Release Date: Mar 4, 2016
Record label: Top Dawg
"Demos from To Pimp A Butterfly. In Raw Form. Unfinished. Untitled. Unmastered," Kendrick Lamar digitally pinned a week ago. That, and a link to eight woozy lo-fi jazz numbers, welcoming back Cornrow Kenny's manic vocal somersaults over sporadic sax and frenzied funk a year after the illustrious ….
“Look at my flaws, look at my flaws,” Kendrick Lamar pleads on “untitled 06,” wooing a lover by highlighting his imperfections. In the wrong hands, this line would have been self-insulating, insurance against some future transgression, but in Kendrick’s hands the line is a sincere invitation to take the blemishes seriously, to look onto a disfigured face and see the defects and not the dimples. Featuring many of the same collaborators, themes and sonic templates as To Pimp A Butterfly, untitled unmastered necessarily lives in that album’s shadow.
Kendrick Lamar :: untitled unmastered.Top Dawg Entertainment/AftermathAuthor: Colin FinnAt the risk of sounding like a total asshole, know-it-all college student, Kendrick Lamar's surprise release "untitled unmastered." can be understood best in the context of Cleanth Brooks' seminal essay, "The Heresy of the Paraphrase": "It [a poem] is a pattern of resolved stresses... the structure of a poem resembles that of a ballet or musical composition. It is a pattern of resolutions and balances and harmonizations, developed through a temporal scheme".
Frankly, no one truly knows why Kendrick Lamar embarked on an impromptu trip to South Africa in between the success of 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d city and the recording of To Pimp a Butterfly. “I remember he took a trip to Africa and something in his mind just clicked,” collaborator and producer Sounwav says. “For me, that’s when the album really started.” Whether it was to broaden his worldview or perhaps better understand Nelson Mandela’s fight to end apartheid, the trip was nonetheless significant for Lamar and ultimately helped fuel the freewheeling creative process for what would eventually become one of hip-hop’s most exalted albums in recent history.
“Pimp Pimp, Hooray!” Boozy and quivering, “untitled 02 | 06.23.2014” comes headlong into life on Kendrick’s eight-track bundle of songs lovingly titled untitled unmastered. “Get God on the phone!” It almost feels like Dot is playfully talking to himself, transformed as he has into rap’s modern prophet, his prime stretching out over music, threatening to drown other artists plying their trade on the radio, in strip clubs, on SoundCloud, in your headphones. There is now a cavern between what Kendrick does and what everyone else does.
"I made To Pimp a Butterfly for you," raps Kendrick Lamar on the opening cut from untitled unmastered. It's tempting to read a lot into those words; in fact, it's tempting to delve deeply into everything about his latest release. Because when the promotionally frugal, preeminent thinking-person's rapper of a generation lets forth a largely unexpected collection of demos into a click economy of hot takes and broadcasted enthusiasm, the friction of opposites is enough to spark the kind of hopes that see meaning in everything.
The phrase “Pimp pimp! Hooray” doesn’t appear on Kendrick Lamar’s new record until the second track, but it’s clear from the opening rumblings of upright bass and the gravel-voiced, disembodied come-ons that untitled unmastered is cut from the same cloth as his seminal To Pimp a Butterfly. Recorded largely during the same period as TPAB, this collection of demos plays as equally fascinating, if not quite as sonically developed. Again, no topic is too weighty or broad for Kendrick’s scope, and he wrestles with oft-explored issues like race relations, poverty and industry stereotypes by presenting his internal conflict baldly.
Last year, under enormous pressure, rapper Kendrick Lamar released one of the most culturally and socially resonant albums in memory, To Pimp A Butterfly. Its impact has been emphasised by the way that Alright has taken on a second life as a hymn of jubilant resilience – give one hundred traditional folk singers an acoustic guitar each and all the time in the world and none of them would come close to capturing the mood of the time as potently. Its appeal as an alternative State of the Union wasn’t the whole story; it was a step-up in terms of sophistication with Lamar curating a multifaceted funk, soul and jazz fusion.
Issued without advance notice 17 days after Kendrick Lamar's riveting 2016 Grammy Awards performance, untitled unmastered. consists of eight demos that are simply numbered and dated. Apart from segments previewed at the Grammys and late-night television appearances, there was no formal promotion. A postscript, it's (artfully) artless in presentation -- not even basic credits appear on the Army green liner card in the compact disc edition -- yet it's almost as lyrically and musically rich as To Pimp a Butterfly.
Under normal circumstances, there would be no reason to get excited over untitled unmastered. After all, this is just a collection of leftover songs, an odds-and-ends collection that may have made for a cool mixtape. But not every rapper is Kendrick Lamar, the undisputed best rapper in the world right now. Coming after the tremendous To Pimp a Butterfly, one wouldn’t have expected Kendrick to come back so fast with new music.
Kendrick Lamar didn’t have to do this. Not even a year has passed since he released his grand statement, To Pimp a Butterfly, an intimidating epic that was a consensus pick as Album of the Year — critical unanimity unseen since, well, his last album, 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d city. But where city at least tread traditional hip-hop tropes and the old narrative of young kid, bad influences, and the internal struggle between them all, everything since has seen Kendrick pulled in about a hundred different directions as opposed to one or two.
‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ pushed Kendrick Lamar to the top of the pile. It was a sprawling future masterpiece that saw its creator storm his way up the rap food chain, blowing away the competition and leaving very few to dispute his crown. Thankfully, this newfound place at the top hasn’t dimmed King Kendrick’s fire one bit, and ‘untitled unmastered.’- an album of abandoned ideas and assorted oddities taken from various points between 2013 and 2016 - provides a fascinating glance at the whirlwind creative process of an artist currently bending the world to his every whim.
If To Pimp a Butterfly wasn't proof enough, untitled unmastered. is further proof that Kendrick Lamar has entered his art phase. He's just being weird now, and it's great.untitled unmastered. is actually a set of raw demos from the Butterfly recording sessions, and runs the gamut from bouncy West Coast funk to bop jazz to harsh soundscapes.
Few artists’ collections of offcuts would open with an epic vision of a divine, apocalyptic rapture, but Kendrick Lamar is in a period of extraordinary creative fertility right now. Last year’s ubiquitously lauded To Pimp a Butterfly was densely packed with ideas to the point it felt as though it was on the verge of brimming over – and this week’s surprise release, Untitled Unmastered, catches some of that overflow. Its eight untitled tracks were mostly recorded during the To Pimp a Butterfly sessions in late 2014, and range from casual studio demos to fully fledged, gorgeously produced songs as fleshed out as anything on the album they were cut from.
Back when he was just dropping these untitled songs on TV performances, one narrative held that Kendrick Lamar reigned so supremely that he could just let these sublime tracks lift into the ether without putting them on an album. But while that perspective honored his genius, it ignored King Kendrick’s intentionality. Elsewhere, there have been some takes connecting the surprise release of untitled unmastered.
It didn’t take the California State Senate to honour Kendrick Lamar as a cultural icon for the world to take notice. The California wordsmith is unprecedented, and his meteoric rise over the last few years has brought about an utter metamorphosis for the hip hop genre. Kendrick’s roguish decision to release untitled, unmastered the outtakes of his venerated To Pimp A Butterfly arrived in the form of a tweet, consequently altering more than a few weekend plans, and setting social media circuitry ablaze.
We're up to our molars in data-seas of dissonance, and most of us are flipping out, at least a bit. Why wouldn't our best artists mirror that? In the wake of Kanye's work-in-progress psychodrama comes this left-field Kendrick Lamar surprise drop – a similarly unfinished-feeling, just as all-over-the-place, yet somehow more decisively indecisive set, which functions as a victory lap following the triumph of To Pimp A Butterfly. "Pimp, pimp: hooray!" goes the cheer that reappears throughout the record.
Musicians, filmmakers, writers: every artist laments the work that winds up on the cutting-room floor. The difference between Kendrick Lamar and the rest of us is that his extra material is actually worth listening to. The eight tracks that make up Lamar’s surprise EP, Untitled Unmastered, which dropped Wednesday night, aren’t your typical castaways.
Has there ever been a time when the Internet didn’t get what it wanted? If things had gone the way Kendrick Lamar saw them going a year ago, the bundle of eight “untitled, unmastered” songs that popped up on the Web late Thursday night would have never seen the light of day. The collection of unreleased songs — undone, but far from leftovers — pull listeners right back into the web of jazz-soaked, funk-drunk internal conflict and social commentary as Lamar’s platinum-selling/streaming, Grammy-hoarding sophomore album, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” did a year ago. As a whole, they paint the same pictures as the one he started when he took the stage as the final musical guest on “The Colbert Report” one year ago this month: hair twists, black leather jacket covering a black hoodie, hand in his pocket holding a flask, with saxophonist-producer Terrace Martin, singers Bilal and Anna Wise, and bassist Thundercat surrounding him like a constellation.
FOR SUCH A NONDESCRIPT WORK, Untitled Unmastered is anything but. Filled to the brim with ideas and musical color, these eight songs aren’t deserving of the treatment they’ve received. No titles, no care, not even an identifiable cover—and yet, to almost any other artist not named Kendrick Lamar, these are career-defining tracks. To him, they’re outtakes, B-sides, one-off performance pieces.
Kendrick Lamar’s Untitled Unmastered is a master class in managing expectations. True to its title, each of the eight songs on Lamar’s surprise album is christened simply with a track number and a date, presumably (though not necessarily) signifying when they were recorded. Coupled with the no-frills packaging and nonexistent promotional campaign, it’s as if Lamar has gone out of his way to make it clear these were just some leftover tracks on his laptop, and that in no way should they be mistaken for the proper follow-up to 2015’s critic-awing, Grammy-winning, Obama-adored magnum opus To Pimp A Butterfly, a tough act to follow if ever there was one.
Obliging NBA superstar LeBron James' call for "those untitled tracks," Untitled Unmastered shouldn't be considered an uncalculated affair. In one of the better uses of B-sides in recent memory – if they could reasonably be called such – the Compton MC got the jump on March Madness 2016 with a creatively unhinged and politically charged salvo likely to rival any to follow. It also doubles as a thoughtful companion piece to four-time Grammy winner To Pimp a Butterfly from last year.
Kendrick Lamar performs at the 58th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on Feb. 15, 2016. Not bad for a bunch of leftovers -- not bad at all. In this era of surprise album releases, Kendrick Lamar dropped his latest project “Untitled, Unmastered” (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope) on Thursday with little advance notice.
It's that time again when writers Juan and Carl go through their previous month's custom playlists in search of a handful of albums that deserve your attention. After being a bit tough with some of last month's notable electronic offerings, it's curious to see that Juan's two highest scores out of ….
All true kings are fit for a crown, but the one that adorns the head of Kendrick Lamar is fashioned with thorns rather than precious metals and gemstones. Odds are that he wouldn’t have it any other way. As the great Ernest Hemingway once famously said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed,” and if there’s anyone in the rap game who gives of himself by allowing his thoughts to bleed onto the page, it’s King Kunta.
The most boring conversation in hip-hop right now is the album versus mixtape debate. Improved digital distribution and shifts in consumer behaviour over the past several years transformed mixtapes from what was often an uneven though often effective promotional tool into the primary source for rap music. Drake, Future, and Young Thug have done their fair share to complicate matters by further blurring the obsolete definition of what counts as an album with their 2015 and 2016 full-length projects.
Bathed in police-blue lights and with his hair twisted into jagged spikes, Kendrick Lamar delivered the first taste of ‘untitled unmastered.’ during an appearance on Stephen Colbert’s US TV show in September 2014. The Compton rapper twitched through a nameless track that depicted the white man as a music exec “selling me just for $10.99”, and appears on this surprise release fourth album as ‘untitled 03’. Sixteen months later, in January 2016, came an electrifying performance of ‘Untitled 2’ on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show.