ALBUM REVIEW: Kendrick Lamar – 'untitled unmastered'

It’s not even Easter but nevertheless King Kendrick has thrown untitled unmastered out into the world with 8 untitled demo tracks that didn’t make it onto his 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly, ‘Pimp, Pimp, Hooray’! The album continues its political and psychological themes, making it clear that Lamar wants to move more than booties in a club.

This years Grammys saw one of the best performances of the last decade: in chains, Kendrick Lamar walked in a jail outfit to the microphone. With a dark expression on his face, he rapped The Blacker The Berry and Alright, concluding with a then-unknown track. For his moving and almost obsessed performance the startled audiences responded with a standing ovation. What makes this more bizarre is the fact that Lamar denunciated the same greedy music industry that now applauses him. Once again Lamar predicts true what he so often denounces: the message of his music is quickly forgotten in the Grammy atmosphere. But because of the performance, Lebron James himself called on Kendrick via Twitter to publish what have been previously unreleased tracks. Et voilà: less than a week later, we have untitled unmastered, a deep insight into his creative process.

Lamar again tells stories about religion and spirituality, the institutionalised oppression of black people in the US and Kendrick’s personal contradiction between the glory of the acclaimed rap superstars and the hard reality on the streets of his hometown Compton. With its sober observation about grievance and Lamar’s brutally honest self-reflection, untitled unmastered is more than a simple bonus track album.  “Untitled 05 |. 09.21.2014“, a psychological description of a man broken by alcohol, justice and self hate, is the album’s height with its stoic bass and arbitrary jazz sound paired with the contrasts of voices between Lamar, Jay Rock and Terrence “Punch“ Henderson. “Untitled 02 |. 06.23.2014″ varies every second in voice and flow, describing Lamar’s brilliance perfectly to combine the most contradictions with each other and still create coherence.

Songs like “Untitled 03 |. 05.28.2013” offer a finished sound but didn’t make the cut for To Pimp a Butterfly, for obvious reasons. Kendrick meets four people from different cultures” they all offer advice on how to best deal with wealth and fame. The Asian wants to meditate; the Indian wants land; the black man wants ‘girls’; the white, representing the music industry wants maximum profit. Unfortunately the song doesn’t offer a deeper meaning besides these stereotypes. According to the description, “Untitled 07 | 2014-2016” was worked on for several years and consists out of three different track sketches. In between, Kendrick’s crew can be heard laughing and talking, which makes the track more of a jam session than a finished song. But that doesn’t take its effect as a feeling of tension builds up if you get the feeling of looking a true master over his shoulder during his work.

Freed from the conventional forms of the music industry, Kendrick Lamar drifts away casually in his creativity finding new inspiration.  The album has a real impact: at the end, you don’t even know what to say, because everything has already been said by Kendrick Lamar. Nothing would do justice to his creative energy, brilliantly packed social criticism and musical importance for the industry.

Review by Carolin Wolfsdorf