Kendrick Lamar, Analyzed by AI

Carol Liu
May 25, 2022
5 minute read
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What emotions will our AI system prescribe for Kendrick Lamar's new album, 'Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers'? Read to find out...

“I hope you find some peace of mind in this lifetime,” starts United in Grief, the first track on Kendrick Lamar’s latest album after a 5-year hiatus, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. Kendrick's return to the public eye sheds light into his private life – where he’s no stranger to inner turmoil, grief, and anguish. “I’ve been going through something," he confesses in the next few lines, continuing to reveal he’s been going to therapy whilst grappling with feelings of self-doubt and grief.

This album offers an honest glimpse into the psyche of one of the most influential artists of our time. Kendrick is masterful for his ability to incorporate self-reflection, candor, and dialogue about mental health and raw emotion into his lyrics and rhythms.

But how will these emotions translate when analyzed by AI? Will it be able to recognize the powerful themes and emotions in Kendrick’s music without taking into account the lyrics?

We decided to put BioMIR to the test. BioMIR (Biological Music Information Retrieval) is a deep learning system trained to learn the human emotional response to music. For each song, it produces a numerical output of valence and arousal, which corresponds to an emotion on the Russell Circumplex Model of Affect. Without taking in lyrics, BioMIR analyzes features such as tonality, pitch, and BPM in order to compute the average emotional response to a piece of music.

Without further ado, let’s jump into the emotional analysis of the album.

United in Grief (Valence: 0.37, Arousal: 0.54)

Emotion: In Flow

The album starts off with United in Grief, a track that metamorphosizes from the opening gospel chords into Kendrick’s signature fast-paced flow accompanied by marching-band drums, interspersed with a droning piano instrumental. It’s a dense song, traversing lots of territory– including grief, mental health, and infidelity – but doing so gracefully enough for our AI to label the track’s emotion as “In Flow”.

Die Hard (Valence 0.76, Arousal 0.59)

Emotion: Enthusiastic

Die Hard is one of the most dichotomous songs on the album. From a lyrical and instrumental standpoint, the two don’t converge much; the beat is dancey and rhythmic, but the lyrics are more reflective and slightly hopeful. With featured artists Blxst and Amanda Reifer, Kendrick embraces a more soulful tone with an R&B edge. When it comes to our AI’s analysis, Enthusiastic isn’t too far off, with lines like “I hope I'm not too late to set my demons straight”, or “I wanna see the family stronger, I wanna see the money longer.”

Father Time (Valence 0.68, Arousal 0.71)

Emotion: Ambitious

With the highest arousal or energetic score on the album, Father Time is a fast-paced exploration of complicated relationships with father figures and toxic masculinity. “Daddy issues kept me competitive”, Kendrick remarks, which seems aligned with the AI’s emotional read-out of Ambitious.

Auntie Diaries (Valence 0.42, Arousal 0.52)

This was the most impressive analysis to me. Kendrick tells the story of his family member who went through gender transitioning, recalling moments of his childhood spent with them. It’s a nostalgic journey through the past, which informs his understanding of the present cultural moment.

Silent Hill (Valence 0.40, Arousal 0.61)

Emotion: Confident

Confident is a spot-on way to describe the vibe of Silent Hill, where Kendrick is joined by Kodak Black and a glitzy roster of producers to create one of the more upbeat, club-esque tracks of the album.

Rich Spirit (Valence 0.62, Arousal 0.6)

Rich Spirit is another one of the only tracks on the album that you could hear blasting on a stereo at a club, which puts into perspective its high valence and arousal score. The lyrics boast the self-confidence of someone who’s convinced they’ve made it, as Kendrick mutters,
“clout chasing hell of a disease, brother”.

We Cry Together (Valence 0.26, Arousal 0.61)

Emotion: Distrustful

One of the more controversial and viral tracks off his album, We Cry Together features Kendrick and Taylour Paige yelling at each other in a string of expletives, recreating an argument of two people in a highly toxic relationship. It’s not surprising that this song produced the lowest valence score of the entire album, and was labeled with the emotion of “Distrustful” by our AI.

Mother I Sober (Valence 0.76, Arousal 0.5)

Mother I Sober is a harrowing yet candid recount of the legacy of sexual vioelnce and trauma in America, and in Kendrick’s own life. However, his tone is one of determination; to continue his dedication to healing himself through his music and helping others in the process. He wraps it all up in the final line of the song: “I bare my soul and now we're free.”