Review: Kendrick Lamar "untitled unmastered"

Kendrick Lamar speaks at the 31st Annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at the Barclays Center on Friday, April 8, 2016, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
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Charles Sykes

Kendrick Lamar speaks at the 31st Annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at the Barclays Center on Friday, April 8, 2016, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

By Rebekah Todd

Some say that “one performance may change your life.” Others say “when opportunity knocks, you need to be ready to open the door.”

Kendrick Lamar has had his door wide open for over a decade. His most recent gust of opportunity came after his stellar performance at the February 2016 Grammys. Lamar performed tracks “The Blacker the Berry” and “Alright” in a way that many including LL Cool J deemed as “controversial and amazing” with a cast of all black dancers and jazz performers who walked onto the stage in chains and prison outfits. With lines like “You hate me don’t you? You hate my culture. Your plan is to terminate my people. You’re f*&&#(# evil. I want you to know that I’m a proud monkey.” It is no surprise that most consider this performance a controversy. It should also be noted that this performance, which proclaims black power, is incredibly hard to locate on Youtube and seems to have been taken off the web.

This performance of only a few minutes got the entire world talking. Kendrick Lamar was a whisper in the wind which quickly grew to a scream as heavy hitters like LeBron James made it clear that they liked the performance. In fact, rumor had it that fans can thank James for the release of the entire album. On February 23, James tweeted TDE’s CEO, Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith to release the untitled tracks:

“Yo @dangerookipawaa after that @kendricklamar Grammy performance, you have to release those untitled tracks asap!!! What’s up? Talk to me.”

With James’ star-power, you can imagine the effect his simple tweet had on both his fans and the fans of Lamar. It surely had enough to get Tiffith thinking that he may have a good reason to release the tracks.

On March 3, a small Instagram post was made by Tiffith announcing the release of the tracks, with a simple caption that reads,

 

“Yea motha%*$(# KING KENDRICK returns 2nite. You can thank @kingjames for this….#TDE”

 

With one post came the release of “untitled unmastered.”

The album is a skeletal release with dates in the title of each track. These dates suggest the dates that they were recorded which also happen to be during the same time that “To Pimp a Butterfly” was being recorded, furthering the thought that these are outtakes from the previous album.

The album should be approached as a bonus release. It has a skeletal arrangement and a flow that is disorienting but one thing is for sure, the rapping is excellent. With a little more time spent digesting the album, one begins to understand that this compilation of spare change may actually be one of the biggest statements Lamar has made to date. It fits into a legacy formed by many other musicians preceding him, making a mint out of the spillover tunes recorded in the studio that didn’t quite make the cut for the first album. The album has an artistic feel as each track stands completely on its own. One really must dig deeper into each work to see that their true meanings go all the way to the core.

The first track, “untitled 01 / 08.19.2014” is dense and comes as an uncomfortable opening to some as listeners hear Lamar talking dirty to what is later revealed as a little lamb. The track evolves into a piece on the book of Revelation and a conversation with God about how he did his best to do what he has been summoned to do “I pushed the club to the side for you,” and that he did as “To Pimp a Butterfly” merely climbed to no. 39 on the charts in an effort that appeared to be intentional. The track has a heavy apocalyptic vibe revealing the inner struggle Lamar deals with on a realm where the spirit meets capitalism. It truly reveals the inner struggle of many musicians. This theme continues into track “Untitled 8 / 09.06.2014” as he sings “Get that new money, and it’s breaking me down honey.”

Kendrick Lamar is able to be whoever he wants. He can sound as joyous as the nihilist rappers we so commonly hear. With the flip of a coin he speaks of the world around him like a cultured expert on politics, racism, etc. While “To Pimp a Butterfly” will forever be one of the most remembered albums by Lamar and “untitled unmastered.” may shy in comparison to such a monster album, it still sends warning to other rappers across the globe that even Lamar’s leftover tracks are still enough to get the entire world talking more than most albums that rappers labor over for years.

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