The Duality of Kendrick Lamar
ENTRY 08: the single greatest artist of our generation
the time is finally here. an absolute once in a generation artist, kendrick lamar has released his next studio effort. lets talk about the solemn and contemplative cover art.
Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers
this breathtaking cover was shot by award-winning dominican-american photographer and director, Renell Medrano.
“…Renell Medrano creates work that speaks to her heritage, the intersections of culture within society and the communities around her.” - Medrano’s bio
its impossible to know where to start on something as big as this. i even wrote a whole goddamn outline and im still struggling!! this cover and its photography fits in line with medrano’s other work, as you’ll see here.
her work appears quite uniform in colour and tone, most times relaxed, effectively utilising the human form and face to portray various emotions. there are themes of independence, familial strength, pride, and pain in her pieces, which tie them together as a whole.
this brings us to the cover of Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, which features kendrick, his fiancée of seven years, whitney alford, and their two children. lamar and alford have been dating ever since they went to high school together in compton (damn).
other bedroom album covers
i combed through other notable album covers and found a few other bed/bedroom focused ones.
look at the range of emotions and tones portrayed in just these six covers!!! beds and bedrooms are arguably the most intimate space in the home, being where we lay to rest, make love, talk, watch movies, and even sometimes eat. we do a lot of these things with other people, hiking up the intimacy. the photo could’ve been anywhere else in the house, but kendrick and his family are choosing to continue this commonly-shared association of The Bed.
the duality of kendrick lamar
Is it wickedness?
Is it weakness?
these are the first words off DAMN., lamar’s 2017 blockbuster album. the album explores kendrick himself, as he attempts to fix what’s inside before attempting to help the world. being a gemini, kendrick leans into this overwhelming duality of character in his lyrics and themes.
“Gemini can be seen as two halves of a whole, and these two halves are in constant conflict with each other.” - Affirmicious
kendrick acknowledges this directly on the recent track family ties with his younger cousin, baby keem.
“kanye changed his life, but me, i’m still an old school gemini!”
DAMN. also explores love and lust, each with their own respective tracks. on the cover of Mr. Morale alone, we already have WHITE/BROWN, MOTHER/FATHER, BROTHER/SISTER, and PROPHET/GANGSTER (noted by @CaffeineRap on twitter).
the crown of thorns on kendrick’s head appears to be made of diamonds and bullets!
diamonds represent wealth, beauty, and gluttony, while bullets, being purely made for murder, represent danger and depravity. this may be kendrick’s way of showing the contrast between the violence he witnessed as a young boy growing up in compton, with the “rap-savior” role he’s been granted since he gained popularity in hip-hop.
@KanyePodcast on twitter also importantly noted—
“…the tone is vague. Is it glass half full or half empty? Do you see a family transcending circumstance or worn out by it?”
this is one of the more interesting observations of the cover, as it is quite ambiguous in tone. its solemn, yet direct, as kendrick peers out the window, pistol in waistband, potentially protecting his family.
the speculative meaning of oklama
kendrick has been signing off the few messages he’s sent us as “oklama”, and lots of people have been speculating the meaning. Cole Cushna, of the Dissect Podcast on spotify, teamed with Femi Olutade to translate “oklama” to “my people” in the Choctaw language.
formal breakdown (finally i know sorry)
we have a purely photographic cover here, which isn’t interesting on its own, but there’s zero graphic interference. no type, no logos, and most notably, no parental advisory sticker. all his covers have had one so far, with DAMN. having a strikingly massive statement-making one. To Pimp a Butterfly’s iconic cover has the PA sticker baked into the grungy graphic fibres of it. Mr. Morale aint got nothin. this places more focus than ever on the photo of the family, driving that message home.
all of kendrick’s previous releases have photographic-led covers, all with some form of graphic intervention or addition.
Section.80 has his name and album title graphically imposed on pieces of paper on the table
Good Kid, M.A.A.D City has the digitally done polaroid-style cover, the scrawled handwritten title, and the black censored bars over the eyes
To Pimp a Butterfly is mainly photographic, but has some kind of heavy grungy retro graphic translation
DAMN. (my personal favourite cover and album of his) having the boldest graphic addition, with the frame-spilling iconic RGB red Times type across the top, and the bigger-than-usual parental advisory sticker
Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is purely photography. no graphic addition, no type, nothing. probably only post-production editing/colour grading
similarly to future’s I NEVER LIKED YOU, the color palette is super tight here.
from the wall paint, the families’ varying skin tones, the sheets on the bed, and kendrick’s khaki shorts, we have lots of shades of light and dark brown. there’s multiple shades of white as well, tying back to the themes of duality, with kendrick’s tee, his wife’s tank top, their babies’ clothing, the mattress, the plaster fills on the wall, and the radiator to the left.
i love how kendrick’s daughter is staring directly at us, while her parents are looking their own ways. whitney, down at her baby son, tending to him, and kendrick, out to his right, presumably out the window casting in all the natural light.
quick overview of tour poster + The Heart Part 5
brothers sisters people my god. looooooook.
look at the type (red faced tongue out sweating emoji). the textures, the mixed typefaces, the colours, even the lack of any real photographic elements!!! so so so cool. sooooo good and timeless. i want this as a print. and you KNOW im going to see him in leeds. looks like it was done practically too!!!
i adore the cover for The Heart Part V too.
if you’ve seen the video (go watch it), you know that kendrick utilises deepfake technology to mask himself as other famous black men in the entertainment industry. this cover is basically all those guys’ hands, graphically translated in a visually iconic manner. my favourite thing here is the composition. the placement of each hand is odd, which gives it visual interest. it leads your eye across the page, with some hands bleeding off the sides, and all of them overlapping one another. lovely overall, and fitting for kendrick’s big comeback loosie track.
the cover for Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers definitely feels calculated and purposeful. it’s very clear that kendrick + co. take their visuals very seriously, knowing that these will represent the album for the absolute rest of time. so much has happened since DAMN. came out in 2017, and you have to assume kendrick feels the pressure on his shoulders to deliver a dense and intricate listen. i’m only one listen deep at the time of writing this, and i’m personally floored at this dude. he’s unbelievable.
drake is my favourite artist of all time, next to the beatles, and i really sincerely deeply deeply hope he’s listening to this album rn and reflecting. i really hope it puts things into perspective and makes him realise that his legacy is important, and this guy kendrick lamar is the other top guy doing it. j cole woke up and delivered hardcore on The Off-Season (my fav album of 2021), and i super duper hope drake is listening and thinking rn.