Kendrick Lamar’s sparse activity in the past 12 months has been an intriguing conversion in hip-hop. Most rappers would find it difficult to leave the limelight after releasing such an acclaimed record as To Pimp a Butterfly, but aside from some excellent TV performances Kendrick has laid relatively low.
This in mind, untitled unmastered. is a pretty startling release, offering a natural extension to the poignant voice found on TPaB. This collection of demos, B-sides — whatever you’d want to call them — is still a level above many full-length albums released by Kendrick Lamar’s peers, and it’s a testament to his craft that the record sounds even mildly cohesive. As opposed to Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, untitled unmastered.’s incomplete nature is one of its most endearing qualities, providing an informative and rewarding insight into the man behind the magnificence of TPaB.
Due to the rough nature of its formation, this record offers as good an insight into Kendrick Lamar’s raw talent as any of his previous releases. The sheer versatility of his delivery and flow is encapsulated on “untitled 02”, smoothly shifting between melodic voice ascensions and soft segments of verse that play out like internal narration to a jazz-fuelled dream. His voice is the lead instrument of a beautiful arrangement, and you can’t help but be caught on every word.
It is abundantly clear that we are witnessing one of the all time great hip hop artists in his prime. As tempting as it is to delve deeply into the details of each track here, I’d suggest we simply sit back and appreciate another dose of Kendrick’s genius and ingenuity — such tremendous talent only comes around a few times in a generation.
8 out of 10
Can’t argue with more Kendrick. Refreshingly up-front about the jumble of its composition, untitled unmastered. is a welcome surprise and a worthy addition to Lamar’s already outrageous resume. Comprised mostly of dabbles and snippets from the formative months of To Pimp a Butterfly, this album embraces its patchwork nature and in doing so manages to sound more complete than many ‘real’ records do.
In the absence of production’s gloss what really characterises untitled unmastered. is its grit. It’s a bare bones album. The songwriting, instrumentals, and vocals are given an opportunity to shine on their own, and hearing them pieced together in such an informal, unpretentious package is extremely gratifying. Kendrick’s mess has its own unique value — “untitled 02” and “untitled 07” being particularly potent examples. It’s in that framing that the album works, and that’s fine.
This is one of the better B-side works you’re ever likely to hear — frenetic, compelling, and gorgeously packaged — but it doesn’t transcend the genre. Not that anyone seems to care, or should. Informal, sloppy genius is still genius. Not many people could make three minutes of fucking around singing ‘head is the answer’ profound and lovely and moving, but Kendrick’s a talented man.
7 out of 10
Here’s my disclaimer before we go any further: if this release had been abysmal, I would’ve been very kind to it. B-side releases are typically hit and miss after all; it’s usually obvious why the tracks had been discarded in the first place. The good news? I don’t need be sympathetic, I don’t need to skirt around ugly truths, I don’t need to polish a turd. The sweepings from To Pimp a Butterfly‘s cutting room floor include some treasures, all threaded together in a surprisingly consistent package.
Many of the tracks here have all the hallmarks of tracks from TPaB: a healthy list of featured artists, jazz infused hip-hop with experimentation blurring the genre lines throughout. It’s cracking. Kendrick’s delivery is as impressive and varied as ever, with “untitled 02” making for the first highlight of the release, with a memorable ‘Get God on the phone’ line and silky smooth ryhthm making it earworm-worthy. The majority of tracks range from solid Kendrick Lamar jams to tracks that would’ve felt right at home on TPaB. “untitled 07” starts with the makings of a sulky, catchy hit, before breaking off into a grainier, soulful outpouring from Lamar, and finally diverges again into an even grainier audio recording of Kendrick jamming with a group on what turned into “untitled 04”; it’s a semi-epic of a song, but it makes for another good highlight.
All in all, it’s a great collection of tracks which, despite the nature of the collection, don’t feel disjointed next to each other. My only real disappointment is knowing how unlikely it is that we’ll see anything here finished and released, as I feel some tracks really deserved it. All that’s left to say is ‘PIMP PIMP!’ ‘Hooray!’
8 out of 10