As far as stars go, Kendrick Lamar is one. At this point even if he did not make another album for the rest of his life, he would already be canonized based on “To Pimp a Butterfly” alone. His music is not just good, it tells a story. One that is not always the most comfortable. That is why “untitled unmastered” is so much fun. It is not as youthful as “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” but it also is not as hard as “To Pimp a Butterfly.” The album’s release can be credited to Lamar’s friend, basketball player Lebron James, who asked him to release a new album. Due to the circumstances, it could be assumed that this album would be a miss – just a bunch of extras with no flow – but that is not the case. Contrary to the title, Lamar is in total control of this work. Each song is only identified by a date, and the album is only 35 minutes long, but it still is effective.
Some particular lines, such as “Love won’t get you high as this/ Drugs won’t get you high as this/ Fame won’t get you high as this/ Chains won’t get you high as this/ Juice won’t get you high as this/ Crew won’t get you high as this/ Hate won’t get you high as this/Levitate, levitate, levitate, levitate” still stand out in the blur. This album is like the unpredictable relative of “To Pimp a Butterfly.” It has the same form, but with surprising punches. It is not shallow, but it is definitely not as serious. “To Pimp” was a critique peppered with funk, while “untitled” seems like the funk with bits of commentary. Each one is complete without the other, but “untitled” can serve as “To Pimp’s” upper and vice versa.
When considering all of Lamar’s albums, it might be tempting to assign favorites, but each album seems to match a growth point. For example, “good kid, m.A.A.d city” was heavier on the anecdotes. This made the album feel like riding around with friends, shooting the shit. There was a reason why this album was so prominent amongst teens. Singing along to “Bitch don’t kill my vibe,” while Lamar paints a picture of life in Compton can be likened to fiction, just a leap from Narnia and any other pretend world.
“To Pimp a Butterfly” was more stressful. Lamar was trying to sort out some things. Were he not so smooth with his accompaniment choices or so prolific with his words, he likely would have alienated some people with content. In the song “The Blacker the Berry” he raps “My hair is nappy, my dick is big, my nose is round and wide
/You hate me don’t you?/You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture
/You’re fuckin’ evil I want you to recognize that I’m a proud monkey
/You vandalize my perception but can’t take style from me/ And this is more than confession.” This album feels more mature in its anger. The don’t care attitude is gone, and the critique is personal.
Lamar is not beating around the bush with “To Pimp,” and he still isn’t with “untitled unmastered,” but this album feels almost strange. The funky aspects are really at the forefront, but with that comes band music, repetitiveness, whispering and odd catch phrases, such as “head is the future.” In all fairness, the intro begins with a deep-voiced Barry White-sounding person saying some pretty raunchy stuff, so it can only get stranger from there. This sets the stage, so that it “untitled” is already more playful than its predecessor, but still Lamar does not shy away from the dystopian aspects specifically portrayed by describing race relations.
Although picking a favorite track would be fruitless, in the case of “untitled unmastered,” I cannot help but favor 03, which is a critique of colonialism that takes into account many different identities. This track seems to move past nonchalance, and past anger, and is just observant. This song teaches. And that feels like the next natural step.