EP Review: Kendrick Lamar ‘untitled unmastered’
When TDE’s CEO Top Dawg jumped on Instagram to tease fans about new music from his camp, all signs pointed to SZA or Isaiah Rashad, maybe even Schoolboy Q. No one suspected Kendrick Lamar to release music so soon after his 2015 album ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’, undoubtedly the best album of 2015. But gladly, we were all wrong.
“…Kendrick isn’t rehashing or recycling. This project is an extrapolation, a continued conversation with collaborators, with God, with Kendrick himself, and with the listener.”
Just over two weeks ago a new project ‘untitled unmastered.’ appeared unceremoniously on Spotify, under Kendrick Lamar. The project is a collection of eight tracks, throwaway demos from the ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ sessions. Although for any other artist, these tracks would not be throwaways but career highlights.
As the little brother of TPAB we get a lot of the same jazz and funk flavours, and lyrically explore many familiar issues and themes. But Kendrick isn’t rehashing or recycling. This project is an extrapolation, a continued conversation with collaborators, with God, with Kendrick himself, and with the listener.
The album opens with the impending doom of Untitled 01 which sees Kendrick take a harsh look at the world around him. As he alludes to the forthcoming Judgement Day, it’s hard to escape the feeling that we might all be circling the drain.
That feeling continues into Untitled 02, one the project’s standout tracks. Scattered saxophone and piano linger in the background allowing Kendrick’s vocal manipulations to take centre stage as he explores the disconnect between his new lifestyle and the dysfunction of his hometown of Compton, California. The result is atmospheric and hypnotic. The second half of the song switches it up as we are treated to the mammoth verse he performed on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon in January.
Untitled 03 is another familiar track, first performed on The Colbert Report back in 2013. This song is a great back and forth between Kendrick and vocalist Anna Wise and explores race in the music industry, specifically the greed of the ‘white man’ who’ll sell him “for just $10.99”. The song made an impression back in 2013 and, even though this incarnation lacks the blistering emotion of the live performance, it still manages to be just as thought-provoking.
“Scattered saxophone and piano linger in the background allowing Kendrick’s vocal manipulations to take centre stage as he explores the disconnect between his new lifestyle and the dysfunction of his hometown of Compton, California.”
Untitled 05 sees the return of Anna Wise with a dream-like hook as well as impressive appearances from fellow TDE label mates Punch and Jay Rock. This track sees Kendrick embody another character to explore the ramifications of a failing justice system and society riddled with inequality. The mood then changes entirely as Kendrick takes another stab at a self-love anthem on Untitled 06, this time with the help of none other than Cee Lo Green. As Kendrick embraces his flaws to attract a love interest, the listener gets a charming track that is a nice detour on a predominately dark project.
Next up is Untitled 07, a sprawling eight-minute track that has emerged as a fan favourite because Kendrick reminds his peers, a few in particular, that he sits firmly atop the throne. The song twists and turns and as it trails off at the end we see Kendrick’s charisma, personality, and sense of humour on full display. The project closes out with Untitled 08, which was also performed on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon in a mash up with Untitled 02. On this track, Kendrick masks the harsh realities of his world with an infectious G-Funk beat that allows the project to finish on a lighter note.
‘untitled unmastered.’ is a collection of eight great tracks, not a follow up to ‘TPAB’, but a gift to hold fans over until that day comes. It’s everything we’ve come to expect from a Kendrick release but maybe even a little more, as we get a rare insight into the most-loved and least-seen rapper of a generation. This year had been set aside for Drake and Kanye to battle it out for rap’s heavy weight champion but ‘untitled unmastered’ reminds us that since March last year, that title remains firmly in the hands of King Kendrick.
Kendrick Lamar will be touring Australia this week and performing at this year’s BluesFest.