I'm a bit late on this one, it popped out unexpectedly while I was away. As far as I know, it's a collection of unused stuff from To Pimp a Butterfly... everyone had a sense that this sort of stuff was lurking, as it cropped up in his (insta-legendary) show performances, and CDQs mysteriously soundtracked random Instagram videos and stuff. It makes sense that there was some leftovers - TPAB was very thematically tight, but the amount of talent and energy involved in its creation would be tragically restricted if it was left only to that. Heh, "only" the pan-genre musical odyssey that was TPAB. But you get what I mean.
Lots of people feared that we might never get to hear these tracks properly. And if it wasn't for LeBron James, we might not have??? There's something pretty incredible about the attitude Kendrick seems to have regarding this whole situation. Had he put so much into these performances that he didn't understand the demand for the tracks themselves? Had he been unwilling to detract attention from the message of TPAB to the extent that he didn't want to release anything that would dilute that focus? Had he simply "moved on"? The mystery and surprise stands in stark contrast to the TLOP release, which was so ceremonious and mindbogglingly prolonged that I can't help but talk about it now. From this, we might be able to extrapolate two extremely different attitudes towards the artistic process: Kanye's careening multimedia explosion, believing that he should share the frenzy that drives him; and Kendrick's understated passion, believing that only the music, the final product, is worthy of such reverence...
Despite this, the two share similar thrones in hip hop, each blessing us with music that is meaningful and dense without losing a sense of urgent, gripping musicality. With all of TLOP's high-publicity false starts and reworks, it seems like an album of unused, unheard, untitled, unmastered "scraps" would be a perfect counterpart. It goes right down to the album covers itself - untitled unmastered.'s calm olive green, with "realistic" fading and discolouration, and one repetition of the title, vs Kanye's blaringly orange, computer-forefronted, and many many repetitions of the title. At this point, I feel like my dreams of an anti-TLOP, equal in quality but opposite in intent, are growing weird and unbounded, so let's figure it out by actually listening to the album~~
Kendrick Lamar - untitled unmastered.
1. untitled 1
Ahh yeah, here we go... I'd love a sort of "session-y" live sound from this record, and I'm already getting it... Oh man, these vocals too, really feels like he's hitting on someone at the bar of a jazz place, I love. Woah super echoey, oh man and then going ridiculously hard right away, of course, that's our Kendrick. The way the beat went into the loop is sick OH MAN THAT PIANO. "Atheists for suicide, planes falling out the sky", Jesus wow I can't keep up. It's happening! It's happening!! "War, I've seen it vividly", this is a real vision. Real revelations shit. "Who love you like I love you", "Crucifix, who can you fix?", the last trumpet and shit... how can this album start with the end of the world? Running in place, trying to get to church. Nuts. Oh man and these slight synths at the end? Woahaha wait wait there's a whole like... outro thing... this is an emotional tenor I don't think I understood before... Oh man is that some ANNA WISE the most underappreciated element of Kendrick's success?? **
2. untitled 2
PIMP PIMP HOORAY oh my god you gotta be kidding me HAHAHA this is nuts and this HORN COMING IN, kendrick wholly feeling himself on this one. "Get God on the phone!", oh man I loooove this sort of voice. And this really minimal beat, with those tight trappy drums, and that wandering instrumentation... "It's a tidal wave, it's a thunderdome", ahhhhhHHHHHH oh man the doubling at like 1:10 is nutty, completely nutty. "You was never the homie" feels so condemning... Jesus how does he structure tracks like this so well? I'm on the edge of my seat, but it's so smooth, so flowing. Now going what the hell super in on his most relaxed flow ever, just how free is this to him now? Pac the father figure... The themes of apocalypse and planes crashing still haunt it... LEVEL TWO I'M NOT DONE, wait this verse is the same one he did on uhh Jimmy Fallon?? I hope that full song is here too tho. Oh man... the escalation... that piano outro... what the hell. Who doing the drums?? Putting them on the album too ayyy **
3. untitled 3
Oooh this is a fun one, I love that synth, so "scrubby", idk how to say it more sensibly. OH is this the one from the Colbert report??? The "what did the _______ say?" one? I remember this, this has become like legendary. "A piece of pussy" ayyyy, the way he said that was so good. This is so funky, this is like a little "bonus" for King Kunta maybe. Oh MAN the way the beat "comes up" around 1:40 is nuts, and the flow around 1:50? Does he have an infinite amount of flows? Oh no i think that was actually just someone else LOL. *
4. untitled 4
woah wait what was that super fast whispered part? This is... pretty haunting... Oh man that bass, with this sort of a capella harmonizing... "Head is the answer, head is the future"? I am pretty sure this isn't about fellatio. Ahh wow this is sick, this is so cool, this is just the boiling point in a song. OH at 1:10, that sudden swell, this is a sort of restraint I associate more with post-rock, that sort of anticipation hahahaha. Pure sonic power here. Straight up. *
5. untitled 5
Yooooooooo wowaaaaaaaaaahhhh this is sick, this has almost the appeal of... i cant believe im saying it... vaporwave??? That sort of peaking nostalgia feeling... long forgotten energy... Anna Wise hell yeah this is so nice, this is like... so deep within a sound, so underwater almost. "That means the world to me"... I think it's something about how they do the drums. "I GOT ONE HUNDRED ON MY DASH TWO HUNDRED ON MY TRUNK" holy shit I didn't expect this hahahaha oh man. The rapping equivalent of those crazy sax runs... Jesus Kendrick, on some suffering "u" shit again, I gotta hope he's gotten better in the 1.5 years since this was recorded lol. Oh is this Ab-Soul? I think so. I like him, his super laid back flow... "I pray my experience helped you", what a beautiful idea. Aw yes it's THIS flow, Kendrick's GOD FLOW, with the jay rock??? contrasts?? hell yeah this is the dream, "capitalism just made me hate" hell yeah comrade, "Before I blink I see me before them pearly gates" ahhh wow. **
6. untitled 6
Aw yeah a super-version of the flow I was just praising... Oh man the FUNK is coming, I feel it with me. Oh man and these drums too... it has that perfect continuous session energy that I love, they're just having fun with it! is this some CEE LO GREEN? the SOUL MACHINE? hell yeah! He sounds so good on stuff like this, and if he gets the room for a big "Liberation"-style barn burner I'm gonna flip out. But prolly not and that's OK. Strange baby Kendrick, I can't even imagine. "Look at my flaws", is he praising his mom? I think so. That's really nice... yeah hell yeah, good for you Kendrick, you understand it. This is really nice. Just wanna vibe out to this for 20-40 hours. This sort of loopy cascading energy at the end, so hypnotic... *
7. untitled 7
woah 8 minutes. PIMP PIMP HOORAY, holy shit i just can't believe it. the meaning of such a thing is well beyond me LOL. Alright here we go. Spookity sounds. Oh man. We're about to get really high, I guess. Levitate, levitate. Oh man the repetition in this voice, he's feeling it, whatever it is... oh man and the expansion into this... "For Free won't get you high", I love this self-reference... Ohh man the panning... holy shit "shut your fucking mouth and get some cash you bish", the structure of this is so elusive, I am so compelled, I want to hear something explode out of this. Or even if it's a "revolution 9" sort of soundscape that would be cool too... Woah WHAT this is like... medieval choral stuff. "Compton is where I'm from", what the hAhhO Owghja those DRUMS are hitting me right in the soul. Okay here comes the crusher verse, I'm feeling Control-tier. "You niggas fear me like I fear God" aaaaaaAAAAA. "I could never end a career if it never start", who is that in reference to? ahhh yes. "Until my next album more power to ya" and then the gun shots, that "Sing About Me" trick still physically hurts. Okay cool woah uh. Where to from here, though? This is some cellphone core. "This is a 15 minute song, we just jammin out", hellll yeah. I feel that. Is this... super old maybe? Freaking out about 100k downloads? What an amazing feeling that must be. My blog isn't even at 100k views and it's been around for like 8 years lmao. Oh this goes back into... untitled 4, right? This is nice, nice and friendly. This must be the real fun times. This must be the feeling that's higher than all others. Just hanging out and making music together. What really could be better? Ha oh man at 7:20... I'm just having fun with it-core, the best genre of all time. "And she gonna get this dick too" hahahaha. So nice, so nice. I wonder if he ever thought about ending TPAB with this? **
8. untitled 8
oh HELL YEAH, those synths??? that "wahh wahhh" funk synths? oh man i know this one! Blue faces!! This is the Fallon one?? I guess?? So I guess he performed a mashup of that and untitled 2? That makes sense, he often does stuff like that. This is sick man, his sort of jumpy staccato flow is so enthralling. And the story he tells... this sort of economic failing, a sort of hole in a person, and looking for what persists... At 2:20, I think he started going "nuts" on the live version, but here it's a different sort of emotion... determination, maybe. "Bitch I made my moves with shackled feet" is so powerful. Idk if he's gonna say the "I love speed" line, I uh, I really felt that one on the live performance. I thought "oh, that explains it" lol. This is nice too though. Fun energy. PIMP PIMP, HOORAY! **
Was this Kendrick's ( )???
Answering a question like that takes years of context-building and aesthetic diving and structural appreciation but I feel like I can say with some confidence right now that no it is not lol. It is a fact that they both have 8 untitled tracks but it turns out they don't really have anything else in common and I don't know why I brought it up.
I honestly don't know what I can really say about this album. It shares much with TPAB - the genre-fusing funky energy, the hypnoticly flowing live "session" energy, and the deeply personal exploration of Kendrick's imperfections and responsibilities in his rapidly changing environment... It just so happened that these particular slices couldn't fit in with TPAB's narrative.
Best of all, it shares TPAB's display of Kendrick's unending wondrous font of rapping ability. It isn't enough for his verses to have great lines or cool flows or anything - they have to be complete emotional explosions, where everything from tone to enunciation to speed can change in service of his feelings in that very second... not a calculating choice, but a direct, physical, undeniable expression of the self. At first, I felt disappointed that the most extreme examples of this - seen in his live performances, where he's like the Zach Hill of rapping, seemingly willing to go as hard as possible as long as possible, unto death even - weren't on the album, but I realized that, if they were, it would betray the spontaneous nature of those performances.
Basically, the most important feeling about this album, and about the history of its release, and of the legendary live performances that drove the demand, is that Kendrick is expressing himself, fully and completely. He's doing his utmost to convey his emotions and the things important to him in a way that does justice to their importance. And, luckily for us, that involves displaying his skills as probably the best rapper of our generation.