“Bravo, Kendrick. You’ve done it again.”
Following the extremely controversial album that devoured the charts as well as earning him eleven Grammy nominations, Kendrick Lamar returns to deliver an eight track EP that serves as B-sides to his instant classic, To Pimp a Butterfly. Untitled Unmastered expresses a raw, angry voice that Kendrick seems to have held back from some of TPAB, which is saying something considering that album tackles topics of race, police brutality, and conquering trough tragedy. This is very much a peek inside of the mind of an artist who is severely conflicted due to an inner monologue of duality: “Do I become a leader like the kids in Compton want me to be, or do I focus on my mind, heart, soul, and career?” Did Kendrick peak at his previous album, or is this EP worthy of the same type of praise?
Short answer: Untitled Unmastered hits all the right notes that TPAB clearly excelled at while creating a distinct sound that is vulnerable, filled with soul, and profound.
TPAB was an emotionally unbound, social commentary, but this album is Kendrick wearing his heart on his sleeve. “Untitled 06” has Cee-Lo Green acting as the “bizarre and avant-garde” dual personality that embraces the weird, while Kendrick slowly comes to terms with accepting the obtuse nature of himself and citing this as a gift and a curse. Intricacies like this may not stand out through your first listen, but that’s the beauty of his art: there are layers upon layers weaved with self-deprecation that take you through a journey as to how to overcome your insecurities and love yourself.
I’d like to point out the album cover. It’s simple, unfiltered, imperfect, and yet colorful. Not only does this perfectly set the tone for the sound that will grace and, inversely, invade your ears, but also I’d like to think this is something else entirely. If I were to ask Mr. Lamar to draw me a self-portrait, I feel as if I would receive this in return.
We are meant to believe that the album is comprised of songs left on the cutting room floor from his TPAB recording sessions, not fit to be included in any of his albums, but the result stands tall as an album itself. The mix of smooth jazz, vocals seething with frustrations, and beats reminiscent of 90’s era hip hop (i.e., Dr. Dre) help weave beautiful connective tissue that produces a unique product that, I am quite happy to say, left me speechless.
Featuring vocals from fellow TDE artists such as Jay Rock, Top, and SZA, instrumentals from nu-jazz perfectionists Thundercat and Terrace Martin, and top-tier production from legends such as Flying Lotus and Just Blaze, Untitled Unmastered forges a bleeding heart of genres that blazes its way onto the hip-hop scene. Its complexities are in its subtleties, and success in its uncertainty. “Untitled 02” sneaks its way into your ears with a truly dark beat that mixes west coast rap with the creeping sound of hysteria that is backed by the occasionally sporadic sounds of a saxophone and a piano to accentuate its conflicted nature. The result is insane.
Here Kendrick reminds artists and listeners alike that he is sitting on the throne of hip-hop, as if we needed a reminder just how strong of an artist he is. Kendrick serves us a dish of lyrical complexities topped with double entendres and introspective verses, plated with a side of an unrivaled flow that puts most other artists to shame. When he is not just rapping, but using his unique, raspy tone to sing, whisper, or to cap off an end to an impressive verse is what really sold me. In the third verse of “Untitled 08”, he engages in an enlightening conversation with a man from Africa whom holds a condescending tone on American greed that keeps Kendrick grounded in reality. To top off the already smooth verse, Kendrick jives out to the soul-funk sound while he repeatedly sings the words, “Cape Town”. It’s energetic, infectious, soulful, funky, thought provoking, and elevating. The song is imprinted in my car speakers.
People speculated that TPAB was Kendrick’s peak. “How is he going to keep evolving to top his previous work?” If this EP is any indication, then he has snatched the throne with no intentions of ever coming back. Untitled Unmastered is so multifaceted and oozing with personality in between complex sounds of synths and saxophones to form a comfortable and breathtaking infusion of jazz and hip-hop.
Tracks like these will become the standard for how you judge new music.
Bravo, Kendrick. You’ve done it again.