REVIEW: Kendrick Lamar’s “untitled, unmastered.”

2015 was undoubtedly the year of the hip-hop throwaway. Drake singlehandedly stayed afloat at the top of the rap game by producing two projects which were clearly not filled with A-grade material; If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and the Future collaborative mix tape What A Time To Be Alive and yet, as rap fans, we devoured each and every track.

While Drake was clearly saving his best for the 2016 release of Views From The 6, Kendrick Lamar was busy crafting one of the most influential rap albums of the past decade. To Pimp A Butterfly quickly became a cultural, social and political talking point and phenomenon; an album that thrust important racial issues into the forefront of society; an album that asserted Kendrick’s storytelling finesse and his ability to craft a sensory experience that captivates, questions and critiques us simultaneously.

Kendrick has stayed on his grind in the year since the release of his latest album, slowly coming to terms with his newfound status as the poster boy for social and political upheaval. Late night performances and Grammy appearances saw fans treated to several untitled tracks, with Kendrick showcasing what seems to be an unlimited library of smooth and soulful stylings. Now whether LeBron James was responsible for the release of the album or not, we have now been treated to untitled, unmastered.; and boy does it deliver.

What we have here is a collection of unnamed tracks which would not feel out of place amongst the original TPAB release. Clocking in at just over 35 minutes, these 8 tracks serve as just another example of the supreme talent that we are witness to, and are yet another reminder of the soul-infused, Funkadelic inspired avenue that K.Dot has taken his style. The tracks themselves are dated, and show just how long Kendrick has been tweaking his new sound since the release of the stellar good kid, M.A.A.D city.

Kendrick packs just about as much as humanly possible in terms of sound into the 35 minutes, also bringing some heavyweight features along for the ride, namely fellow Black Hippy member Jay Rock, and the sultry tones of one Cee Lo Green. Untitled 1 is a slow and steady start to proceedings, but Kendrick shows he is capable of bringing bars to any beat, and crafting a jazzy and soulful intro.

From the outset of Untitled 2, as “PIMP PIMP…Hooray” echoes out and the gritty saxophone begins to take hold, we just know we’re in for an audible treat. A beat switch up midway through the track sees Kendrick go to town, and embrace his newfound “Cornrow Kenny” status, which is sure to delight the Internet. The monotonous delivery instantly transforms the song into a much darker and sinister environment, a direct contrast to the gospel-like nature of the track’s first half.

Untitled 6 and 7 deliver two very contrasting sounds, the latter is backed by a futuristic and brooding beat, while Kendrick’s drawn out tones only add to the melancholy that he is so accustomed to portraying. Untitled 6 begins with what can only be described as elevator music vibes, but turns into a much more soulful and celebratory track, particularly as Cee Lo Green re-emerges from his mainstream musical hiatus to add the finishing touches to the song itself.

Whilst all of the tracks deliver their own piece of the overall puzzle, Untitled 5 is the real standout here; a lyrical explosion backed by a rhythmic bass and the crash of cymbals. Anna Wise delivers a haunting introduction to the track, before Kendrick and co (in the form of Jay Rock and Punch) deliver an introspective insight into the wicked ways of growing up against the backdrop of crime, alcoholism and conflict.

The album, like many of Kendrick’s projects before it, is fully appreciated when experienced front-to-back. Kendrick has mastered audible storytelling, and even in just over half an hour the Compton native is capable of providing an engrossing journey that somehow sonically does not seem out of place in a contemporary environment, despite the influence of yesteryear. There is no overarching poetry here that ties the pieces together, but that does not diminish from Kendrick’s ability to cast our imagination elsewhere.

One could at first dismiss this project as another example of hip-hop throwaways making their presence felt within mainstream hip-hop, however that would serve as a great disservice. Kendrick is still somehow able to conjure up an emotional attachment to the album; even in half an hour we can still FEEL the heart and soul behind the music. There is just something so satisfying about melding the hip-hop we love from today, and the technically brilliant and nostalgic sounds of the past. The thematic influence of TPAB is still just as present, as Kendrick often refers to the concept of the “Mortal Man” throughout the project.

Unexpected, untitled and unmastered; call it what you will, but this project is yet another sublime piece to add to the legendary discography that Kendrick is continuing to craft for himself. A further exploration into funk and soul, and a contrast of brooding and boastful beats serves to create another timeless piece of music for hip-hop fans and purists alike, and an album that will tide us over (almost) until the next time Kendrick graces us with his musical presence.