This past Thursday I learned something about myself. I learned how utterly excited I get when details of a new Kendrick Lamar album surface online. I then discovered how my excitement only intensifies to shocking levels when that very album is dropped merely hours later. To top everything off, the album is so good. It’s so good that I haven’t been able to stop listening to it since its release. Kendrick Lamar’s mind-bending untitled unmastered. is another essential offering from an essential artist.
untitled unmastered. is comprised of eight tracks that didn’t make the cut on his most recent instant classic, To Pimp a Butterfly, from 2015. While they may not have made it onto the album, they are incredibly strong in their own right. All the tracks are named “untitled” followed by their respective track number and mysterious dates. A couple of songs from untitled have been performed by Kendrick on various television appearances within the past year. These performances hinted to the treasures Kendrick has stored away from the world.
The opening cut hits listeners hard with apocalyptic imagery and a heavy ominous beat. “untitled 02 06.23.2014.” is a murky standout track that pairs well with the album cover’s swampy green texture. The fluttering saxophones and pianos that dance around the track make it clear that these songs come from the same creative mindset as To Pimp a Butterfly. Similar to “Untitled 02,” “Untitled 07 2014-2016.” employs the same intoxicated vibe and Kendrick boasts that “Love won’t get you high as this/Drugs won’t get you high as this.” While these tracks are dark and brooding, a number of tracks cut through with jittery, joyous soul and funk. Most notably, “Untitled 06 06.30.2014.” takes listeners to melodic heights with its chorus featuring CeeLo Green.
Even though these demos are a bit rough around the edges production-wise, Kendrick’s rapping skills are on full force here. In “Untitled 05 09.21.2014.” the beautiful horns, strings, pianos and tense bass lines lull listeners in only to have Kendrick blast them with his air-tight flow, bringing the song to whole new heights. “Untitled 03 05.28.2013.,” a song he performed on the Colbert Report, shows Kendrick rapping about race with astonishing fluidity.
Untitled unmastered. is remarkably well-crafted for a collection of demos and ideas. While it may not reach the heights of To Pimp a Buttefly or Good Kid M.A.A.D. City, it lets listeners get a rare glimpse into Kendrick’s creative process. Unsurprisingly, Kendrick’s creative process is just as worthy of praise as his finished albums.