Cornrow Kenny, he was born with a vision.
Kendrick Lamar is Hip-Hop, there’s really no other way to put it. He is the personification of everything it has stood for from its beginning, the poetry and the art. Rather than waste energy using his bars to proclaim that he has the crown, or to emphasize the wealth he’s accumulated, he uses his creativity and artistry to allow his music to transcend what hip-hop has become. Throughout his career, Kendrick has used his craft to explore his culture and humanity, the core of who he is, setting him apart from the rest of today’s top artists. When the work of art that is To Pimp a Butterfly was released last February, it broke every idea of what hip-hop was, examining black culture and stereotypes within modern society, and was instantly labelled a classic, even more so than his previous effort Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. With the release of his latest project untitled unmastered., a collection of TPAB B-sides, Kendrick continues to cement his status as Hip-Hop’s modern revolutionary.
Although compiled of songs that had to be left off of TPAB, some recorded as late as two years ago, untitled maintains the coherence of a full album, all songs fitting together almost seamlessly. The opening track of the project, untitled 01, opens with a dark, jazzy introduction, with a raspy, deep voiced monologue fading in leaving the listener with an ounce of unease, speaking lines such as “Oh, you want me to touch you right there?” and “Push it back on daddy, baby”. As the track progresses the instrumental shifts into a simple bass and drum loop, reminiscent of classic 90’s west coast production. Kendrick rhymes over this section with lyrics of religious overtone, accounting the end of the world in the vein of the Book of Revelation. He describes feeling trapped on his own journey for personal redemption in the line “Revelation greatest as we hearing the last trumpet. All man, child, woman, life completely went in reverse, I guess I’m running in place trying to make it to church”
untitled 02, my personal favorite, begins with the phrase “Pimp pimp… hooray!”, which is repeated on various tracks throughout the project, transitioning into another smooth jazz intro leading into a minimal, 808 heavy beat. Kendrick uses this instrumental to examine himself, reflect on going from living in poverty in Compton to becoming a wealthy superstar. He expresses being torn between these two worlds in an elegant manner while at the same time showing love and appreciation for his TDE crew and how far they’ve come, pointing out what they’ve been able to gain, like Schoolboy Q being able to purchase a new Mercedes McLaren. In the latter half of the song, Kendrick’s flow becomes more heavy, taking on a more Atlanta trap style cadence, with him using terms like juug and finesse which are synonymous with the trap culture. It’s interesting to see that Kendrick tested out new vibes and elements in the TPAB recording sessions.
Back in winter 2014, a performance by Kendrick on the final episode of the Colbert Report premiered the first known untitled track, which appears on this project as untitled 03. The song maintains the funky, live instrument vibe found on TPAB and lyrically helps to visualize that which the he’s faced throughout his career. This track plays as a view of other races, offering perspectives on his situations. For example, from the Asian perspective, meditation and faith are key, while the black perspective advocated for sleeping with many women and the white man wanted to capitalize off of his talent, “telling me that he’s selling me for $10.99”.
untitled 04 served as a sort of short interlude, which is a lyrical advocation for free thinking. The phrase “head is the answer”, which carries the underlying theme of the song, is meant to represent thought, possibly a call to further education and mental awareness within the black community.
Bringing the heaviest west coast instrumental vibe on the entire project, untitled 05 acts as an exploration of American social inequality. Featuring guest verses from fellow TDE artist Jay Rock and TDE president Punch, who is also Kendrick’s manager, K. Dot tackles the aggression he feels at the current state of black society. He takes you on a visual journey of revenge against that which he feels is unjust. His opening bars “I got 100 on my dash, got 200 in my drum. Name in the grab bags, put my bible in the trunk” details Kendrick speeding to find his targets, his oppressor, a methaphor for the issues holding back the black community. He’s on a path to strengthen his society. The line “why you wanna see a good man with a broken heart?” is in regards to all the cases seen lately, the likes of Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin. With so many of his people dying and seeing no justice in sight personally hurts him. Punch breaks out with some serious lyrical prowess, analyzing the weight, the pain that comes with living as a black man, constantly “searching for loopholes in my bruised soul.” Jay Rock comes through heavy as well. Lines like “A couple trinkets, they seeing me as I pacify, but couldn’t fathom the meaning of seeing sacrifice” showcase the deep introspection of the rapper.
untitled 06 is a smooth yet funky ode to self acceptance over a bossa nova rhythm. With support from CeeLo Green, Kendrick pleads for a woman to accept him for his flaws just as he accepts hers. (“You stick out like an alien compared to those around you, and that’s alright because I like it.”)
The longest song on the project, untitled 07 is divided into 3 parts, each differing greatly yet fitting together as a whole. It’s an interpretation of the 3 levels of emotion that come with great success, the high, the setting of reality, and the reflection once it’s all said an done. The first verse of the beginning section mirrors the elation his success had initially given him. Love, drugs, and fame all “won’t get you high as” how he’s currently feeling, with that being elaborated on in the second verse, saying “He”, or God, Bentleys, and cocaine don’t replicate this feeling. Part 2 of the track is Kendrick regaining his competitive edge, addressing how he’s at the top of the game, yet while other rappers aim at dethroning him there’s so much else going on that deserves attention. He addresses “the flattery of watchin’ my stock rise”, acknowledging the influence he currently has on hip hop on how he’s used it to better his community. (“I blew cheddar on youth centers, buildings and bimmers and blue leather”) The finally part of this track is a live recorded jam session during the writing process of untitled 04, having bassist Thundercat play guitar while Kendrick develops and plays around with the lyrics.
Seen live this past January on the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon show, untitled 08, commonly known as Blue Faces, is a song about the financial struggle plaguing the black community. He analyzes the adversity and discrimination faced by African Americans as well breaks down his success in spite of it. The track greatly echoes the emphasis that Kendrick has continuously placed on the importance of education within the black community, beckoning for his people to choose “365 times four, plus more” over what seems like fast money.
untitled unmastered. is a work of artistry in its rawest form. Kendrick once again uses his platform to address real issues plaguing his community, rather than disguise himself under a cloak of bravado. He’s said that these song were left off for minor reasons, and that these aren’t the only unreleased tracks. It makes you wonder, what other gold is he sitting on. His ability continuously put out quality music that not only mentally engages his audience, but also has the ability to make people pay attention to society’s true issues is second to none. Tackling mass incarceration, internal division, and self acceptance in these tracks, it’s mind boggling to think that these are just throwaways. Kendrick has gone out of his way to make sure his place in music history is solidified.