By Daniel Elliott /// Backdoor Editor
On Thursday, March 3, Kendrick Lamar unexpectedly dropped his 5th project/album/mixtape/B-Side collection or whatever you want to call it, I’m not really sure. Sporting flat, washed out, swampy-green cover art and equally spartan name, Untitled Unmastered might give the impression of a low-effort project. And yet, just as good kid, m.A.A.d city managed to present a complicated story of drugs, violence and growing up under the disguise of anthems and hard hitting bangers, there is more to Untitled Unmastered than meets the eye.
The origins of the album are strange to say the least. One song from the project, “Untitled 3”, was first unveiled months before To Pimp a Butterfly was released, when Kendrick delivered it with emphatic force on the final episode of The Colbert Report, while promoting his forthcoming album. But when TPAB was eventually released, the track was nowhere to be found. Terrence Martin (a producer and instrumentalist who’s worked with Kendrick Lamar in the past) said in an interview that recordings of the song “don’t even exist nowhere in the world but The Colbert Report.”
Several other verses from Untitled Unmastered premiered in performances on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and the Grammys, also without any stated intention of releasing them in electronic form. Then, all of the sudden, the CEO of Lamar’s record label dropped a hint that a new project might be underway, before promptly shutting the lid on any more speculation. Internet forums went crazy, fans were skeptical and even NBA star Lebron James begged Kendrick to release whatever it was he had locked up in the studio. Then, with no real promotion or warning, Untitled Unmastered showed up on the iTunes store and this strange compilation/abandoned-recording-sessions/album-that-maybe-almost-didn’t-happen is in our hands.
The reviews have been pretty positive across the board. The album, it seems, was a success, but there is a temptation to say, “well, it’s no To Pimp A Butterfly” and disregard it as an afterthought, a victory lap after a successful year for Kendrick Lamar. And it would not be incorrect to say that the lyrics, the beats, the production and the mastering are not quite as refined, neatly strung along or carefully placed. One should not, however, mistake time spent ruminating for quality. I would honestly say that Untitled Unmastered is more enjoyable to listen to than TPAB.
Concise and sharp, the project is a good breather after such an intense full-length album. But more than that, Untitled Unmastered continues the ideas and themes of To Pimp A Butterfly extremely well. Kendrick’s smooth rapping and crisp lyrics, laid over jazzy infused production and reverberating bass-lines, are just as present as before, returning to the theme of newfound success in a world of racism and exploitation.
Far from sounding like a broken record, Kendrick Lamar’s new album reiterates the issues he has faced with extra emphasis. One need only take a look at their Facebook feed to see that just because a year has passed since To Pimp A Butterfly doesn’t mean that the world has become any less hostile to people of color and through the clean rhymes and scorching beats, Kendrick Lamar’s message still rings out with indignation.
9 blue faces out of 10