Kendrick Lamar has developed very quickly to one of the most intelligent and humanely aware persons of our generation. This is only what we have been able to see. Kendrick has developed through his whole life, every experience, to what he is now, and he keeps us updated through his music. Following one of the best hip hop albums of our generation, To Pimp a Butterfly, is difficult to say the least. An album with so much substance, so much relevancy, and so much musical prowess has taken us into the struggles that face Kendrick and his community. He has now followed this transcendent album with untitled unmastered., a 34-minute album consisting of 8 songs all numbered and dated, and a perfect follow up to To Pimp A Butterfly, and it is exactly what we should have expected.The post-To Pimp A Butterfly album is not an extension, but a continuation, a development of thought from a perspective that we did not see on To Pimp A Butterfly. untitled unmastered. shows us a reaction from Kendrick, an answer to our expectations of him, and within this answer, a furthering of his commentary. A commentary of musical genius, yet, not one that we can all understand. A commentary that must be decoded and sat with. A commentary of black culture, those that move it forward, and those that push it back.
The album takes us through his commentary through an uncomplicatedly produced rap-focused perspective. Starting with “Untitled 1 | 08.19.2014.” Kendrick wastes no time in telling us of his experience with our expectations. He takes the perspective of a savior stating, “I made To Pimp a Butterfly for you. Told me to use my vocals to save mankind for you.” Is this a savior complex? Yes, and he is saying that we gave him this complex, and that we expect it of him. Kendrick has been handed the job as the voice of black culture, of equality, and he takes it, but he is aware that it was given to him by his white listeners as well as his black listeners. He delves into this further with the strangest song on his album. Beginning with the chant, “Pimp pimp, hooray,” and continuing into eerie broken jazz sounds and singing, “Untitled 02 | 06.23.2014.” is in a one sided conversation with us through the complications of his mind. Pulling and pushing the problems that he sees around him with his voice and one of the cleanest sequence of bars that we’ve heard from Lamar to date. This moves into a higher energy song “Untitled 03| 05.23.2013.” in which Kendrick takes different perspectives of American Culture. He speaks from black culture, from native culture, and white culture, pressing again the racism within the structures around him and his community. He is the voice. He shows his solidarity, his critical ideas, and struggle through society using these ideas.
The next 3 songs on the album take us away from Kendrick’s rap, and take us deeper into his mind. Traveling through jazz sounds we can hear happiness through pitch and confusion through ambience and inflection. These songs show his production power, and respect for other musicians in tandem with his own genius. These songs are also extremely difficult to understand. They range in sounds, in lyrics, and string us through lines and lines of beautifully coded poetry.
The last two songs on the album are used as a conclusion and a new beginning. “Untitled 07 | 2014 -2016” is a summation of the album. An 8 minute song proclaiming himself as the King of hip hop and wrapping the album in a blanket of current circumstance. This song has a 4 minute outro bring Lamar back from his thrown to humanity.
“Untitled 08 | 09.06.2014.” is a song after the ending. It is on the album, but is not in the same realm. It has a different sort of beat, with remnants of his songs “Alright” and “i”. It has a Motown backing and a jazz influence with the swag, positivity, and flow that we’ve come to know from Kendrick.
untitled unmastered. does not make sense without context. It needs To Pimp a Butterfly as a precursor and it needs the struggle around it. Kendrick Lamar is extremely aware of this and has used it to his advantage. This album is genius in its simplicity and its chaos. It’s exactly how Kendrick needed to follow To Pimp a Butterfly. The expectation of this album is something that we have placed on Kendrick, and it is something that he has carefully set out for himself. Kendrick is 3 steps ahead of us, and we are trying to keep up with him. We don’t set the standards. Kendrick Lamar sets the standards. Pimp pimp, hooray.
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