Kendrick Lamar’s new album: What he’s done since ‘Damn’

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During the five-year hiatus between studio albums, Kendrick Lamar effectively disappeared from the public eye — at least in the (solo) music department.

After dropping back-to-back projects in 2017 and 2018 — his fourth studio album (“Damn”) and the Oscar-nominated soundtrack for “Black Panther” — Lamar (mostly) stepped away from the mic and directed his focus elsewhere.

With his long-awaited fifth studio album coming out Thursday evening, here’s a look at what the 14-time Grammy winner has been up to for the past few years.

1) “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers”

In the half-decade since Lamar released “Damn” in April 2017, a lot has changed for the celebrated MC.

Lamar ended the yearslong hiatus last Sunday when he released “The Heart Part 5,” his first song as a lead artist in more than 1,549 days, according to Hip Hop by the Numbers. The single comes just days ahead of his fifth studio album, “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers,” which is slated to drop this week. The nearly six-minute song is the fifth installment in his long-running “The Heart” series and is an impressive, emotionally charged return to form.

The accompanying music video, which shows Lamar’s face morph into deep fakes of six high-profile Black public figures — O.J. Simpson, Kanye West, Jussie Smollett, Will Smith, Kobe Bryant and Nipsey Hussle — instantly went viral upon its release. As of press time, it has tallied more than 12 million views on the platform.

Last August, the 34-year-old superstar announced online that his forthcoming project would be his final album under Top Dawg Entertainment, his longtime record label. “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” was revealed in mid-April through a Michael Jordan-esque press release on the same mysterious “oklama” website.

Also, one of the site’s digital folders contains a photo of the rapper holding a pair of master copy discs with the Sharpied names of “morale” and “stepper,” which sparked speculation among fans on whether he is gearing up to drop a double album on Thursday.

“Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” is expected to take the No. 1 spot atop the Billboard 200 album chart and move somewhere between 350,000-400,000 units, according to Hits Daily Double.

The album’s tracklist, potential guests, runtime and cover art have all yet to be revealed.

2) “Family Ties”

Lamar’s most recent musical collaborations have been with platinum-selling artist and younger cousin Baby Keem.

Keem enlisted Lamar as his running mate for three of the 16 tracks on his debut studio album, “The Melodic Blue.” Last month, Lamar and Keem won a Grammy for rap performance for their collaborative track, “Family Ties.”

3) Kendrick Lamar outside of music

Lamar made his television acting debut in 2018, guest-starring on the Starz crime drama “Power.” In a short scene opposite 50 Cent — star and executive producer of the series — he played a homeless man named Laces.

In March 2020, Lamar unveiled a new company called pgLang, which he founded with former TDE co-president Dave Free. In an early press release, pgLang was described as something that is “at service to creators and projects that selflessly speak with, and for, the shared experiences that connect us all.”

Fast forward to January of this year when Paramount Pictures announced that Lamar and Free — under the pgLang umbrella — are joining forces with “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker to produce a live-action comedy feature.

While other details are still under wraps, the deepfake technology in Lamar’s video for “The Heart Part 5” is credited to Deep Voodoo, a studio created by Stone and Parker.

Since its launch, pgLang has also signed Baby Keem, fostered brand partnerships with Calvin Klein and Converse and most recently announced a new signee in Los Angeles-based artist Tanna Leone.

4) Pulitzer Kenny

The celebrated MC has earned quite a lot of critical acclaim since he broke into the mainstream more than 10 years ago with his major-label debut, “good kid, m.A.A.d. city.” In 2018, Lamar won the most prestigious award of his career: a Pulitzer Prize for “Damn.”

He was (and still is) the only hip-hop artist to win the coveted award in the music category. The decorated hitmaker went as far as touting the award at his shows in the form of a “Pulitzer Kenny” nickname that appeared behind him as he performed.

5) Kendrick on stage

Lamar’s highly anticipated return to music was preceded by a flurry of recent on-stage appearances.

Last month, he made a surprise cameo at Coachella during Baby Keem’s Weekend 2 set. The duo performed a pair of tracks (“Family Ties” and “Vent”) from “The Melodic Blue.”

In February, Lamar co-headlined this year’s Super Bowl halftime show alongside Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige and Eminem. The Compton native — decked out in an all-black suit and surrounded by a collection of marching backup dancers — led with his first-ever hit in “m.A.A.d city” and closed with his most significant one in “Alright.”

Kendrick Lamar performs during halftime of Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium on Feb. 13, 2022.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Lamar also headlined the Day N Vegas festival last November — his first concert in two years. During the nearly two-hour show, he performed hits across his discography including “Money Trees,” “King Kunta” and “Element.”

This summer, Lamar is scheduled to perform at the Milan Summer Festival in Milan, Italy, on June 23. Two days later, he will headline Glastonbury, joining Paul McCartney and Billie Eilish. And on July 24, the West Coast icon is set to close out Rolling Loud Miami, following co-headliners Ye and Future.

“Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” will be available to stream at 9 p.m. Pacific on Thursday.

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