Roughly a year removed from the critically acclaimed To Pimp a Butterfly (TPAB), Kendrick Lamar is supplanting himself as hip-hop’s finest with each passing day. Whether being featured on Kanye West’s latest project, delivering an iconic Grammy performance, or winning a Grammy for Hip Hop album of the year; Cornrow Kenny isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Lord knows he’s not going to let us forget it either.
Most fans were not anticipating much from Lamar this year, but he threw a curveball when he released this, his latest project untitled. unmastered. Taking into account the 3-year gap between his records Good Kid, m.A.A.d City and TPAB, it came as a shock to some when Lamar dropped this record, and some attribute the release to basketball star Lebron James who prodded Lamar via Twitter.
According to Lamar’s Twitter, all eight tracks started as demos for TPAB. Lamar cited that these songs didn’t make the cut due to samples not being cleared in time, or just artistic purpose. Each track is called “Untitled” with a corresponding number (01 through 08) and date or general time period in which the song was recorded. “untitled 02,” “untitled 08,” and a portion of “untitled 05” have been performed live, but the remainder of the tracks appearing on the album had not been released to the public until now.
Despite only being able to offer 34 minutes of content, untitled. unmastered. manages to be as complex and layered as any full-length project Lamar has released to date. Moreover, these “demos” heavily mirror the jazz and funk influences found on TPAB and also take on the albums conscious and lyrical content. Some tracks lean on that jazz influence while other tracks tend to wane towards heavy drum and bass sections. Despite the dichotomy, each track holds a lot of weight.
While it is widely understood that this release is full of “throw away” tracks, there certain aspects within each track that make it unique. Some artists will tend to shy away from what they feel is important, or try to hide it within their lyrics, but Lamar chooses to be transparent in his music, saying what he wants to say. One example of this can be heard on “Untitled 04” where Lamar says, “They say the government mislead the youth. And welfare don’t mean well for you. They tell me that my bill’s past due. And preacher man don’t always tell the truth.” In reality, this verse and many others by Lamar expose more truths than anything said by those he cites in this passage.
The album continues with further uniqueness, with the track “Untitled 07” which clocks in at eight minutes and four seconds, the longest track on the record that also has the most to offer on the record. While length is a factor, content leads this writer to believe that “Untitled 07” should really be broken down into three parts. Part I commences with a “Pimp Pimp” chant, followed by Lamar speaking on his success and achievements and that no physical possession could get you “as high as this.” This section goes into another verse and then interludes into “Part II.”
In "Part II," Lamar keeps up the intensity; comparing himself to Pacino in The Godfather, possibly alluding to his next studio album while also throwing some shade at Jay Electronica (who Lamar has been beefing with). As Part II comes to a close, Part III comes to the forefront. This section of the track takes up half of the eight minutes, and serves as a peep into the studio session of the track. Lamar and his crew are simply slacking off and enjoying themselves, but Lamar still finds time to bring up his beef with Drake. Ultimately, much like the “album” itself, the track shows an incredible transformation from beginning to end.
All in all, it is difficult to be critical of a project that is so consistent throughout. The instrumentals are incredibly fluid and fit the context of the lyrical content beautifully. While it lacks a certain level of fluidity from track to track, it was never made with the intention of doing so. This is not an album per se, so we the listener shouldn’t look at it like one, but in this writer’s opinion, the tracks on this project would have only improved TPAB. It’s truly a shame this collection of songs couldn’t have found their way on the record, but these songs prove that Kendrick Lamar is the puppet master. He is pulling all of the strings. Take your seat on the throne Kendrick, you deserve it.