“Untitled” may be true of these eight tracks, which are labeled by their recording dates rather than by any traditional name. But “unmastered” is an outrageous stretch. The man behind them, the great Kendrick Lamar, has long since established himself as the master of this decade in hip-hop, and unequivocally sealed the deal last year with the release of To Pimp a Butterfly, the most universally-acclaimed rap album this side of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
This EP, featuring material culled together from the cutting-room floor of Butterfly’s recording sessions, inevitably lacks the narrative cohesion of its full-length predecessor. Still, Kendrick Lamar’s signature flair and versatility make their way onto this collection fully intact, and what more could fans have to ask for?
Listen: “untitled 07 levitate” – Kendrick Lamar
The man may not have much to prove anymore, inasmuch as he could retire tomorrow and still be held in high regards within the hip-hop community for generations to come. Yet you would never have guessed it with the incredible fury and determination that Kendrick brings to the one-verse album opener, which finds the rapper contemplating his role as a man of God and a hip-hop icon. Kendrick has usually not been particularly braggy, but when he addresses what a significant release To Pimp a Butterfly was for him personally and for his many followers, divine or otherwise, it is hard to deny just how much he has earned those bragging rights.
For such a gritty Compton-born lyricist, Kendrick sure knows how to keep his music melodious. The fifth track is padded by an immensely soothing blend of jazz, funk, and vocals by Anna Wise, who has now collaborated with Kendrick on at least three occasions, and the man himself delivers the same stunner of a verse which he debuted at the Grammy Awards earlier this year. Soul champion Cee-Lo Green shows up on the following track, which the two artists reportedly spent quite some time working on but never quite managed to get right in time for To Pimp a Butterfly. Yet the final product is certainly a musical gem of a track.
Love won’t get you high as this
Drugs won’t get you high as this
Fame won’t get you high as this
Chains won’t get you high as this
Juice won’t get you high as this
Crew won’t get you high as this
Hate won’t get you high as this
Levitate, levitate, levitate, levitate
“untitled 07 | 2014-2016” – Kendrick Lamar
A few minor flaws are peppered here and there. The acoustic outro on the final track drags on a bit too long, and Kendrick adopts his kinda-irritating high-pitched voice a few too many times, especially on the second track. Thankfully, these imperfections are redeemed by the incredible amount of what this record does indeed get right. Kendrick never shows fear in tackling tough topics, and untitled unmastered finds him lashing out on America’s past and present racial turmoil as convincingly as his previous material has done.
“Genocism and capitalism just made me hate,” he says disdainfully of the the American establishment. “Correctionals and these private prisons gave me a date. Professional dream killers [are the] reason why I’m awake.” As the rapper continues to make his way through the fields of challenging subject matters of this nature (“A piece of mines/ That’s what the white man wanted when I rhyme/ Telling me that he selling me just for $10.99…”), it is clear that his bravery and outspokenness have been as key to his success as his actual talent on the mic.
I’m passin’ lives on a daily, maybe I’m losing faith
Genocism and capitalism just made me hate
Correctionals and these private prisons gave me a date
Professional dream killers reason why I’m awake
I’m sleep walkin’, I’m street stalkin’, I’m outta place
Reinforcing this heat barking, these are the brakes
Before I blink do I see me before them pearly gates?
Or this is just a mirage or a facade
“untitled 05 | 09.21.2014” – Kendrick Lamar
On To Pimp a Butterfly, the repeated refrain which closed out many of the tracks was, “I remember you was conflicted… misusing your influence….” In the case of untitled unmastered, the refrain is simpler and more exuberant: a group chant of “pimp, pimp, hooray!” Rap fans everywhere should feel compelled to join in this cheer: the reigning champion of the music they love has drawn upon his scattered collection of demos and unused vocals, and somehow transformed them into a half-hour of incredibly exciting and intricate new music. Kendrick Lamar’s reign in the Kingdom of Rap shows no sign of ending any time soon.