[April 4, 2016]
By Chadwyck Moore
Released with no rumors, promotion, or even expectation comes Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Untitled Unmastered’, a compilation of unreleased demos.
These demos were recorded during the three years between his debut classic ‘Good Kid M.A.A.D. City’ and his Grammy award-winning black power album ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’. Recorded during jam sessions of the album, they boast features and production label mate Jay Rock, Swizz Beatz, CeeLo Green and more. The compilation continues ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’s experimental jazz-hop sound throughout and showcases the sounds and themes that weren’t to be on the original cut of the album. Kendrick Lamar gives listeners an insight into the three year process that went into the creation of ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’.
The compilation stands as a well-crafted rough draft, an insight into the ideas that Kendrick delved into during his three years. This feeling is evident throughout the compilation with the lack of mastering and songs not being completely fleshed out. This leads to the album having a raw feeling, something uncharacteristic of the traditionally full Kendrick releases.
Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Untitled Unmastered’ reveals a set of themes that ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ did not have, showing a discarded path. Sin, redemption through knowledge, and struggles of being black in America replace the black power anthem.
The compilation showcases the shift from religion to race in the creation of ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’. Kendrick Lamar does not rap about things being alright for blacks in America, but how he is witness to jigaboos, Styrofoam, and ears deafened by the horns of Gabriel. Kendrick begs to have God himself answer the phone on the second track ‘Untitled 2′, spilling the sins he witnesses and contrasting his faith with his love of the vices that he admits can end him. These woes are delivered over creeping keys, alien synths, and with a swaying singing that hooks instantly.
The vices are not left unconquerable with Kendrick offering the solution being head in ‘Untitled 4′ where he brings label mate SZA for a smooth duet over the solution to the woes of the black man. “Head is the answer”, this double entendre for sex and free thinking is crooned over a soulful blues guitar, background vocals, and vocal flourishes that push the song into a churchlike experience. The lack of percussion leads to a focus on the syrupy serenades slung by SZA. This is in stark contrast to the other songs such as ‘Untitled 7′, with the first half now released as Kendrick Lamar’s latest single ‘I Levitate’, which stands as a hard hitting shift from the sounds elsewhere in the album.
Combining a hypnotizing synthetic melody, a motivating drum pattern, and Kendrick’s infectious chanting of “Levitate”, the first half of the track energizes the listener.
‘Untitled Unmastered is a great project’, but still is a compilation of demos. Some songs do not sound completely fleshed out and the lack of mastering is noted. Still, the songs are full of a beautiful sound that only Kendrick brings into hip hop and some of Kendrick’s most memorable lines. The fact that some of these tracks did not make the final cut shows the work ethic of Kendrick Lamar and with ‘Untitled 7′ receiving both a title and mastering, hope that more off the compilation will be released in a similar manner. With a compilation of demos better than some rapper’s albums this year, Kendrick solidified his case as King Kendrick, as he did before.