Crown of thorns on his head, child in his arms, revolver in his waistband. A strong, iconic image – and yet one that is not quite right, one that lures people down the wrong path. It would have been more fitting Kendrick Lamar would have shown himself on the cover of his long-awaited fifth studio album on a psychotherapist’s couch.
Because “Mr. morals
That’s quite a lot. Which is probably why Lamar divided the work into two parts, each with nine songs, and sought therapeutic help. “I went and got me a therapist,” he casually raps on the opening song, “United In Grief,” and announces that he’s been through quite a bit in the last 1855 days — it’s about the time that’s passed since the completion of his hit album Damn .
He describes the world as a dead end where demons are portrayed as religion: “The world that I’m in is a cul-de-sac / The world that we in is just menacing / The demons portrayed as religion is”.
Lamar is a deeply religious man who has consistently addressed his faith in his songs. But this time divine assistance doesn’t seem to be enough, and so the next few lines are “I wake in the morning, another appointment / I hope the psychologist listenin’,” before Lamar offers a breathless throwback to past bling over a fast drum beat -Bling times and encounters begins. It seems like a farewell: once again mention the cars, the jewellery, the girls – and in the next song the call follows to break away from all of that.
After all, it’s about the inner values - and so Kendrick Lamar begins his therapy where all therapies begin: in childhood. Clad in a warm, old-school tone, “Father Time” is a concise analysis of the Compton-raised rapper’s “daddy issues.”
The area, known for its gang wars, is one of the mystical places of West Coast hip-hop, in the tradition of which Kendrick Lamar first delved in 2012 with his instant classic album “good kid, m.A.A.d.” city” has enrolled. However, the toughness of this area of L.A. is inscribed on him too. His father taught him never to cry, to be on guard, to trust no one but his mother.
But in “Father Time” Lamar also expresses gratitude for his father, because he’s glad he was there at all – not a matter of course, as a look at his friends shows: “My niggas ain’t got no daddy, grow up overcompensatin ‘ / Learn shit ’bout bein’ a man and disguise it as bein’ gangsta / I love my father for tellin’ me to take off the gloves”. Kendrick Lamar never took on that gangster role. In the chorus, which the British musician Sampha sings with his stunningly gentle voice, the paternal “tough love” is sung and mourned at the same time. Because Kendrick Lamar’s main goal is to break toxic cycles.
However, when it comes to women, he doesn’t seem to have gotten very far, which shows his unbroken preference for using the word “bitch”. Even if it’s the authentic reflection of a misogynistic context, it hurts to hear that over and over again.
But pain is part of the therapy, of course – and so on the track “We Cry Together” Lamar and Taylor Paige enact a couple’s argument so full of shouted insults and curses it’s heart clenching to hear it – stage-ready performance. It’s just a shame that the woman ends up asking for sex, which the man refuses, giving him not only the last word but also the upper hand.
Part of the therapy concept is that Kendrick Lamar, who still performed “Damn.” without guests, has a lot of company this time. Alongside Sampha, Ghostface Killa, Baby Keem, Kodak Black and Beth Gibbons are among the cast. The voice of his partner Whitney Alford can also be heard a few times. It is she who advises him in “Father Time” to go to therapy and get in touch with a certain Eckhart.
This means Eckhart Tolle, author of spiritual books like Now! The power of the present”, which can be heard a few times on the album. Its sound is relatively disparate, ranging from hard trap to soulful moments, which results in a harmonious flow over 73 minutes.
The most impressive song, however, is the penultimate one – and at just under seven minutes the longest: “Mother/Sober” is about abuse and suspicion of abuse in his family and his own infidelity – initially accompanied only by a few piano chords and a pounding. Then Kendrick Lamar falls into an angry tone, recognizes the structural violence that African American families were subjected to and ends in a fantasy of redemption that sounds like a prayer. Healing and transformation – may they succeed.