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Untitled Unmastered Review
Everybody has a purpose on this earth. Kendrick Lamar was born to make music.
Kendrick Lamar (28) is arguably the best rapper in the game right now and he is showing no signs of slowing down any time soon. He was recently nominated for 11 grammys which was only one short of tying Michael Jackson’s record of twelve nominations. He shocked the hip-hop community by dropping a new album out of nowhere on March 3rd. Kendrick went against the grain with To Pimp a Butterfly and he continues to think outside the box with Untitled Unmastered. The album consists of eight tracks. These are throwaway tracks that did not make his last album To Pimp a Butterfly. Each track is ironically titled “untitled”. The only way to distinguish the tracks from each other is the order they are in and the date next to them. The date likely represents the day the song was created. The titling of the album may be simplistic but the music is far from it.
Kendrick kicks off the album with “untitled 01|08.19.2014”. On this track Kendrick is having a conversation with God and hoping he has done enough to make it into heaven. “ I fell to my knees, pulled out my resume That dated back to June 17th, 1987 My paperwork was like a receipt I was valedictorian, I was fearful of judgment But confident I had glory in all my past endeavors”. Kendrick tells God and listeners that his last album To Pimp a Butterfly was his shot at trying to save mankind from its own self-destruction. More specifically raising awareness about the injustices and unfair treatment of impoverished black communities. The production on this track and the whole album is very similar to what we got on To Pimp a Butterfly. You can hear the live jazz instrumentation on the track which isn’t traditional for hip-hop but Kendrick makes it work.
The second track “untitled 02 | 06.23.2014” is my favorite track on the album for many reasons. One the production on here is simply amazing. Overall the beat is light and mellow but every once in awhile we get a hit of drums and a deep bass that is so heavy it hits your soul. When I first heard this I was driving around with my friends and at the first bass drop our faces puckered up in awe and we simultaneously said “Oh my God!”. The contradiction between light and heavy on the beat mesh with each other beautifully. Kendrick uses various flows on this track. On the bridge and hook Kendrick stretches out his vocals and it sounds like his voice is cracking. The effect of the cracking voice gives the song an extra dimension of emotion. Kendrick’s second verse is where the magic happens. The beat stops when Kendrick raps “Cornrow Kenny he was born with a vision” and right after there is a beautiful beat drop and Kendrick continues his verse in a monotone flow which may reflect how he is feeling. In the song Kendrick is touching on the subject of his and Top Dawg Entertainment’s (the label he is signed to) success but he is not satisfied because he is unhappy about the state of his hometown Compton.
How do we measure success? Kendrick is asking this on “untitled 03 | 05.28.2013” which is the third track on the album. It was first performed on the The Colbert Report on December 2014. Kendrick cleverly touches on the definition of success for different cultures. “What the white man say? A piece of mine's That's what the white man wanted when I rhyme Telling me that he selling me just for $10.99”. Kendrick tells his listeners that his talent is being pimped by the “white man” for only $10.99 which is usually the cost of an album. This was a topic on his last album To Pimp a Butterfly. Despite the serious subject matter this is a feel good song sonically. It has a spacey feel to it and is something you would play cruising around on a nice summer day.
“untitled 04 | 08.14.2014” is merely an interlude but it makes powerful statements. “They say the government mislead the youth, youth, youth, youth”. The interlude focuses on the vocals of SZA who makes a guest appearance on here along with Lance Skiiiwalker who is rumored to be Jay Rock’s alter ego. The sounds on here are minimalistic. You could hear an acoustic guitar in the background but not much else. The interlude is a sageway for the next track “untitled 05 | 09.21.2014”. The production on this track is heavily jazz influenced. Imagine a jazz song with bass and that is basically what you get here. You can hear the saxophone, keys, trumpet, bass, and drums and they all mesh with each other majestically. On this track Kendrick inputs his thought on the black lives matter movement. “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”.
“untitled 06 | 06.30.2014” the subject matter here is completely different from the rest of the album. It is reminiscent of his song “i” which was on To Pimp a Butterfly. Kendrick tells the listener that he or she should love themselves no matter what. “I recommend every inch of your lunatic ways. Praise the lord, you teach the kids how to be themselves and plenty more”. We also get a guest appearance by CeeLo Green who shows off his vocals on the bridge. The production on this track is very upbeat and positive which compliments the subject matter nicely.
“untitled 07 | 2014-2016” is a masterpiece. It is made up of three parts. Each part is unique in its own way. The first part is my favorite. It brought me joy that I haven’t felt since I was a child. It had me grinning from ear to ear. The song starts off with a weird buzzing noise that reminds me of something from outer space. The song slowly builds off from that buzz and it begins to incorporate much harder noises such as drums and a bass so heavy it could shatter the windows of a car. Kendrick’s lyrics here are much simpler which makes it something you can play at a house party. On the second part of the song we have a beat change up. This second beat is much slower and less up in your face. Here it appears as if Kendrick is taking a shot at another rapper. “You sound frantic, I hear panic in your voice. Just know the mechanics of making your choice and writin' your bars. Before you poke out your chest, loosen your bra. Before you step out of line and dance with the star. I could never end a career if it never start”. This is rumored to be a shot at Jay Electronica who had called Kendrick his son on the social media app Periscope earlier this year. The final part of the song is not much of a song but it is still entertaining nonetheless. Kendrick is recorded having a good time singing in the studio. The listener can see Kendrick on a more personal level as he makes you feel as if you are in the studio with him. I will admit this part does drag on a bit and I tend to skip it.
Kendrick ends the album with “untitled 08 | 09.06.2014”. This song was first performed on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon earlier this year. This track continues the trend of jazz instruments. Why fix something if it isn’t broken right? Money is a very prominent theme in hip-hop songs however Kendrick does it differently than the rest. Rather than rapping about how much money he instead raps about how we may over exaggerate our financial issues. He cleverly sets up a conversation between himself and a man from a third world country. “You settle for everything, complain about everything. You say you sold crack, my world amphetamine. Your projects ain’t (expletive), I live in a hut bitch I'm living to keep warm, you living to pay rent”. Kendrick makes you realize that our “first world problems” are not problems at all and a lot of people in this world have it much worst.
All in all Untitled Unmastered proved that Kendrick Lamar is more than worthy of being crowned King Kendrick. He is in the prime of his career and on the top of the hip-hop world. I give this album a strong nine out of ten.