March 4, 2016


Kendrick Lamar's untitled unmastered.' Album: Track-by-Track Review

Mark Horton/WireImage
Mark Horton/WireImage

Kendrick Lamar continues to keep the music industry on its toes.

Late at night on March 3, a new album by the recent GRAMMY winner dropped on Spotify, making many believe he was once again putting his latest release up for streaming ahead of its physical release like he did with 2015's universally acclaimed To Pimp a Butterfly. The new LP is untitled unmastered. and features eight tracks that seem to be just that—they have no official titles, have fascinating imperfections, and represent Kendrick in his rawest form while shedding insight into his creative development over the last three to four years. 

These "untitled" tracks are not all new to Kendrick fans, as he's performed some of them in the past including the final episodes of The Colbert Report back in December 2014, and then later on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

Details are still hazy about the album, but super-producer Swizz Beatz's 5-year-old son with super-singer-songwriter Alicia Keys, Egypt, produced the back half of No. 7. (Watch him in the studio—OMG!) Meanwhile, Robert Glasper's recent retweets seem to indicate he plays piano on track No. 5, and noted producer Cardo worked on cut No. 2 and 7.

Stream Kendrick Lamar's untitled unmastered. below via Spotify and read on for our track-by-track breakdown while you listen.

1. "untitled 01 | 08.19.2014" – Opening with a low-voiced, sultry man slurring come-hithers to his "baby," Kendrick quickly swoops in to deliver spastic rhymes over sweeping percussion. He demands: "No more running from wars / No more discriminating the poor!" Clearly, he has not missed a beat since To Pimp a Butterfly.  -Jeff Benjamin

2. "untitled 02 | 06.23.2014" – "Stuck inside the belly of the beast / Can you please pray for me?" Kendrick repeats, his voice cracking, his cadence unsteady, as if he's exhausted but remains possessed to spit. This is an awe-inspiring showcase of his lyrical dexterity, as Kendrick name-checks Obama, unspools a story with details about the parallel-parking techniques of his characters, and asks the Big Questions that he's always been unafraid to lob out. -Jason Lipshutz

3. "untitled 03 | 05.28.2013" – In December 2014, Kendrick sat with Stephen Colbert days before The Colbert Report ended and explained that he’s not a rapper but a storyteller. Then he walked over to the stage and performed this vivid parable featuring encounters with four people from four cultures, where each conversation went as deep as it possibly could in the span of 20 seconds.

The black, Asian and Indian characters—over a rattling beat and bright little baby Neptunes synths—talk to Kendrick about generational wealth, power, sex and temptation, religious overlap and property ownership. The white man’s the last one K.Dot meets on the road, and holy shit do they get into it in a very real-life way: “A piece of mines / That's what the white man wanted when I rhyme / Tellin me that he sellin me just for $10.99 / If I go platinum from rappin, I do the company fine.” Looks like not much has changed since December 2014; that Untitled Unmastered. link Kendrick tweeted takes us to a $9.99 iTunes album. 

(Curiously and clearly purposefully missing: the Black Lives Matter fist-pump finale from the Colbert performance—“What the Black man say? Tell em, ‘WE DON’T DIE’ / Tell ’em ‘WE DON’T DIE’ / Tell ’em ‘WE DON’T DIE’ / We multiply.” -Zach Dionne

4. "untitled 04 | 08.14.2014" – Like To Pimp a Butterfly’s cacophonous internal-dialogue “u,” this one's an unsettling left-turn—but one with a sunnier, inner-pep-talk aspect. Kendrick only appears as a whispering voice in an ear, leaving the rest of the work to two other pensive performers. By the time it winds its way to ’80s slasher movie synth throbs, you’re dying to escape to the propulsive fifth track. -ZD

5. "untitled 05 | 09.21.2014" – The patience, experimentation and bursts of jazz that served as hallmarks of To Pimp a Butterfly shine bright here, as Kendrick questions why he no longer feels compelled to go to church and instead resists urges to take violent revenge on the one who's scorned him before Jay Rock jumps in at the end. Hazy, disturbing, and wholly virtuosic. -JL

6. "untitled 06 | 06.30.2014" - Whoa, hey CeeLo Green! The multilayered darkness of "untitled 05" gives way to the Soul Machine's warm croon, and Kendrick plays the role of the lounge heartthrob who wants to explain to a special lady why she, like he, is special. "untitled 06" is a jaunty reprieve from the previous track's sensational heaviness. -JL

7. "untitled 07 | 2014 – 2016" – While every other song here is ascribed a specific date, "untitled 07" is ascribed a two-year span, suggesting that the eight-minute opus has been on Kendrick's mind for many, many nights. He's shown that he can navigate extended tracks before (most memorably on "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst"), and while "untitled 07" is more disjointed than the other offerings here, it's also more brain-busting, from the RZA-esque production of the middle portion to the lo-fi charm of Kendrick bullshitting with his friends on the back half. -JL

8. "untitled 08 | 09.06.2014" – Kendrick Lamar: Funk King? The slick bounce of TPAB's "These Walls" hinted at the undeniable groove of "untitled 08," and don't discount the lyrical brilliance of the second verse here, in which Kendrick muses on a woman's sacrifice of hard-earned education for fast money. If this collection is a reminder of anything, it's that Kendrick can shift his shape in whichever way he damn pleases, and still leave listeners entertained. -JL