Over the past year, hip-hop has been dominated by catchy radio-friendly hits and exuberant personalities. Rappers such as Drake, Future and Travis Scott come to mind, as their boisterous personalities and pop hits captured everyone’s attention. Somewhere under the radar, however, is Kendrick Lamar.
Lamar doesn’t possess the pop style that modern rappers such as Drake do, but his message is not meant to make money or receive airplay. He is willing to go where most rappers refuse to, and has served as a voice for those protesting for racial equality (his song “Alright” can be heard chanted at most rallies across the nation). Lamar has developed a style unlike any other, mixing storytelling with a combination of alternative, gangster and jazzy production styles.
New Kendrick Lamar music is usually enough to stop the Internet. Last year, his third studio album, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” was surprise-released a week ahead of its scheduled arrival, and promptly sent fans into a frenzy. Similarly, Lamar’s latest release, “Untitled Unmastered”, appeared on streaming services, such as Spotify and Apple Music, with little warning. The eight track album stylistically follows Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” one of 2015’s most acclaimed albums. “TPAB” ushered in a new era for Lamar, as his retro gangster-rap flow seen on his breakthrough album “Good Kid, MAAD City” was replaced with a much more funk-jazz feel. Here, Lamar puts together a compact eight song LP that feels more like a victory lap for 2015 than a full-length project. This is not a knock on the album though, as its lighter nature allows listeners to just enjoy Lamar’s ever-impressive lyricism without being weighed down by the heavier themes of his past works.
“Untitled Unmastered” marks the official release of several tracks that Lamar has only performed live to this point. Back in 2014, Lamar performed on “The Colbert Report” and debuted a previously unheard track that wouldn’t be released to the public. In similar fashion, he debuted another track last year on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.” Now, these tracks finally have a home on this short LP. In lieu of proper names, each track is, as the album suggests, “untitled” with production dates dating back to 2014, giving listeners a sense of when these tracks came to be. As expected, Lamar delivers not only a lyrical masterpiece and lavish production, but also a rap album that really makes you think. “Untitled 02” takes the track performed on “The Tonight Show” and slows it down with trap beats, while Lamar spits rhymes about the complications of his overwhelming success. “Untitled 03” comments on the nature and stereotypes of different races, and distinguishes that this is a problem we are not even close to solving. Several of these tracks have featured guests, including Cee Lo Green on “Untitled 06” and Jay Rock on “Untitled 05,” but this is Lamar’s album first and foremost. Lamar stated recently that these tracks came to be during sessions for “To Pimp a Butterfly,” and his releasing of these tracks allows us to become guests to his creative process. Contributors on this LP include familiar groups and artists, such as Thundercat, Terrace Martin and Anna Wise, who have all appeared on previous projects. The real gem here is the final track, “Untitled 08,” a jazzy tune on which Lamar ponders the sad situation of finally attaining wealth while also feeling selfish and guilty. It’s self-aware without being too preachy, and is catchy enough to get stuck in your head for a day.
Overall, “Untitled Unmastered” isn’t as much of a Lamar album as his previous works are. His debut album, “Section 80,” explored themes and stereotypes associated with black culture, while also providing Lamar a medium to showcase his then-underrated talent. “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City” told the story of his childhood, while “To Pimp a Butterfly” reflected on his pain and “survivor’s guilt” of getting out of Compton, California. Here, Lamar is just having fun with it, giving us a peak of what didn’t make the cut for “To Pimp a Butterfly.” Some may dismiss this work as a bunch of “throwaway tracks,” but even if they are, Lamar’s throwaway tracks are better than most rapper’s greatest hits.
1. “Untitled 08 - 09.06.2014”
2. “Untitled 02 - 06.23.2014”
3. “Untitled 03 – 05.28.2013”
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