Compton’s (arguably) finest rapper, Kendrick Lamar, has been hinting at an album release for months from performances on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, The Colbert Report, and his evocative display at the Grammy’s. untitled unmastered’s predecessors, Section.80, good kid, m.A.A.d city, and To Pimp a Butterfly, explored Kendrick’s childhood and experiences in Compton, often scenes of violence, and exemplified his storytelling talent. Gangs, guns, and addiction are not uncommon topics broached by modern day rap artists but Kendrick’s unfiltered and genuine examination of the issues as a storyteller principally, and a rapper second, has led him to wide acclaim and ultimate icon status. untitled unmastered was released on March 3rd, 2016 via Apple Music, Spotify, and Tidal. It quickly flooded social media with high praise from die-hard K-Dot fans. Upon first listen, untitled unmastered presented a mixtape-esque feel. Beginning with the minimalist moss green album cover art and “untitled” track names, we see Kendrick at his most raw with interesting imperfections throughout the tracks. Although it’s noted that most of the album seem to be unused scraps from To Pimp a Butterfly, the wide variety of narratives somehow imperfectly flow into one another. Kendrick has said previously that he defines success through vision and work ethic so it is alluring to see how these notions manifest themselves into this particular album with features from SZA, Cee-lo Green, and production help by Adrian and Ali from A Tribe Called Quest. Listeners aren’t given much hint before hearing each track and melody played out, given their namelessness and the album jumping on the newly emerging trend of the mysterious and surprise Internet “album drop”. This unspoken rule is now almost always combined with a reclusive attitude from the artist and has been employed within the music world amongst the likes of Frank Ocean, Drake, Beyoncé, Kanye, and Childish Gambino.
Besides his very obvious raw talent and likeability, Kendrick has managed to stay true to his roots whilst delivering a smooth melodic feel that very much epitomizes his role as a storyteller and rapper.
Once we play ‘untitled 01’of eight on this album, we are taken into Kendrick’s world of church gospel, contrasting biblical imagery with current issues. The line, “(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 n*ggas”, touches on the threat of wars and terror, wealth inequality, and temptations, followed by Kendrick echoing the inevitable consequences by Christ for non-believers who participate in the system. Fans of Kendrick will know that religious symbolism is nothing new to his music and he unsurprisingly utilizes elements of spirituality and God alike. Another highlight is ‘untitled 03’, a seemingly breezy sounding track, where Kendrick raps about an Asian, Indian (Native American), and black man each giving him a piece of sage life advice. He raps about the white man last who, instead of offering a piece of advice, takes a piece of Kendrick himself and his art in order to capitalize off of it, addressing the familiar narrative of how artists must sell out to the white man frequently in the music industry. Other standouts include ‘untitled 05’, where he spews out themes of hedonism and money over a funk beat and ‘untitled 07’ with the hypnotizing chorus, “levitate levitate levitate levitate,” drawing on themes of drug use. The track also features a jam session at the end between Kendrick and his friends, which builds on to the true authentic unmastered vibe of the album. ‘untitled 07’ also boasts its production help from Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz’s 5-year-old son, Egypt. The album would be a calm addition to your morning routine and definitely something to be played on a train ride or quiet night in with friends. Besides his very obvious raw talent and likeability, Kendrick has managed to stay true to his roots whilst delivering a smooth melodic feel that very much epitomizes his role as a storyteller and rapper with untitled unmastered. While good kid, m.A.A.d city and To Pimp a Butterfly allow us to witness Kendrick at his most polished form, untitled unmastered gives us a jazzy reload of his commentary on black culture, and it’s still excellent. Pimp-Pimp, Hooray!
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Bull & Bear.