Kendrick Lamar
untitled unmastered
(Aftermath/Interscope/Top Dawg)

‘Disposable Arts’ was a term first coined by Hip-Hop veteran Masta Ace with his 2001 critically acclaimed LP of the same name. The importance of this term has not been abandoned with Kendrick Lamar’s latest release untitled unmastered. This collection of songs are not b-sides, out-takes, alternative versions or any other phrase often used to describe songs not fit for purpose to make the final cut. Kendrick stated in a recent interview that “I got a chamber of material that I was in love [with] where sample clearances or something as simple as deadline kept it off the album,” the album in question being 2015’s masterpiece To Pimp A Butterfly.

The opening track aptly named ‘untitled 01’ is an unflinching apocalyptic introduction. “Ocean water dried out, fire burning more tires out/ Tabernacle and city capital turned inside out/ Public bathroom, college classroom’s been deserted/ Another trumpet has sounded off and everyone heard it.” This biblical imagery feels all the more ominous with the deep resonating baseline. It is not Thundercat’s bass on this opening track although he was utilised on a large part of TPAB and features on six of the eight untitled tracks on this latest project. Thundercat’s involvement in this project is apparent throughout and poises Kendrick’s prowess for clear narrative, imagery, character involvement and metaphor.

‘untitled 02’ journeys in to the mind of a conflicted young man suffering from feelings of claustrophobia and dissatisfaction. The saxophone textures help retain and support the Compton MC’s somber bleak outlook. Kendrick’s lyrical dexterity is best showcased here ranging from singing with what sounds like a throat damaged by gravel to off-kilter rhyming and more focused syncopation to the songs main groove.  “Get God on the phone!” is replaced with “Get Top [Anthony ‘Top Dawg’ Tiffith] on the phone!” towards the end of the song, who is the TDE record label president. This blasphemous intention may be seen as Kendrick asserting that TDE has been his saviour more so than God.

The trio that created ‘These Walls’ from TPAB collaborate once more to great affect on ‘untitled 03’. Racial stereotyping aligned with black identity is a subject Kendrick addresses with Anna Wise singing “What dd the (insert ethnicity here) say?” with Lamar replying with what may be stereotypical of the aforementioned individual. The white man on this song is a label CEO “A piece of mines/ That’s what the white man wanted when I rhyme/ Telling me that he’s selling me for just $10.99/ If I go platinum from rapping, I do the company fine/ What if I compromise? He said it don’t even matter/ You make a million or more you’re living better than average/ You’re losing your core following gaining it all/ He put a price on my talent.” Producer Astronote has created a Brazilian samba tropicalia backdrop to accompany the trio throughout this conversation. Soul man Bilal ends this track with a afrocentric chant of “Holler what you do, what you say/ I shall enjoy the fruits of my labor if I get free today.”

‘untitled 04’ is the shortest track on this album. TDE songstress SZA brings harmony to a creation Kendrick appears to have made backstage messing around on a guitar which can be heard in it’s entirety in the latter parts of the eight minute long ‘untitled 07’. You can hear the Compton native whispering which appear to be directions to SZA with what to sing next and ends with label mate Jay Rock’s deep voice singing alongside Thundecat’s equalling as deep bellowing bass segueing to the following song.

Jazz fusion is one of the major instruments in the creation of this explosive collection of songs and ‘untitled 05’ can be considered the epicentre of the fallout. The cluster of hi-hat percussion, saxophone and glissando piano playing from Robert Glasper create a palatable foundation for the several artists guest featured with Anna Wise, Jay Rock and Kendrick’s TDE label manager Punch also sneaking a verse in. Admittedly sonically this song is more interesting with it’s textured layers than the lyrical content however does not draw from the appeal each individual contributes.

Purveyor of Soul Adrian Younge and A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad have joined forces to unleash this once again samba influenced song that has such a charming appeal with it’s harsh bass and soft skittering drum patterns. Cee-Lo has been called in to sing the infectious hook and harmonises well with the production. Both Cee-Lo and Kendrick question their imperfections throughout this song and attempt to justify their worthiness to be able to love. The last few lyrics of this song “Ndiseza, ndingene, khuluma, vumile.” Ndiseza (I’m coming), ndingene (should I get in?), khuluma (talk), vumile (accepted). The first two words are in Xhosa, while the last two are Zulu which demonstrates an expansion on the line from ‘Blacker The Berry’, “It’s funny how Zulu and Xhosa might go to war/ Two tribal armies that want to build and destroy.” This song could be considered the counterpart to ‘Blacker The Berry’ the same way ‘U’ was to ‘I’ on TPAB.

As mentioned before ‘untitled 07’ is by far the longest composition on this album being in excess of eight minutes, the latter part seeing Kendrick develop ideas backstage around friends in a jovial manner. Lamar calls for us to “Levitate” during the first section of this song claiming “Love won’t get you high as this/ Drugs won’t get you high as this.” and in a way it’s true. Grammy award wining producer Frank Dukes has created a monstrous beat that can be said without hesitation will be a fan favourite for the foreseeable future. Just before the three minute mark there is beat change which is produced by Swizz Beatz and in part by he and Alicia Keys five year old son Egypt. Throughout this segment Kendrick reinforces his claim to being ‘King Kendrick’ with boastful remarks most contemporary rappers would not be able to say or support with such confidence. The last three minutes of this song is a window in to the creative process of this literally genius where his ideologies blossom in its rawest unmastered form albeit in a comedic fashion.

‘untitled 08’ is produced by DJ Khalil and if anywhere on this collection Thundercat’s influence is felt more so here than anywhere else. Masters of funk Bootsy Collins or George Clinton would not have been misplaced in this disco fuelled funk filled ride. This is reminiscent of Thundercat’s song ‘Oh Sheit It’s X’ from his 2013 album ‘Apocalypse’. The lyrical themes focus mostly on an African’s third world problems opposed to the frivolous first world problems most people over exaggerate, “You never been through shit, you’re crying hysterical/ you settle for everything, complain about everything/ You say you sold crack, my world amphetamine/ Your projects ain’t shit, I live in a hut bitch.”  I can’t help but being reminded of concepts expressed on the incredible “How Much A Dollar Cost” when focusing on the narrative.

The avant-garde sections of TPAB that drew the listener closer are present in every song in this collection. Kendrick Lamar’s herculean talent is evident in what can be considered individually as masterclasses on how to contain complex lyrical narrative within the constraints of a song lasting a few minutes.

Purchase untitled unmastered on iTunes.

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