What Kendrick Lamar’s New Album Gets Right about Mental Health

If you are wondering what on earth a post about Kendrick Lamar is doing on a blog about mindfulness for lawyers, you probably haven’t listened to it yet. Even if rap isn’t a part of your musical mainstay, you should be familiar with Kendrick Lamar’s work. Lamar took the musical world by storm in the last decade, racking up Grammys, a Pulitzer, a Super Bowl appearance, and huge commercial success. In recent years, however, Lamar has been quiet and the public may not have understood why until the release of his latest album, Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers

In the opening track, Lamar shares that he has been “going through something” for the last “1855 days.” As you listen on, you see that he’s talking about a mental health journey that he took while managing the pressures of living as a world musical superstar and family breadwinner. Now, I imagine, you probably understand what this has to do with your life as a lawyer. If, like me, you’ve experienced mental health challenges and faced inner demons while trying to maintain appearances for the public, do your job, and manage your family, you’ll hear a lot in Mr. Morale to which you can relate. 

So, what is it that makes me enthusiastic about this album? First, I am thrilled that someone in Lamar’s position is using his voice to tell the truth about his experience. Awareness of mental health is better than it once was, but stigma and fear about mental health issues remain. As lawyers, we also may feel pressure to hide our experiences for fear of hurting how others perceive us. Lamar has been honest in the past about his life, but Mr. Morale includes descriptions of his personal failings and childhood trauma. It takes courage to face those things, let alone share them publicly, but by doing so Lamar helps his fans feel a little less shame about their own struggles. 

Second, it’s also significant that Lamar doesn’t pretend that he faced his demons alone. The voice of his partner, Whitney, is sprinkled throughout Mr. Morale. She instructs Lamar to tell his listeners “the truth” in the opening songs of the album and celebrates with him and their children at the conclusion for ending a “generational curse.” References to therapy, mentors, and spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, are replete on the album as well. Why is this important? It’s important because it’s real. For many of us, shame can be a part of mental health challenges. This can make it harder for us to seek out the help we need. Lamar’s honest description of the help he received to heal from his past shows how even the most powerful people need and deserve help sometimes. 

Finally, Lamar tells his story not just as a personal one but as a human one. I’ve talked before about how self-compassion is critical for healing, including the essential element of “common humanity”. The story that Lamar tells on Mr. Morale is deeply personal and unique to him, but in telling it he links it with a broader community. Lamar uses musical elements throughout the album that call to black musical artists throughout the decades and all the way back to the era of jazz. He also speaks directly of the broader trauma that institutional racism in the United States has caused. In doing so, Lamar honors his own experience but does so in a way that honors, inspires, and gives voice to others who have shared it.

Like any pop musician, Lamar does not shy away from provocation in Mr. Morale. There is some justifiable and well-reasoned criticism of the album based on some of his comments and lyrical choices, including his claims about “cancel culture.” Still, though, Mr. Morale tells a story about mental health that the public needs to hear and demonstrates how personal accountability is part of the healing process. It shows us that extreme fame, wealth, and talent aren’t necessarily an aegis against past trauma or the influence of race and class.

If you listen to the entire album, you’ll see the full story take shape, and understand what it can feel like when you do the inner work needed to move forward in life. At the end, you will not just have a soundtrack to supplement the movie of your own journey, but some ideas that any powerful person in the public eye can use to face their own demons to live a better, happier life.

Have you listened to Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers? Leave us a comment to let us know what you thought.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

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