by Rebecca Rosen
Bits and pieces seems to be the way Kendrick Lamar gets us hooked. His near surprise mini-album dropped earlier this month debuting No.1 on the Billboard 200 chart and selling 178, 000 equivalent album units. Not bad for a surprise album of presumably unreleased demos that may have once been destined for last year’s To Pimp a Butterfly.
The album included eight new nameless tracks that simultaneously intertwine, while completely parting ways from one another. Much like his previous works, the album tells a story that seems to faintly resemble its not so distant relative, To Pimp A Butterfly.
Complicated and poetic, Lamar’s sophomore album is charged with both political and personal messages that we all “got.” Kendrick had solidified his place as a risk taker with the release, especially after producing (arguably) one of the greatest albums this decade, good kid m.A.A.d. city. Each album is equally powerful, laying out the story of the self in good kid m.A.A.d. city and delving into the world of the other in To Pimp A Butterfly.
So upon listening to two new songs dropped, one on the Colbert report (untitled 03 | 05.28.2013.) and Fallon (untitled 08 | 09.06.2014.) I was prepared for something game changing to drop. Something that would not only solidify Lamar’s current standing as one of the greatest rappers of all time but also enhance it. Untitled Unmastered is just another installment to an album that already changed the game.
This release seemed a bit inadequate in that we weren’t challenged; no novel concepts are brought to the table. The complex ideas Kendrick toys with, ones that were made quite clear in TPAB, are simply re-hashing’s of a few very clear messages. That is not to say that Untitled Unmastered lowers standards; in fact the album’s greatness is the root of the problem. It simply echoes of its big brother. It’s TPAB’s overflow.
Still, it is no surprise that there are these moments of magic in Untitled Unmastered, such as the pause in the middle of untitled 07 when “Young Egypt” (Swizz Beats and Alicia Keys’ 5 year old son) to play a piano interlude . All eight songs demonstrate the way in which Lamar effortlessly bridges the gap between genres and generations, incorporating bits and pieces to carry the messages he succeeds in conveying.
Kendrick’s work has rewritten the rules of the rap game time and time again. Having mentioned that, it was then disappointing to listen to him settle into the groundwork he himself laid out for his previous albums. Untitled Unmastered is a work of genius, that plays by the rules.
UPDATE: In typical Kendrick Lamar fashion, Kendrick has given a name to the previously “Untitled 07.” Now the lead single off the album, the 8 minute and 16 second track co-produced by “Young Egypt” (Swizz Beats and Alicia Keys’ 5 year old son) is now called “levitate.”
Check out Lamar’s Untitled Unmastered on iTunes.