Review: Kendrick Lamar’s “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers”

Kendrick Lamar’s “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” is out now!

Kendrick Lamar has finally released his long-awaited new album Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers– his follow up to 2017’s Pulitzer Prize winning Damn. Mr. Morale is an excruciatingly personal album, perhaps Lamar’s most personal one to date. While it’s not quite as experimental as To Pimp a Butterfly and doesn’t even attempt to feature anything remotely radio friendly, this album is an absolute knockout. In the five years since his last album, Kendrick makes it clear that he’s been through a lot.

Mr. Morale takes us through Kendrick’s journey towards healing- tackling a range of topics from personal insecurities, lifelong trauma, struggles with fame, cancel culture, and transphobia. It’s not always easy to listen to- we’re talking some heavy topics here, but Lamar’s delivery and each track’s unique production make it a pleasure to return to over and over.

In a way, a big theme of this album is the fact that he “can’t please everybody,” which Lamar repeats on album track “Crown”. He criticizes the worship of celebrity and yet knows that he too is a prominent figure and recognizes the pressure that his status has placed on him. Instead of crumbling underneath the pressure, he chooses to push through and offers up more of himself along the way.

“Rich Spirit” is an automatic album standout- instantly catchy and has a great replay value. On the track, he talks about his personal struggle with balancing spirituality and the material gain that his status has afforded him as well as morality and the idolization of celebrity. “Can’t fuck with you no more, I’m fastin,'” he says on the chorus, referring to the distractions and technology that he has tried to shift his mind away from in the five years since we’d seen him. He’s trying to focus on what’s important- going without a phone and social media despite the fact that he has plenty of money to provide himself with it. The production is sleek, and his flow is smooth over the rich production.

On “N95”, Kendrick uses his talent as a wordsmith to criticize the government’s inconsistencies of handling the pandemic while also encouraging us to all strip away the material distractions that shift our focus away from what matters. “Take off the Chanel, take off the Dolce, take off the Birkin bag, take all that designer bullshit off, and what do you have,” Lamar questions the significance that we as a society have misplaced in these material goods on the first verse. Between his style and the incredible switch ups in his delivery throughout the song- “N95” is certainly the most high-octane track on the album.

“Father Time” is a powerful track that finds Kendrick unpacking a lot of his trauma from his childhood that have had a detrimental impact on his relationships throughout his life. Here he targets the toxic masculinity that has been passed down from generation to generation through his family, specifically from his own father who instilled a lot of these outdated beliefs in him. “And to my partners that figured it out without a father, I salute you, may your blessings be neutral to your toddlers, it’s crucial, they can’t stop us if we see the mistakes, ’til then, let’s give the women a break, grown men with daddy issues,” he gives his male listeners a stern message- asking us all to try to break the endless wheel of toxic masculinity and daddy issues that have continued to plague the women in our lives. It’s a topic not often discussed by most men- let alone in Hip Hop and I sincerely hope that the importance of this message is not lost on his listeners.

There’s a significance and a purpose to every word Kendrick writes- bleeding himself out and leaving himself raw with every track as he makes it clear that he may not be everything that we all believed him to be. The album’s artwork and accompanying music video feature a plethora of religious imagery, even so far as the album cover with his crown of thorns- placed upon Jesus before his crucifixion. He’s reminding us all that he is just a man, with his child in his arms and fiancée Whitney Alford holding their newborn in the background. It’s poignant and vulnerable- a perfect juxtaposition for the album to come.

If the album is a journey towards healing, taking us through multiple stages- “Mother I Sober” is the moment of realization- the moment he wakes up and takes in the fact that he’s no longer the sole focus of his life. He tells us of the generational trauma that has plagued his family, starting with his mother and working his way down towards his own before his utter refusal to let it impact his own children. His delivery is at first guarded, a mere mumble and yet as he continues to open up, his delivery becomes clearer as he accepts the fact that his past was never in his control. “You did it, I’m proud of you. You broke a generational curse. Say ‘thank you, dad’,” Whitney’s voice gives him the acknowledgment that he so wishes for in the end- freeing him of this guilt that has consumed him for so long.

Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers isn’t an easy listen- it leaves you in its wake contemplating everything you’ve just taken in. In fact, after listening to it in full about 7 or 8 times now, I still don’t feel qualified enough to truly speak on it. It’s gorgeous, it’s uncomfortable and it’s the kind of music that benefits you with each subsequent listen.

Thank you, Kendrick.

Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is out now on all streaming platforms!

Fresh Brewed Playlist #12

Carol Ades’ new single “26” is out now!

Carol Ades’ long awaited new single “26” is a beautifully crafted anthem for anyone feeling lost in life. From the moment I heard the first snippets on her TikTok, I knew this song was somehow made exactly for me. The ways in which Ades describes that in-between state of your mid-twenties where the transition from childhood to adulthood truly hits is universally relatable. “Oh, I’m freaking out, trying not to turn this car right around, cos there ain’t a feeling I’m not tryna fix, I’m not a grown-up but I’m not a kid, it hurts every time I’m reminded, I’m not dying, I’m just 26,” she sings on the chorus. The production choices are simply gorgeous as the track continues to build into the second chorus’ crescendo, but it’s the simplicity of the outro that make it unforgettable. Carol Ades has already had an accomplished career as a songwriter but it’s about time she gets the credit she deserves- she’s an absolute star.

“26” by Carol Ades

“Ruby Sparks” is another standout release by a rising artist named Monét Ngo who proves himself to be a force to be reckoned with on this track (which is only the second song he’s ever released btw). According to his Instagram, the song came to him in a dream- and the mysteriously seductive production captures that dream like haze quite perfectly. While listening, I was reminded so beautifully of little hints of Joji, Ryan Beatty and even the one and only Frank Ocean- and yet Ngo is very much his own artist. The song was already pretty much perfect and then the final minute began- with the switch up in production slowing down the beat and adding a reverb to his vocals that truly skyrocketed it to perfection. It’s been a long time since I’ve found a brand-new artist that made me desperate for whatever is next- and Monét Ngo should know I’ll be waiting desperately.

“Ruby Sparks”- Directed by Natasha Abdul

Oceanic’s new single “Walt” is yet another incredible release from the Indie pop band who have gained quite a lot of success over the last few years. Like all of their songs, “Walt” is beautifully written and gives the listeners the opportunity to think on what it means to be in love. Named after Walt Disney, the song examines the ideas we have of love based upon the shows and movies we grow up watching and how they mess up our own view of the love we experience in our lives. “My love right now is missing some perfection, if the silver screens are true,” they sing on the pre-chorus, questioning their own experiences based upon the expectations fed to us. It’s not something that is always made obvious to us, but there are things that we are made to feel that we are required to say and do, which can make romance feel a bit more calculated than it really should be. It’s what Oceanic always do best, they get you bopping first and before you know it, you’re in deep thought- which is truly what I love about them. “Walt” is the latest single from their upcoming album No, Human and you can check out my interview with the band from back in May here!

“Walt” by Oceanic

Check out the rest of the songs featured on Fresh Brewed #12 below!

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Review: Harry Styles’ “Harry’s House”

“Harry’s House” is out now!

The funky, glittery rock infused album for all of your hot summer nights is here! With Harry’s House, Harry Styles delivers on the promise of lead single “As It Was” with a nostalgic, sometimes funky and most of the time fun third album.

There’s nothing remotely groundbreaking here- but in all honesty, there doesn’t need to be. In the several weeks since its release, Harry’s House has proven itself to have a vast listenability, with most songs continuing to get better with each subsequent listen. Even some tracks that didn’t initially grab me like “Music For a Sushi Restaurant” and “Daylight” have grown into some of my favorites. The former sets the tone perfectly for what’s to come as the album’s opener, creating this joyous atmosphere filled with love and pleasure.

Upon first listen, “Satellite” was my absolute standout track. The moment the album finished, I needed to go right back to it again and again and again. The synth heavy song tells a story of Styles’ partner keeping him at a distance, despite his desire to be there for them. “I can see you’re lonely down there, don’t you know that I am right here,” he compares himself to a satellite simply floating in orbit- left only able to watch his partner’s suffering. The bittersweet track’s atmosphere begins light- placing its listener in orbit along with Styles until the synths and drums all come together in a glorious climax. Harry also showcases his best vocals yet- it’s that damn good.

Another album standout is “Keep Driving”, a track that reminds me heavily of The 1975, which is perhaps what drew me to it so vividly. While the chorus is definitely satisfying, for me the melody of the verses and the build of the bridge are what truly make this song special. I’ve found myself humming it incessantly since my initial listen, bringing me a feeling of joy whenever it finds its way into my head. “Maple syrup, coffee, pancakes for two, hash brown, egg yolk, I will always love you,” Styles shares the simplest of details from his love affair- the moments that keep him going even when problems arise that make him question if they should in fact continue on together. “A small concern with how the engine sounds, we held darkness in withheld clouds, I would ask, ‘should we just keep driving?’

It would be impossible to talk about this album without mention of “Matilda” a song that feels so delicately personal and yet universally relatable. Named after the beloved book and movie, Styles sings to somebody with a toxic home environment- someone whose family has never treated them with the respect they deserve. The track has resonated with millions around the world, with Styles reminding them that they don’t need to feel guilty for growing up and choosing what is best for them, even if it means living without the only family they know. It’s a reminder that home isn’t necessarily a place- it can be whatever you need it to be. Whether it’s your chosen family or the love of your life or a place of your own- home is a mindset that we can all achieve. “You can let it go, you can throw a party full of everyone you know, you can start a family who will always show you love, you don’t have to be sorry for doin’ it on your own,” he somberly sings on the final chorus- essentially giving us all the hug we so desperately need.

Other album standouts “Grapejuice” and “Little Freak” showcase Harry at his best, a blend of psychedelic production on the former and a stripped down- harmony heavy chorus on the latter. Both tracks remind me somewhat of songs from Styles’ previous album Fine Line, which makes me wonder if they were perhaps written early on in his writing process. Even so, they perfectly demonstrate how this album’s tracks are all somehow extremely different from one another and yet incredibly cohesive- which is a huge compliment to his producers Kid Harpoon and Tyler Johnson.

Ultimately, Harry’s House is warm and inviting- bathed in welcoming tones of a sun-soaked summer. It’s full of love, freedom and an assured sense of self from an artist who has truly grown into his own sound. Harry Styles continues to impress beyond our expectations, and we can only hope he invites us over again someday soon.

Harry’s House is out now on all streaming platforms!

Cosette Talks New Single “Strings” and How the Tech Side of Music Isn’t Just for Boys

I recently had the opportunity to speak with singer and producer Cosette about her experience being the sole songwriter and producer on her new single “Strings” and the artists who have inspired her journey. Check out our conversation below!

Brew Music Friday: Let me start by congratulating you on the release of “Strings”! The blend you’ve crafted between the traditional strings sample and pop is so fascinating. Can you tell me a bit about how the song came to be?

Cosette: Thank you so much! “Strings” started from me finding this old record of orchestral music that was just begging to be flipped. I started building the beat around the violin sample and at some point it started turning into a more uplifting hopeful sound despite starting off dark. I looked around my room while listening back on a loop and saw so many clothes and gifts from my ex boyfriend lying around my room. I realized I needed to get rid of all of it if I was wanting to have a fresh start. But when I got to his letters, I couldn’t throw those away, hence the lyrics “I’ll take all your thoughts that you’ve written down in pen and I’ll keep it somewhere locked. I swear I’ll never forget it.”

BMF: So how are we feeling with the release?! I can imagine that it must be such a mixed feeling of excitement and anxiety over the world finally hearing it.

C: I feel so happy that this vision is finally born. This song is the first time I feel like the sonics accurately portrayed my emotions and not just the lyrics. Even without my voice I feel like it tells my story. I always get nervous on release day, but overall I’m just so happy that it’s finally born.

BMF: You’ve taken a lot of risks with your production throughout your discography but even more prevalently in “Strings”. Is it something you set out to do with each track or is it an unconscious decision?

C: I’m so honored to hear you think my production takes risks. That is absolutely the goal! When I listen to music, what grabs me personally is little production ear candy, the weirder the better. I want to make people’s heads tilt, squint their eyes and furrow their eyebrows when they listen to my music. I hope people are engaged and surprised every eight bars. 

BMF: Who do you feel has inspired you the most as a rising producer and songwriter?

C: Every couple months I tend to find a different artist to obsess over that inspires me. This year particularly it has been Caroline Polachek which is definitely the main inspiration for this specific track. I also am very inspired by Brakence lately, Charli XCX and FKA Twigs. Throughout my discography though, I feel like the 1975’s Matty Healy has said in interviews that he runs with the first lyrics that come to mind, the way they’re originally phrased when they first come out. I use that strategy in my lyrics.

BMF: As a fellow writer, I know just as well as you that writing comes from a place of vulnerability. For me, my pen feels most powerful when I’m making art out of my pain. What do you feel drives you creatively?

C: I write when I’m inspired and only when I’m inspired. I usually feel like writing when I’m trying to analyze my relationships. I play moments over in my head and think about how I felt, what I looked like, what my body language was, what their body language was, what my motive was, what their motive was. I definitely tend to make my art out of pain, but the goal is to understand it, find the lesson and learn from it.

BMF: Do you remember the first song you ever wrote?

C: My mom has some crumbled pieces of paper that carry my first songs from when I was a kid but I don’t remember those. The first one I remember is from freshman year of highschool, something I wrote on guitar about getting butterflies riding in the car with a boy. I tend to always want to refer to memories in the car in my writing, it’s hard to refrain! Nashville’s a driving city so a lot of important memories take place there.

BMF: Having sole writing and producing credits is no small feat, but is there any artist or producer who you’d love to work with someday?

C: There are so many, Pharrell, Tyler the Creator, Ariana Grande, and Kanye West to name a few. As well as all the artists I listed earlier that have been inspiring me recently. I would love to have them produce for me, but I would absolutely die If I could produce for or with them.

BMF: You recently played a few shows in LA! How does it feel to be performing in front of crowds again after quarantine really hit us all so hard?

C: Yes! I just got back from those shows in LA and I am so happy I had the opportunity to play out there. It feels peaceful, I love telling my stories before I start the song and being vulnerable with a room full of strangers. I am so glad the world has opened back up. I have met many lovely people in person which is so refreshing with all the time spent on social media. 

BMF: Even in 2022, the music industry still has a serious gender inequality issue, specifically behind the scenes and on the production end of things. What does it mean for you to be a trailblazing female producer?

C: Trailblazing! Thank you so much! I hope to show other women that the tech side isn’t just for boys. You don’t have to wait to find the right producer to execute your tracks. Without sounding presumptuous, I hope to one day inspire other girls. 

BMF: What can fans expect to hear when your next EP drops later this year?

C: They can expect more orchestral sample flips and more beat switch ups. They can also expect some elements of hyperpop and more experimental EDM in there as well. I feel like this EP showcases a range of genres and blends them so there’s something for everyone. I’m definitely experimenting and avoiding structure and formula.

Make sure you tune in when the music video for “Strings” premieres on June 8th! You can follow Cosette on her Instagram and Spotify to stay up to date for any further announcements!

https://www.instagram.com/cosettelunsford/