Kendrick Lamar- Untitled Unmastered Album Review

Just when I was worried I would have nothing to review for a couple of weeks, this happens. There has been rumors of a new Kendrick album coming out in 2016 but nobody expected it now. Now this really is not a new album, instead it is a collection of, you guessed it, untitled and unmastered demos from To Pimp a Butterfly. Considering that album was my favorite of 2015 and my love of Kendrick Lamar is something I do not keep quiet, this was a priority.

Despite being labelled as a compilation of demos, this album definitely flows together much better than most hip-hop albums out now. Especially compared to Kanye West and Macklemore’s most recent projects. The sounds from this album are similar to what we got from To Pimp a Butterfly meaning we get plenty of jazz and funk inspired production that helped define that album.

The first of the eight untitled tracks sets an uncomfortable and dark tone for this record. We get a sexual spoken word intro, similar to the start of “These Walls,” that is obviously designed to get the viewer out of their comfort zone before Kendrick starts rapping, painting an apocalyptic image. The track is less personal to him, and broader to humanity as he warns of how we treat each other and the destruction we can cause. The biblical influences of this are quite clear and do show up again later on the album.

“untitled 2” explores Kendrick’s personal relationship with God, where he feels alone during times of need but connected when telling Him about all the money he has spent on himself. Like “untitled 1,” this is another unnerving moment where Kendrick showcases some interesting vocals that have him sounding almost intoxicated. He goes in and out of this voice, which is interesting and quite ambitious.

The two tracks I am having the most fun with are “untitled 3” and “untitled 8.” Now the word “fun” is probably simplifying things but they both have the funky sounds from To Pimp a Butterfly that I love. “untitled 3” might as well be “King Kunta 2” since it uses the same background vocalists as that song. Besides that, the song explores the themes of what various races of people say to Kendrick pieces of advice which is explored in a way I think is poetic in a way. Despite its upbeat sound, “untitled 8” is a song about the struggles of African Americans, mainly with finances. The song is powerful and a great way to close off the album.

Considered the nature of this album, I was shocked with the quality of the guests that gave uncredited assistance on here. Despite being short, “untitled 4” is greatly benefited by verses from SZA and Jay Rock who both deliver quality work on the track. Frequent Kendrick collaborator Anna Wise has a soulful hook on “untitled 5” that is actually pretty haunting as she paints a frightening image of “a pit of flames” and bleeding the floor. I was most surprised when I heard CeeLo Green on “untitled 6” a song I think would have fit on To Pimp a Butterfly very well. CeeLo has a solid verse and definitely makes the song go from good to great.

The only song that has taken a little time to adjust to would be “untitled 7,” an 8 minute song which was supposedly produced by Swizz Beatz’ five-year old and if that is true I am amazed because the production is great here. The track is made up of three sections, the first two being my favorite. The first sees Kendrick rapping about how great it is to be able to create art that is appreciated and loved by so many people. He stresses “levitate, levitate, levitate, levitate” and it is a memorable spot on the project. Part II features Kendrick speaking of his gratefulness of making it in the industry and ends with him rapping about spending money on youth centers, rather than extravagance. It’s a short and simple piece to the song before Part III comes and basically has Kendrick singing and goofing around with his friends. He makes references to earlier lines in the album, tying things together a bit. It is sloppy but it is not meant to be anything more than playful.

Since this is not really a full album and more of a side project, it is hard to judge untitled unmastered. like I would judge other albums. All things considered, this is an excellent treat for Kendrick fans and is a must listen for them. I cannot even believe these are all just demos since they all sound great and go together much better here than they would have on To Pimp a Butterfly. If this is a sign of what’s to come on a future Kendrick album I am more than excited to see what he planned.

Best Tracks: untitled 1, untitled 2, untitled 3, untitled 5, untiled 8

Rating: A-

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