An artist of Kendrick Lamar’s stature is a rare find. He challenges listeners while shamelessly alienating those that don’t understand the cultural push. As the saying goes, “Give them what they need, it may not be what they want,” and that’s exactly what Kendrick has done with just two studio albums. Good Kid, m.A.A.d City flawlessly captured his life and his experiences growing up in Compton. He could’ve kept this concept running with his follow-up To Pimp A Butterfly, but he used his platform to shed light on issues bigger than him. It was a selfless action that awarded him quite nicely, including 11 Grammy nominations and 5 wins. untitled unmastered. was birthed from To Pimp A Butterfly recording sessions, and perhaps even prior session as well. They are raw, uncut, and unfinished, but over the course of 35 minutes, the 8-track project drives home the point that there is nothing ordinary about Kendrick Lamar.
Like TPAB, Jazz is a heavy influence on this project. The instruments help to usher in Lamar’s lyrics on the well-crafted “untitled 01 | 08.19.2014,” and serve as a rich backdrop for his brash delivery. He not only sounds off on the current state of the world, but acknowledges his last album’s importance to the black community. “I made To Pimp a Butterfly ‘fore you told me to use my vocals to save mankind for you,” he reflects. It’s a testament to not only his contributions, but his awareness of much-needed change. But with his newfound success comes the battle of keeping his priorities in tact. His riches have granted him unimaginable opportunities, and this is where he relies on his crew to keep it in perspective for him. “untitled 02 | 06.23.2014” helps to drive this point, all the while calling on a higher power to make sure he remains focused. The track is probably the first time Kendrick exposes the possibility of being effected by his fame.
Although the project might seem thrown together on the surface, each track is well calculated in structure. Features aren’t the focus here, but those that do contribute, help to shape the sound. TDE’s Punch provided an excellent verse on “untitled 05 | 09.21.2014,” accompanied by the solid backdrop of Terrace Martin’s saxophone. There, he focuses on his own unraveling but shares it in hopes of clarity, while Jay Rock briefly trades bars with Kendrick by the song’s closing. Cee-Lo Green brings his soothing vocals to track 6, where the focus is self-love. If there were to be a highlight single, this would definitely be it, whereas track 7 is an eight-minute, three-part experience. Part II of it may be the primary focus, seeing as how it was incredibly produced by Swizz Beatz’ 5-year-old son, Egypt. K Dot uses the instrumental as a backdrop to forewarn all naysayers, maybe one person in particular: (“before you step out the line and dance with the star, I could never end a career if it never start.”)
untitled unmastered. doesn’t seem to aim high purposely, but somehow still captures all of what makes Kendrick polarizing. This project, if his others didn’t, surely separates him from his peers. He manages to be vulnerable on rare occasion, but happens to be more confident than ever before. It was seemingly released as a Jordan shrug to the competition that may be lingering, as if to say, “my throwaways are better than your catalogs.” But a deeper listen shows an artist simply sharing his creative process. Even if it just so happens to be monumental.