Album Review: Untitled Unmastered by Kendrick Lamar

Compton rapper, Kendrick Lamar, arguably has the best batting average in the rap game at this point in time. Section.80, Good Kid M.a.a.D City, To Pimp a Butterfly; every project he drops gets bigger, better and more ambitious than the last. Kendrick has made himself into a household name in the past few years winning multiple Grammies and performing on several mainstream late night television shows. This level of pop culture stardom is rarely reached by artists who hail from the hip-hop community. Kendrick is on track to permanently imprint his legacy on rap music since it’s common to hear comparisons between his work and the likes of hip-hop moguls like Biggie Smalls, Tupac Shakur and Jay Z.

Having said that, a very quick look at his most recent album, Untitled Unmastered, indicates that Kendrick is not releasing a project on his typical level. Everything from the blobby dark green cover art to the unnamed track list and even the title itself, Untitled Unmastered, shows that the album we are about to listen to consists of b-sides or extras from his last project, To Pimp a Butterfly. Before embarking on this album, keep in mind that it consists entirely of songs that didn’t make the cut, are post-project afterthoughts or are live versions of songs that never appeared in his discography. If anything else this album is evidence that the last few years have been such a deeply creative time for Kendrick that even his extras are worthy of their own project.

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To me, this project illustrates that Kendrick Lamar is not just a rapper but a true artist in every sense of the word. Kendrick creates interesting fusions of grimy hip-hop, jazz, soul and funk, which he uses to deliver a thought provoking social commentary. He explores these complex themes and ideas by showcasing his vocal range. In one instant he can be rapping in a languid almost nasally tone and then he can immediately switch along with the beat to a more baritone, smooth and rapid style. The effect is overwhelmingly impressive and when paired with elements of trap, which are present throughout the project, one can’t help but nod along. I’m referring to “untitled 02” which is easily my favorite song and a must listen for any hip-hop fan. His background and roots afford Kendrick an authentic perspective into the lives of minorities growing up in the hood. His mystic storytelling conjures images of a young Kendrick toeing the line between responsibility and lawbreaking as he struggles with religion, alcoholism, systemic racism and violence.

The entire album doesn’t overstay its welcome and only covers a 35 minute run time. Due to the nature of these tracks, you can expect a few structurally half-baked songs with abrupt endings or lengthy unplanned studio moments like on “untitled 07”. However, that’s kind of the point of the entire project. If these tracks were cleaned up and groomed to the production level of To Pimp a Butterfly, it would feel redundant. Kendrick is purposefully giving us that experience in the raw; he’s removing the safety net that artists put under themselves with flashy production and precise editing. Instead he’s giving us these extra tracks with a very live in the moment sound.

On the whole, this project is very good and adds a sultry layer to Kendrick’s already stellar discography. As an entire piece it’s very messy, all over the place and works only in the capacity that this is a detour before his next sound, his next concept and his next project.

- Nicholas Blasiak

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