This surprise release of eight off cuts/demos from the ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ sessions making up ‘Untitled Unmastered’ is testament to the genius that is Kendrick Lamar. Despite sounding more like a session than an actual album, there is plenty on display to justify Lamar’s multiple grammies and is a fine insight into the man’s creative process.
These untitled tracks almost never saw the light of day, but recent performances on late night talk shows and a tweet from Lebron James led to last week’s timely drop. As such, the lack of context means there’s something intriguing about these songs and makes for a challenging but interesting listen.
Seedy sex talk leads into ‘Untitled 1’ and a bass line Cypress Hill would be proud of. Kendrick proceeds to wax biblical, switching between judgement day and utopia; “I guess I’m running in place tryin to make it to church”; his urgent vocal is straight up smokin Lamar, tripping over itself to get the message across. A (much repeated) call of “Pimp, Pimp: Hooray!” leads into ‘Untitled 2’, which offers up Kendrick firing off all the vocal guns in his armour over an RnB groove to this free jazz fuelled cut.
There’s plenty of jazz peppered throughout the record, we get a cool vibe on ‘Untitled 3’ with its rhyming on race, philosophy and exploitation – “I shall enjoy the fruits of my labor if I get freed today”, while ‘Untitled 5’ goes back to the free jazz feel with a sublime bass line and cutting rhythms. When it finally kicks in, Kendrick’s flow is incisive contrast to the otherwise late night smoothness and is a badass piece of rhyme.
Sandwiched between, ‘Untitled 4’ feels more like an interlude, its reflective soul sounding more like a vague idea than anything concrete, but it’s intimate and seems to offer a little hope. ‘Untitled 6’ has a similarly soulful feel as it rolls out a bossa groove with a touch of funky soul. It’s swimming in the 1970s, like many of the samples on TPAB, and there’s an easy feel to the rapping on what is one of the most complete tracks on offer.
The dissonant darkness of the first of three parts on ‘Untitled 7 is reminiscent of funk carioca and its starkness would work well in the live arena. It cuts (too soon) into an atmospheric gangster rap that is another killer moment, but again, it’s just a moment. The following studio jam reiterates the message of 4 and gives a glimpse into the creative process, but just feels like a DVD extra. In contrast, the superb ‘Untitled 8’, aka Blue Faces and previously called Untitled 2, is as slick a slice of Lamar as you could hope to find and would slip easily alongside the likes of ‘King Kunta’ or ‘Alright’.
At worst, ‘Untitled Unmastered’ is a sublime companion disc of outtakes and off cuts for last year’s phenomenal ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’, but that would not be doing the record justice. Ok, it’s incomplete, imperfect and, at 35 minutes long, can barely be called an album, but even so, the creative rhymes and the variety of styles embraced here showcase just how far ahead of the game the sublime talent of Kendrick Lamar really is; quality.