Kendrick Lamar asserts his dominance over rap with surprise release

Chris Duncan

Kendrick Lamar is known for his unapologetically daring music that contemplates modern racial tensions, depression and materialism, but on his new album untitled unmastered., the enigmatic rapper cuts loose. 

During the media circuit for his critically acclaimed album To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar performed on various television shows such as “The Colbert Report,” “The Tonight Show” and even the Grammys. But, instead of sticking to the track listing, Lamar occasionally performed energetic untitled demos that didn’t make the cut for To Pimp a Butterfly. On Friday, eight of those demos were formally released as the compilation album untitled unmastered.

This album is not a full-fledged commercial release — its artwork is generic, each song is named by track number and date recorded, and every song reeks of demo tape material. At the end of the project’s second track, Lamar pauses, then asks who’s playing the drums on the upcoming recordings of “Mortal Man” and “King Kunta,” two of the most powerful tracks on TPAB. The lack of editing and production that went into untitled unmastered. makes the album feel unpolished but personal at the same time.

A few songs on this record will sound familiar to dedicated K-Dot fans because of their television debuts, which were blends of several of these tracks. However, the album versions feature significantly cut-down instrumentation, directing attention toward Lamar’s words rather than the overall feel of the song.

It’s in those words that Lamar shines. Whether it’s his spiritual message that emphasizes the importance of humanity’s unity, or personal confidence, Kendrick weaves his words with such flow to assert himself as the best lyricist in rap music today. During the seventh track, Kendrick drops a bomb when he raps, “You niggas fear me like y’all fear God, You sound frantic, I hear panic in your voice, Just know the mechanics of making your choice and writin’ your bars, Before you poke out your chest, loosen your bra, Before you step out of line and dance with the star, I could never end a career if it never start,” hearkening back to his massive verse in “Control” and showing how much fun Kendrick can have with his music.

Although production of several songs on this album is kept to a minimum, several moments shine through restriction. During the album’s fourth track, Lamar advocates free thinking as he whispers messages to fellow Top Dawg Entertainment artist SZA, who represents the black community in the song. Quiet bass riffs are scattered throughout the song, with ambient noises and synths only finding their place in the song during the last thirty seconds. The lack of these elements emphasizes their presence when they come into the track, making the overall effect of the song all the more powerful.

untitled unmastered. prevents itself from becoming as invigorating as To Pimp a Butterfly, though, by emulating its successor’s style. The reason To Pimp a Butterfly had as large of an impact as it did was because of its direct change in style from previous Kendrick Lamar releases and rap’s sound in general. This may have been a surprise release, but overall, almost everything on untitled unmastered. is to be expected.

Although untitled unmastered. doesn’t bring as bold of a statement to the table as To Pimp a Butterfly did, it still carries weight, and provides all of the fun of Lamar’s jazz and funk influences that keep fans hungry for more.

Album: untitled unmastered.

Genre: Hip-hop/Rap

Tracks: 8

Rating: 8/10