Will Smith. You can read a full breakdown on the symbolism and meaning behind the release here.
“The Heart Part 5” was Kendrick’s first solo release in about five years; however, he’s come through with multiple collaborations since 2018, including “Family Ties” with Baby Keem, “Dedication” alongside the late Nipsey, “Tints” with Anderson .Paak, as well as a number of records on the Black Panther soundtrack, which he executive produced.
Fast-forward to summer 2021, when Kendrick confirmed he was in the process of producing his fifth studio album, which he said will mark his final release under TDE.
“While the world around me evolves, I reflect on what matters the most,” he wrote. “The life in which my words will land next. As I produce my final TDE album, I feel joy to have been a part of such a cultural imprint after 17 years. The Struggles. The Success. And most importantly, the Brotherhood. May the Most High continue to use Top Dawg as a vessel for candid creators. As I continue to pursue my life’s calling. There’s beauty in completion. And always faith in the unknown. Thank you for keeping me in your thoughts. I’ve prayed for you all. See you soon enough.”
On Wednesday, Kendrick lifted the curtain on the cover art for Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. The photo, shot by Renell Medrano, shows Kendrick donning a thorn crown with a baby in his arms, while a woman sits in the background carrying a baby. TMZ has since reported the woman is Kendrick’s longtime partner Whitney Alford, and the two kids are their children.
Kendrick’s new 2-disc album boasts features from Blxst, Amanda Reifer, Taylour Paige, Sampha, Summer Walker, Ghostface Killah, Kodak Black, Baby Keem, Sam Dew, Tanna Leone, and Beth Gibbons of Portishead.
You can stream Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers below.