6 September 2016
Kendrick Lamar - untitled unmastered
There are only a few times I have ever been absolutely determined to listen to an album which is an odds & sods compilation of work that did not make a new album; mostly they tend to be songs that you know were just not quite as good or you get the rare release where it actually shits all over their main releases. But with this album I have took my time to absorb every last note and took my time with the release as this is the compilation album that contains songs that did not fit, could not get sample clearance or were not right for the album 'To Pimp A Butterfly' (review cleverly linked here). It was one of the stand out albums for 2015 for me, making my top twenty and topping writers lists all over the globe. For me, that album has grown in stature since then and it is a record I will be happy to purchase again and again as it just keeps giving and it sounds like a primal force of nature that is ready to launch itself in action at any second. These releases had long been rumoured and it is made up of recordings from a period 2013 to 2016. When it was dropped, it came out without much fanfare on Spotify and iTunes on March 4th, 2016. So why has it taken me six months to review an eight track album? Well, to be honest it has been put to the side as we had a lot of submissions that take priority and it is on my personal review list, but I am trying to manage both as well as possible and this album has waited long enough. It is unfair, but inevitable that these songs will be compared to the songs that actually made it onto 'To Pimp A Butterfly', but that is the nature of the world at times. Let us see how these out-takes have turned out...
All the songs are untitled, only given numbers and dates. The first is called "untitled 01 l 08.19.2014." and it starts off with someone talking to a lover and getting intermit. There is a low bass in the background and it is sounding very Prince-esque. Then the rhymes start to drop, firstly like a light shower, then it’s raining and then it is like a storm has arrived and a warning about humanity and trying to not be a little shit is dropped on you - this song could have easily been on '...Butterfly', but I cannot find why it did not make it onto the album. It then ends in a slow-jazz ending and it is saying that you should stay clean to the end, as you cannot take it with you. It is a great opening that gives a great platform for the rest of the album. Next is "untitled 02 l 06.23.2014." which discusses (and in a strange way prophesies the fame that came with 'To Pimp...') the conflicted loyalties felt by Mr Lamar between his home ties and those relationships and temptations that come with fame and success. It starts with a hint of 'To Pimp A Butterfly' and it keeps that Jazz/Rap hybrid going with a fantastic number with this slow burning, cursing and conflicted number that is one of the best songs not to make a classic album. I love this song, it is a strong number that speaks of a man who knows how good he is, how close he is to releasing something fantastic and he also knows that he will lose as well - there is no success without sacrifice, this song shows it. Next is "untitled 03 l 05.28.2013." and this is the oldest song on the album, on this song it shows several minorities giving Kendrick something, a piece of advice and not asking for much in return; whilst the white man takes all that Kendrick is about and not caring about the artist himself, just about the profit. It is a song which was first performed on the Colbert Report show with Thundercat, Anna Wise, Bilal and Terrace Martin. It is a short number, but the impact and words are felt long after the song has finished - it is a protest and it is glorious! Ending the first half is "untitled 04 l 08.14.2014." which has lines that also feature in "untitled 07 l 2014 - 2016" and I can see why this one was not quite ready for 'To Pimp A Butterfly'. It could have quite easily been lost in the mix and it is a delicate, yet powerful number that could become a protest anthem one day. It is not the strongest song for me, but it is one that does give a little food for thought and that is always a positive in anyone's book.
The next song on the album is "untitled 05 l 09.21.2014." which explores the themes of repression, social inequality, power disparities and how these conditions are treated as normal and this should not be the case. It is back to the jazz/rap feeling that would have been fantastic on 'To Pimp....'. I have no idea why it was not included on that album; it might be down to samples or that it was not ready. Either way, it is another lost gem that is making this album such a good one to review. After this is "untitled 06 l 06.30.2014." which was produced by Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammed from A Tribe Called Quest and features singer Cee Lo Green and it has boss nova & jazz fusion thing going on. This song is about embracing what is good with yourself, making the most of yourself and then everything else will follow. It is a beautiful number, one that digs into the brain and drives its hooks in with a fantastic rhythm and hook lines that sound as good as anything on this album. The penultimate track is called "untitled 07 l 2014 - 2016" which is really a song in three parts; the first part is your standard (as if such a word could apply to anything this man touches) rap from Kendrick which represents an uplift of initial euphoria. Next is the inflated confidence and it deals with the man who knows how good he is, but is not afraid to strut his stuff and will back it up with examples of how good he is. It has a jangling guitar as its backing and a loose drum loop as well, it is the weakest of the three section and it is also a key component. This is due to the final part and the eventual comedown. This sounds like a studio jam which has lines that ended up in "untitled 04 l 08.14.2014." as they jam a track in the studio and try to figure around what is needed to make everything work. It does not have a specific date as it is probably a few sessions and jams mixed together to create one full idea that is still ongoing in a way. I like the concept and it is great to hear a song at its genius point as well as parts which are completed as well - it could have easily been released as three separate tracks and the artist released it in the way he has envisioned it, warts and all which takes balls to do. Ending the album is "untitled 08 l 09.06.2014." which also goes under the name "Blue Faces" which deals with the financial struggles that Black Americans face and how he has been a success despite it. It is a strong and powerful way to end the album, fierce and angry with no sense of irony or relying on silly gimmicks and it ends with the calling card of 'To Pimp....' as well.
This is quite possible the best add-on to an album since Pink Floyd released 'The Final Cut' (fuck it, I like that album more than 'The Wall'. It is a strong collection that showcases how strong the set of material Kendrick Lamar made to 'To Pimp A Butterfly' that he could release this eight track collection that would be a brilliant album in its own right. It does not feel like a collection of also-rans, a release for the money; no, this is the bonus that just keeps on giving and in some places, you wonder what 'To Pimp...' would have been with these in the mix. I think it would have been glorious, but hard going and I can see what some tracks were put to the side. But at the end of the day, this is brilliant and well worth exploring for anyone who has the slightest interest in hip-hop and the new kingpin. Pimp, pimp......
9 out of ten - Almost perfect, almost......
Top track - untitled 05 l 09.21.2014.
You can purchase untitled unmastered on Amazon here
You can visit the Kendrick Lamar website here
You can follow the activities of Kendrick Lamar on Facebook here
You can stream untitled unmastered on Spotify here
You can stream untitled unmastered on Deezer here
You can stream untitled unmastered on Tidal here
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