Music

Kendrick Lamar: untitled unmastered

After a year of artistic triumph, Kendrick Lamar delves deeper into his thoughts and anxieties on an album that is anything but a lazy victory lap.


Kendrick Lamar

untitled unmastered

Label: Aftermath / Interscope
US Release Date: 2016-03-04
UK Release Date: 2016-03-04
Amazon
iTunes

Under normal circumstances, there would be no reason to get excited over untitled unmastered. After all, this is just a collection of leftover songs, an odds-and-ends collection that may have made for a cool mixtape. But not every rapper is Kendrick Lamar, the undisputed best rapper in the world right now. Coming after the tremendous To Pimp a Butterfly, one wouldn’t have expected Kendrick to come back so fast with new music. After all, Butterfly had a lengthy gestation period following his breakthrough, good kid M.A.A.D. City. Yet here we are, a year after Butterfly took the music world by storm, and Kendrick has presented a surprisingly cohesive collection of leftover tracks. While untitled unmastered isn’t the same sort of daring artistic statement as its immediate predecessor, its insular feel highlights what makes Kendrick such a unique talent.

In releasing this album in a surprise fashion, one could argue that Kendrick is deliberately lowering the stakes for himself here. Furthermore, much of the material on untitled unmastered clearly occupies the same musical and lyrical headspace of its predecessor, and anyone who followed Kendrick’s talk-show performances will likely recognize a few of these songs. Rather than cast-offs, though, these tracks feel more like missing pieces, a lost link between the insular world of Kendrick’s Compton and the wider world in which he was uncomfortably thrust. They encapsulate fear, anger, grief, and hope in an open and direct way.

Like its predecessor, untitled unmastered deals with Kendrick’s questions about what it means to be young, famous and black in a world where being young and black is a sadly dangerous proposition. Kendrick tries in vain to look for answers on “untitled 03", but different philosophies and modes of thought offer him no comfort (especially not the white capitalist intent on commodifying and selling Kendrick’s talent for a tidy profit). In some ways, untitled unmastered gives us an even more liberated Kendrick Lamar: free of the constraints of the typical album and the demands of crafting a deliberate narrative, Kendrick gives us more concentrated bursts of thoughtful anger.

Anger may not be the right word, though. Frustration may be the more appropriate word. In this, untitled unmastered is more of a full post-script to Butterfly as opposed to a collection of rejects. The album opens with Kendrick asking for salvation, wondering if he’s done enough in his life to earn it. This plea is immediately followed by indulgence on “untitled 02” as Kendrick laments how his grand message fell on the ears of people who want him to buy shit, enjoy his fame and stop thinking about life. That core conflict between embracing earthly pleasures and looking for something more important is accentuated by the foreboding G-funk and jazz samples that permeate the album. At times, especially on the sinewy “untitled 05", it feels as if Kendrick is deliberately undercutting his music, shouting aggressively over smooth bass and drums to remind himself and us that things aren’t as okay as we think.

Very little about untitled unmastered is polished: one track fades out with an extended, demo-quality outtake of Kendrick and his band in the studio, and repeated chants of “Pimp pimp! Hooray!” are the only things tying many of these songs into a whole. Yet this doesn’t have the ramshackle, hastily-assembled feel of, say, The Life of Pablo. untitled may have an amount of unfinished, scattered ideas, yet it still feels essential and vital. There’s no narrative, and the music may not be as rich as we know it can be, but Kendrick Lamar can still command attention like no other. Even in this concentrated, pared-down form, the music of Kendrick Lamar doesn’t cease to amaze.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
By the Book

Jack Halberstam's 'Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire' (excerpt)

Enjoy this excerpt of Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire, wherein Jack Halberstam offers an alternative history of sexuality by tracing the ways in which wildness has been associated with queerness and queer bodies throughout the 20th century.

Jack Halberstam
Music

Sotto Voce's 'Your Husband, the Governor' Is Beautifully Twisted DIY Indie Folk-rock

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Gabos releases another odd, gorgeous home studio recording under the moniker Sotto Voce.

Music

Numün's 'voyage au soleil' Is a Trippy, Ambient Ride and Ambitious Debut

Eclectic instrumental trio numün combine a wealth of influences to create a vibe that's both spacey and earthy on voyage au soleil.

Music

L7's 'Smell the Magic' Is 30 and Packs a Feminist Punch

Abortion is under threat again, and there's a sex offender in the Oval Office. A fitting time, in short, to crank up the righteously angry vocals of feminist hard rock heavy hitters like L7.

Books

Can Queer Studies Rescue American Universities?

Matt Brim's Poor Queer Studies underscores the impact of poorer disciplines and institutions, which often do more to translate and apply transformative intellectual ideas in the world than do their ivory-tower counterparts.

Music

Jim White Offers a "Smart Ass Reply" (premiere)

Jesus and Alice Cooper are tighter than you think, but a young Jim White was taught to treat them as polar opposites. Then an eight-track saved his soul and maybe his life.

Music

Ed Harcourt Paints From 'Monochrome to Colour'

British musician Ed Harcourt's instrumental music is full of turbulent swells and swirls that somehow maintain a dignified beauty on Monochrome to Colour.

Music

West London's WheelUP Merges Broken Beat and Hip-Hop on "Stay For Long" (premiere)

West London producer WheelUP reached across the pond to Brint Story to bring some rapid-fire American hip-hop to his broken beat revival on "Stay For Long".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 4: Stellie, The Brooks, Maude La​tour

Today's playlist features the premiere of Stellie's "Colours", some top-class funk from the Brooks, Berne's eco-conscious electropop, clever indie-pop from Maude Latour, Jaguar Jonze rocking the mic, and Meresha's "alien pop".

Culture

Plattetopia: The Prefabrication of Utopia in East Berlin

With the fall of the Berlin Wall came the licence to take a wrecking ball to its nightmare of repression. But there began the unwritten violence of Die Wende, the peaceful revolution that hides the Oedipal violence of one order killing another.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Electrosoul's Flõstate Find "Home Ground" on Stunning Song (premiere)

Flõstate are an electrosoul duo comprised of producer MKSTN and singer-songwriter Avery Florence that create a mesmerizing downtempo number with "Home Ground".

Music

Orchestra Baobab Celebrate 50 Years with Vinyl of '​Specialist in All Styles'

As Orchestra Baobab turn 50, their comeback album Specialist in All Styles gets a vinyl reissue.

Music

Hot Chip Stay Up for 'Late Night Tales'

Hot Chip's contribution to the perennial compilation project Late Night Tales is a mixed bag, but its high points are consistent with the band's excellence.

Music

The Budos Band Call for Action on "The Wrangler" (premiere)

The Budos Band call on their fans for action with the powerful new track "The Wrangler" that falls somewhere between '60s spy thriller soundtrack and '70s Ethiojazz.

Music

Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" Ruminates on Our Second-Guesses (premiere)

A deep reflection on breaking up, Nashville indie rock/Americana outfit Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" is the most personal track from their new album, Home Team.

Books

For Don DeLillo, 'The Silence' Is Deafening

In Don DeLillo's latest novel, The Silence, it is much like our post-pandemic life -- everything changed but nothing happened. Are we listening?

Music

Brett Newski Plays Slacker Prankster on "What Are You Smoking?" (premiere)

Is social distancing something we've been doing, unwittingly, all along? Brett Newski pulls some pranks, raises some questions in "What Are You Smoking?".


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.