Album Review: Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered.3 min read
If To Pimp A Butterfly is Kendrick Lamar’s Kid A, then untitled unmastered. is his Amnesiac. Like Amnesiac, it begs the question of whether it should be considered a full album at all. It’s only 8 tracks long, and none of the songs have actual titles, being called untitled 01 through untitled 8, all suffixed with dates, presumably the date of each track’s recording. The guest vocals from CeeLo Green and Jay Rock are uncredited, and the entire album deliberately defies traditional classification. Where To Pimp a Butterfly was almost 80 minutes long, untitled unmastered. barely crosses past 30. However, whilst it doesn’t have the cohesion of his very best work, Kendrick is such a talented stylist and lyricist that it’s still a thrilling half-hour of music.
The 8 tracks largely draw from the same well of funk and jazz as his 2015 album, but to an even more esoteric degree. Choruses are largely gone, and when they do arrive, like on untitled 8, they are abstracted and menacing. That track demonstrates the depth and complexity of Kendrick’s lyricism, over the course of 3 verses. The opening verse sees his bragging about and reflecting on his success – “see a nine to five was so jive turkey / but when Thanksgiving came that cheque didn’t hurt me” – with his trademark wit and wordplay. In the second verse he ponders the efficacy of education – “365 times 4, plus more / if yan’t get it right, tell me, do you got the stamina”. However, the third verse is when Kendrick’s ideas really start to coalesce, as he starts to realise that whilst his own suffering is tangible, it pales in comparison to what others have gone through – “your projects ain’t s**t, I live in a hut b***h”. This epiphany was apparently reached during a trip to Cape Town, and it demonstrates the way Kendrick is refusing to stand still, even after his enormous success.
The instrumentals range from the funky, smooth keyboard stabs on untitled 3, to the booming trap bass of untitled 7. The former is one of the most conceptual tracks Kendrick has ever written, as he is advised on how to improve his life from the eyes of several minorities (“Asians”, “Indians” and “Blacks”), but then has a piece of himself taken by the White man – “what if I compromise? He said it don’t even matter”. untitled 7 is Kendrick rapping in his most aggressive form, as he addresses his own dark emotions – “shut your f**kin’ mouth and get some cash, you b***h” – with a call to rise above them – “levitate, levitate, levitate, levitate”. The menacing instrumental is the perfect environment for his exaggerated turmoil, and shows Kendrick’s continued mastery of matching content and style.
It’s telling that even a minor release from Kendrick Lamar is a deep, heady listening experience. He is operating on a level of conceptual depth and complexity unparalleled in hip-hop, and in music as a whole. Every single track requires numerous listens to fully understand, and that is never a problem, given how simply fun and funky his instrumentals are. Whilst it doesn’t have the ambition of To Pimp a Butterfly, or even good kid, M.A.A.D city, untitled unmastered. does have 8 new, top quality tracks from Kendrick Lamar, and that’s more than enough to make it a worthwhile listen.