Label: Top Dawg Entertainment/Aftermath Entertainment/Interscope Records/pgLang
Released: May 13

Picking the No. 1 album of the year so far was no easy choice. It’s Almost Dry Is one of the most svelte, polished exhibitions of rap in recent memory, and Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers has its flaws, but some of them are the actual point of the album. It’s a messy, at-times hypocritical glimpse of Kendrick’s search for enlightenment, and the thorniness of that journey is part of what compels us to make it the top album of the year so far. There are no obvious Billboard darlings on the 18-track album, as Kendrick purposely eschewed mass appeal while letting us know he has no stomach for being the voice of the people. He’s not our “Savior,” because he’s plenty flawed. He delves into his failings on songs like “Worldwide Steppers,” “Father Time,” and “Mother I Sober,” which aren’t just admissions of infidelity—the conflicts of his hypermasculine worldview, and other toxic traits—but earnest excavations toward the root of his trauma: his upbringing. The album isn’t just thought-provoking; it’s cinematic in its structure and creative approach. He’s the mad, weary poet flailing about a vortex of responsibility, doubt, and facades that has no easy answers except to relent, which he depicts on “Crown” and “Mr. Morale.” “He chose himself” because “he can’t please everybody.” And for Kendrick, growth is also about holding onto his family. There are missteps, like his take on so-called cancel culture and misgendering that needlessly polarizes the well-meaning “Auntie Diaries,” but nobody has the perfect approach, because, as Kendrick accepts on Mr. Morale, there’s no such thing. —Andre Gee