UPDATE: As of Tuesday (May 17), Metacritic.com’s rating for Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers stands at 90, still very good, though down from its initial rating of 100. Ratings for new albums fluctuate as more reviews are factored in.
With his new album Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers receiving rave reviews, Kendrick Lamar could be in for a big night when the 65th annual Grammy Awards are presented early next year (most likely in January at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles).
Lamar has amassed 14 Grammys, but the top prize, album of the year, has eluded him. That may well change next year. Also, Lamar’s buzzy video for “The Heart Part 5,” in which his face morphs into the faces of such Black celebrities as O.J. Simpson, Kanye West and Will Smith, could take best music video. The visual has the “stop what you’re doing and watch this now” quality of Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” which won in that category in 2019.
Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, Lamar’s fifth full-length studio release, has a rare 100 rating at Metacritic.com, the review aggregation site. That’s even better than Lamar’s last three studio albums, all of which had ratings above 90. (The rating for the new album may fluctuate as more reviews are factored into it, but it is likely to remain very high.)
In his First Stream column on Friday (May 13), Billboard’s Jason Lipshutz calls Lamar’s latest a “towering new album.” He further observes: “The thrill of a new Kendrick Lamar project is in its poetry, as the once-in-a-generation rapper (and literal Pulitzer Prize winner!) unpacks his observations and unflinching emotions with a singular brand of precision. Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers bursts with motifs across its 18 tracks, as Lamar spends his fifth album exploring topics ranging from wealth papering over grief to hip-hop’s relationship with transphobia, in a way that will take weeks of listening to fully comprehend. For now, one of our greats has returned, and his words are worth getting lost in once again.”
Here are five records Lamar could set at the 2023 Grammys.
1. He could become the first male solo rapper to win album of the year: The only other hip-hop albums to win in that marque category are Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1999) and OutKast’s Speakerboxxx…The Love Below (2004). (The Grammys classified Hill’s album as R&B in their genre album awards, but most consider it to be equally hip-hop.)
2. He could become the first artist to win album of the year for the first time on his fourth try: Lamar has been nominated for album of the year three times as a lead artist. good kid, m.A.A.d city lost to Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories in 2014. To Pimp a Butterfly came up short to Taylor Swift’s 1989 in 2016. DAMN. lost to Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic in 2018. (Lamar has also been nominated for album of the year twice as a featured artist on Beyoncé’s Lemonade and the Black Panther soundtrack, but that’s a different level of involvement for an artist.) The Beatles, Whitney Houston, Steely Dan, Ray Charles, Dixie Chicks and Beck all won in this category for the first time on their third tries.
3. He could join Jon Batiste in a record-tying showing for Black artists: If Lamar wins early next year, on the heels of Batiste’s win last month for We Are, this would be the first time in 18 years that Black artists have won back-to-back awards in this category (as lead artists). Black artists last won back-to-back album of the year awards when Ray Charles’ posthumous smash Genius Loves Company won in 2005, one year after OutKast’s aforementioned double-album opus took the prize. Black artists have won back-to-back in this category three other times. Quincy Jones’ Back on the Block and Natalie Cole’s Unforgettable With Love won in 1991-92; Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down came out on top in 1984-85, and Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions and Fulfillingness’ First Finale won in 1974-75. (Yep, the Motown legend won two years running.)
4. He could become just the second artist to win five Grammys in three different years: Lamar won five awards in 2016 and again in 2018. If he does it again this year, he’ll join Stevie Wonder as the only artists (from any genre) to win five Grammys in three different years. Wonder swooped up five awards in 1974, 1975 and 1977.
5. He could become the first artist to win best music video three times: Lamar first won best music video in 2016 as a featured artist on Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood.” He won on his own three years later for “HUMBLE.” If “The Heart Part 5” also takes the prize, Lamar will pull ahead of Peter Gabriel, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Johnny Cash and Beyoncé, all of whom have also won twice in this category.