Kendrick Lamar’s greatest gift is the clarity and brevity in which he raps. He has the ability to fire off rhymes with quick succession and after each line you have just enough time to soak in the weight of his words. The spotlight is currently on Kendrick and he is well aware of his position in hip-hop. Lamar has seen and done many things, both good and bad; the burden of his past choices are all too evident in his music. He frequently raps about the duality of his life, a hero for all of hip-hop, but also a man with faults. These faults are visible in his music, every boastful line of success can be accompanied by a line declaring his fear of judgement.
Lamar released, untitled unmastered, on Friday as a surprise release. It was well known that Lamar had a wealth of material stashed away after the recording of his 2015 Grammy-winning album, To Pimp A Butterfly, but it was unexpected that the the material would ever see the light of day. Lamar began performing “untitled” tracks in 2014, the first of which was performed on The Colbert Report, the second “untitled” track was performed on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
I had grown accustomed to the idea of Kendrick Lamar’s untitled series living on forever as live performances, never heard or released as studio recordings. Kendrick had created moments of hip-hop greatness, songs that were so powerful and brilliantly coordinated that hearing the recorded studio version wasn’t entirely necessary. Lamar had become a commander on stage, he performed each track with a dexterity and intensity rarely seen in hip-hop or any other genre. The moments were captivating, and most importantly, Lamar had made it impossible to ignore his message.
untitled unmastered, is only eight tracks long but still contains the same substance and rawness you would expect to find from the same artist that created good kid, m.A.A.d city and To Pimp a Butterfly. Based on the track listing, many of the songs were recorded almost two or three years ago around the same time his last record was recorded. untitled unmastered. may be viewed as leftovers from a great musician’s last studio sessions but that can be a simple way to disregard the significance of this latest record.
On the first track “untitled 01” Lamar raps,
“(It’s happening) no more running from world wars
(It’s happening) no more discriminating the poor
(It’s happening) no more bad bitches and real niggas
Wishing for green and gold the last taste of allure
I swore I seen it vividly”
Lamar easily constructs worlds filled with rot, decay and disparity but the clever ways in which he presents these worlds make it easy to overlook. The eight tracks on the record incorporate many of the same musical elements as To Pimp a Butterfly. Jazz, funk and trap drums are utilized so effectively that the transition between each component is seamless.
“untitled 02” is accompanied by a horn section, jangling dissonant piano keys and laid back drums.
On “untitled 06,” Lamar’s voice glides over a gentle soulful funk track, accompanied by Cee Lo Green who adorns the track with a high pitched chorus. On the track, Lamar addresses his faults again, “But I possess qualities that you need to see/ Look at my flaws, look at my flaws/ Look at my imperfections and all/ Look how you think that my mystique is a round of applause.”
On “untitled 07,” Lamar states, “This is a 15-minute song, we just jammin’ out.” This line stands as a metaphor for the rest of the record. untitled unmastered feels as though an artist at the possible height of his creative output is giving us a behind the scenes look into his process. The album cover is a mossy green minimal design with the title in the top left corner. The record follows this same design not overbearing in its attempt to be expressive.
The songs lack the same burning intensity that was seen when they were performed live but that’s not to say they aren’t great. I feel as though these recordings were originally intended to be performed once and then left alone but for some reason we have been graced with more music from hip-hop’s most daring artist.