Kendrick Lamar’s ‘untitled, unmastered.’ creates cohesion amid chaos

Kathryne LeBell, Staff Reporter

On March 4, Kendrick Lamar joined an exclusive club of powerhouse artists able to drop an album with little-to-no fanfare. “untitled, unmastered.” is a collection of demos recorded alongside “To Pimp a Butterfly,” which dropped almost exactly a year ago. It has only the barest sense of an overarching narrative and the tracks are raw, unfiltered and not at all polished. But this is what makes this release so interesting. It’s the soundtrack to Lamar’s process, sitting in the booth, throwing around and fleshing out ideas. It’s as compelling as it is disorienting.

Lamar has always been a personal artist. Most of his earlier work focused primarily on himself — his struggles with depression, alcohol and spending a huge portion of his life steeped in crime. “good kid, m.A.A.d city” highlighted this, earning him critical acclaim as he rapped about drugs, alcohol and death. “To Pimp a Butterfly” found him pursuing a different narrative, more associated with community and positivity, as well as issues of social justice. Songs like “King Kunta” and “Alright” elevated blackness as a concept and acted as anthems for black excellence. It makes sense that “untitled, unmastered.” would follow in the same vein.

But the difference between “To Pimp a Butterfly” and Lamar’s newest album is that these demos are a display of pushing boundaries in sound and artistic intention. “untitled 01” opens with the vague antagonistic voice present throughout “To Pimp a Butterfly,” instantly drawing a significant connection between the two. The language used and general sound of its backtrack, however, would not have meshed as well in a more polished album. This effect continues throughout the album, especially in “untitled 07” which sounds like a puzzle of a song, pasted together over a series of sessions.

There is still, however, powerfully radical language present throughout. In “untitled 03,” he compares the goals and intentions of people of color versus white people, painting capitalism and “the majority” as the real problem. In “untitled 04,” the repeated line “the government mislead the youth” calls to mind free thought and the danger it is in. As Lamar’s career continues, there’s no doubt that, should movements to remedy the racial and socioeconomic inequality pervading this country gain momentum, his music will have inspired and emboldened the cause.

Overall, for a rough collection of unfinished demos he had laying around, “untitled, unmastered.” is phenomenal. It has so many of the elements that highlight Lamar’s innate talent. It’s jazzy, experimental and avant-garde, but so true to his particular sound. Even with the lack of polish, “untitled 03” and “untitled 07” in particular have the potential to become popular mainstream staples. Rather than acting as a semi-sequel to “To Pimp a Butterfly,” or some kind of teaser for upcoming work, “untitled unmastered.” is something to be appreciated in its own right — a feat that could only be achieved by a truly talented individual.