Following up from a stellar 2015 Kendrick Lamar continued his critically acclaimed rise to stardom earlier this year with an 8 track collection of time-stamped untitled and unmastered songs that didn’t quite make it onto the track list of To Pimp a Butterfly (TPAB). Laced with honesty about his transition from Compton life to hip hop royalty untitled unmastered serves as the cherry on the cake for Lamar after the eventual die down of hype from TPAB.
His latest release oozes with bravado and confidence subsequently developing on many of the same themes that were prevalent in his last. However, with the loose structuring and flexibility of untitled unmastered it acts as a portal that leads right into a TPAB recording session. Featuring eloquent production from the likes of Thundercat, Sounwave and Terrace Martin this album delves further away from the classic hip-hop sound and effortlessly fuses hip-hop, jazz, funk and soul. Among many other socially-charged themes Kendrick continues to lay out his perception of socio-economic issues and the misrepresentation of African-American artists in the music industry. Despite being labelled by many as “to hard to listen to” or “weird” untitled unmastered ultimately shot straight to #1 on the Billboard #200, it is the victory lap of a conceptual artist in his prime.
The album begins with ominous vocals from Bilal, Kendrick’s verse focuses around a revelations plot that paints a picture of a post-apocalyptic earth. ‘Untitled 01 | 08.19.2014’ acts as a warning to humanity with lyrics such as “The ground is shaking, swallowing young woman// with a baby, daisies and other flowers burning in destruction”, the use of ‘baby, daisies’ gives the impression that even the most innocent can’t escape the evil. The first half of the next track is heavily focused on Kendrick’s assimilation into the top tiers of the music industry conflicting with his life at home in Compton, it features production from Thundercat and saxophone from Terrace Martin. During the bridge he quotes “Can’t pick a side, the Gemini” referring to his astrological sign that is represented by two twins and acts as an example of Lamar’s duality. The latter half outlines his life now, at the same time speaking on the successes of TDE artists and affiliates such as Schoolboy Q.
In ‘untitled 03 | 05.28.13’ he talks about minorities giving him a piece of advice on how to better himself, while the “white man” only wishes to take a piece of his music, undermining his art. The theme of African-American hip-hop artists being taken advantage of in the music industry is a central point and is built on extensively. The fourth is a short two minute song that features label-mate SZA, she sings about the importance of education while Lamar whispers in the background evocatively telling her what issues to speak on. Anna Wise takes on the hook in the next track with short feature verses from Jay Rock and Punch (TDEs co-president along with Anthony Tiffith). Kendrick focuses heavily on the institutionalisation of minorities in society highlighting the resulting power disparity that plagues the world today through social inequality. Thunder Cat and Josef Limburger have been credited for production on this track. ‘Untitled 06 | 06.30.2014’ fittingly features Cee-Lo Green, as it is a love track and it preaches the imperativeness of having confidence in oneself and loving a person for their oddities.
Interestingly the second part of the next is produced by Egypt, Swizz Beatz’s 5-year-old son. It proves to be a pivotal song that dictates the mind during the 3 stages of an emotional rush and the only track that isn’t timestamped with a specific date. He ends the album with ‘untitled 08 | 09.06.2014’ which features Thundercat, he articulates the financial struggles of African-Americans and shows his success in context despite it. It is a soulful finish t to a magnificently diverse album, Kendrick covers the chorus with lyrics like “I hit the bank today and told them colour me bad”.
With so many enthralling theories floating around about alternative meanings and hidden messages it is sure to be 8 tracks that fanatics will decode for a while. Safe to say Kendrick Lamar has been on fire for a while now and its seems he will continue to strive as one of the most creatively different musical minds of our time.