Review: Kendrick Lamar’s “untitled unmastered”

Untitled unmastered Photo Credit: googleimages
Blank Canvas: Kendrick's B-Sides
Blank Canvas: Kendrick’s B-Sides

Like he done last year with To Pimp a Butterfly, without warning Kendrick Lamar has dropped a surprise release.

Get ready for untitled unmastered.

Less of an album more of an 8-song EP of B-sides and demos left untitled apart from the years in which the track was recorded.

It’s been less than a year since the Grammy-winning To Pimp a Butterfly was released to critical and commercial acclaim. In some circles TPAB was heralded as superior to Lamar’s previous album, the multi-platinum good kid MAAD city.

Kendrick’s had the kind of year anyone would be proud of. He got to assist his mentor Dr Dre on Compton, his first album in sixteen years,  TPAB winning Best Rap Album at the Grammys and having a sit-down with and interviewing President Obama.

Not bad for a humble young man from Compton.

On untitled unmastered Kendrick presents another, much rawer, much more abstract version of the TPAB template.

From the outset on the first track untitled 01, amongst the sparse cymbals crashing and eerie horns bleating, Lamar sounds bemused yet defiant with the biting quirkiness found in lyrics explaining his past as valedictorian, claiming TPAB was his form of tithe to the fans and acknowledging he rejected the allure of club-hopping and opted for consciousness.

The next three tracks follow in the same vein, with the thump and thud of funky George Clintonesque basslines we get jazz flutes that nearly block out Kendrick’s voice, which is sometimes intentional like with untitled 04’s whispered verses.

The production here is a more confident slice of what TPAB offered, with Kendrick allowing the music to work with the verses, bridges and choruses, even if that means the listener’s ear may become more attentive to the music rather than the lyrics.

That’s not to say the rapper’s words have lost their power to enthral.

On the EP’s highlight untitled 05 we get some of Lamar’s most blistering lyrics yet.

“See, I’m livin’ with anxiety, duckin’ the sobriety/Fuckin’ up the system I ain’t fuckin’ with society/Justice ain’t free, therefore justice ain’t me”

Untitled 07’s 8-minutes may stretch the listener’s patience and veers on the side of over-indulgence. Lamar loses the run of himself and allows the Frank Zappa like saxophone and trumpets to meander aimlessly until the proceedings are rounded off with someone crooning about bedding someone else’s mother.

The album closes with the poppiest song here, the upbeat unititled 08 is reminiscent of a track from Pharrell Wiliiams’ GIRL (2014).

By no means is the project perfect but still it’s an original little reminder of Kendrick’s obvious talent.

4/5