Album Review: #9: Kendrick Lamar - untitled unmastered.
by sarah muhammad
Match intoxicating, destructive flow with ominous jazz rhythms in a collection of unpolished, unreleased tracks and you get one of my favorites of 2016, untitled unmastered. by Kendrick Lamar. Being one of the best MC’s in the rap game allows one room to experiment with their sound because the effect is not weakened nor the intensity. But, the composition of this album is not even that of a hip hop album, it is a very much at the core a jazz album with rapping over it. The opening track, “untitled 01 | 08.19.2014.” sets an overtly eerie tone over the project, with a voiceover of singer Bilal seductively speaking to a woman in a way that starkly unsettling for the listener until Kendrick enters with an opening verse detailing clear visions of Judgment Day (“I seen it vividly jogging my brain memory/Life no longer infinity this was the final calling”) and continues throughout the track with high power bars conveying the deep imagery of the irony of this day, seeing saints and sinners alike shuffle to collect themselves for their calling to heaven but by the end Kendrick realizes that no matter what he does in his life on Earth, God will choose at his own discretion (“Young nigga act an ass/Young nigga act a fool/Young nigga get yo' cash/Young nigga do what it do...Whatever makes all of you happy in this bitch/Just take it all back before the light switch”). The following track “untitled 02 | 06.23.2014.” continues on with themes of inner conflict regarding sin and redemption (“Stuck inside the belly of the beast/Can you please pray for me?”). The ideas of materialism and narcissism are weaved throughout the track (“What if I empty my bank out and stunt?/What if I certified all of these ones?/Bitch I get buck, I'm as real as they come”) as Kendrick tries endlessly to grapple with the inner demons that represent his thoughts to pull him away from solid logic and humility. The mood switches to a more groovy tone on untitled 03 | 05.28.2013. where Kendrick tells a story of the varying values of life amongst several minorities including Asians, Indians, and Blacks valuing piece of mind, land and sex as power, but then reveals the motives of the White man, which are only to hold ultimate power and the profit of Kendrick and others in his position, both financially and in the mind (“A piece of mine's/That's what the white man wanted when I rhyme/Telling me that he selling me just for $10.99...Your world tour, your master's, mortgage, I need a piece”), illustrating the gluttonous and insatiable greed that is characteristic of most of the record label execs with Kendrick is surrounded by, but signifies White men in larger society as a whole; Kendrick’s music represents resources and slave work in the larger perspective. Perhaps the most complex piece of work on this project is “untitled 07 | 2014-2016” a three part track that starts with sub-tract “Levitate”, which features the only non jazz arrangement on the album and informs the listener that no emotions, materialistic possessions, or recognition can overshadow inner satisfaction when it comes to recognizing your own success (“Two keys won't get you high, no, no, no Bentleys won't get you high, like, no/Levitate, levitate, levitate, levitate”); Kendrick understands the amount of worth in his own self appreciation and chooses to live in that truth. In the second section of the track (produced by Swizz Beatz’ son Egypt), Kendrick braggadociously details how he has changed the game with his skill and consistency and in comparison to other average rappers, he is now the standard (“You niggas fear me like y'all fear GodYou sound frantic, I hear panic in your voice”). The final part of the track is a reprise to “untitled 04 | 08.14.2014.”, a song where Kendrick and fellow TDE artist SZA deliver vocals detailing the many hypocrisies of modern society but offer the solution of head as a double entendre for the mind and the body (“But head is the answer, head is the future”), telling the listener not to second guess themselves, but to understand that both knowledge and sex are in the mind of balance to the world’s evils; in the reprise however, Kendrick is just acting out a jam session between him and his band, and providing a lax moment of entertainment. The most interesting sound on the album comes from “untitled 06 | 06.30.2014”, a groovy jam track produced by Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest, and features silky vocals from Ceelo Green. The song is simply about having confidence in one’s unique features and traits, embracing them and using them in valued work. To attempt to unravel the complete density of Kendrick’s metaphorical capabilities would literally take an entire college course but being able to dig beneath the surface, one is able to understand the vast complexity of his work. This project, though completely raw in appearance, again solidifies the level of skill that Kendrick Lamar possesses as an artist, not just a rapper, in his ability to release meaningful work which defies the qualities of the norm.
Best Tracks: “untitled 02 | 06.23.2014.”/”untitled 07 | 2014-2016”
Best Production: “untitled 07 | 2014-2016 (part 1: levitate)”/” untitled 06 | 06.30.2014”