The release is 'titled' untitled unmastered., consists of eight tracks, comes with minimalist murky green artwork and is as experimental as you’d hope from K-Dot.
It’s entirely unexpected, given To Pimp a Butterfly was only released last year and the whole ‘next album’ news/rumours had barely even started.
Here’s the Spotify stream (it's also on iTunes, Apple Music, Tidal and Google Play):
So what does it sound like? Some scattered, excited, initial thoughts:
Very stripped back and soundscape-y, with atmospheric production, faltering beats and plenty of standalone harmonies. It's highly accessible at the same time though, don't worry.
Kendrick takes the whole free jazz thing he had going on with TPAB and pushes it even further. Saxophones trill as though falling down a flight of stairs, bass lines wander and piano riffs glow. Drums are, again, (mostly) more acoustic in feel than the whole 'shut-tut-tut-tut-tut' artificial hi-hats thing most rappers have going on right now.
‘untitled 02’ is a stand-out track on first listen, Kendrick's flow wavering over a woozy beat, while ‘untitled 07’ is a beast that clocks in at over eight minutes - the second half apparently produced by Swizz Beatz’ 5-year-old son.
This tidbit, along with the release strategy and lack of track titles/their dates, shows a similar sort of move away from the album as a crafted item, an instance, to the whole The Life of Pablo narrative. In line with the transient nature of the internet in general, music now comes and goes, is updated and re-worked at whim. Physical releases are dead, and now so are all the trappings that came with them.
Kendrick Lamar's albums, ranked
Kendrick Lamar's albums, ranked
4th: Overly Dedicated (technically a mixtape, but the breakthrough one) - Tracks like 'Michael Jordan' and 'Alien Girl' felt a bit stock and Kendrick had yet to really find his voice and musical style, but you could see the potential there on this debut. P&P is still a banger, the use of samples is so effective in 'Opposites Attract' and on songs like 'Average Joe' he cut his teeth on recounting stories from his gangbanging days with a critical eye. "I don't do black music, I don't do white music, I do everyday life music." - prophetic.
3rd: Section.80 - Kendrick's storytelling really came into its own with this record, telling the stories of beaten girlfriends and prostitutes solicited by corrupt police. Bangers were plentiful ('A.D.H.D', 'Ronald Reagan Era', 'The Spiteful Chant'...) and K-Dot's interest in jazz started to blossom in songs like 'Rigamortus' and the incredible 'Ab-Souls Outro'. "I'm not on the outside looking in / I'm not on the inside looking out / I'm in the dead fuckin' centre, looking around"
2nd: To Pimp a Butterfly - The fact that this is one of the best albums of our generation and yet only Kendrick's second best album (imo) speaks volumes. An unbelievably well-orchestrated odyssey of a record that came as such a fresh and different proposition when we were all busy bumping dancefloor-orientated Drake tracks. 'Alright' became anthemic for the movement against police brutality, and 'u' gave us one of the most tearjerkingly personal insights into the human psyche ever committed to record. Masterful instrumentation pinned down by an intricate flow. I immediately wanted to hear it on vinyl and I don't even buy vinyl.
1st: good kid, m.A.A.d city - You could very legitimately argue that TPAB is Kendrick's finest album to date, but to me, GKMC is just absolute magic. It is such a cohesive record from start to finish, transporting you from wherever you are listening to the streets of Compton, a real 'day in the life'. I'm as rapt listening to 'The Art of Peer Pressure' as a child is to a ghost story, and 'Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst' manages to completely enthrall for all of its 12 minutes. 'Backseat Freestyle', 'Money Trees', 'Swimming Pools' and 'm.A.A.d City' were all people were waiting for to come on at house parties that year, the pitch-shifting verse in the latter being a huge highlight for me. TPAB's politics was overt, but I like how subtly it was embedded in this record.
Much like the ‘I remember you was conflicted’ monologue on TPAB, untitled unmastered. has its own repeating phrase - “Pimp pimp, hurray!”
'Head is the answer / Head is the future' is a lyrical motif meanwhile - analyse what you will ('Head' could also be a metaphor for thought/education? I wouldn't put it past K-Dot to juxtapose fellatio with Cartesian dualism).
I'm pretty sure you can hear TDE label-mate SZA on 'untitled 04' (and elsewhere?). Also Jay Rock is in there. CeeLo Green apparently did vocals on 'untitled 06'.
If some of these tracks sound familiar, it's because 'untitled 03' is the song Kendrick performed on The Colbert Report , 'untitled 04' the one from The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Part of Kendrick's 'untitled 08' verse was also used for remixes of Funkadelic's 'Ain't That Funkin Kinda Hard on You'.
I don't think we should consider this a Kendrick Lamar album in the same way we do Good Kid Maad City, TPAB, Section.80 and Overly Dedicated, but it definitely feels more formal and considered than a mixtape. An extended EP perhaps.
The dating of the tracks suggest they're offcuts written between 2014 and 2016, but the whole thing still feels really cohesive. Like a short film screened after the credits roll on TPAB.
Strangely enough, it seems we have LeBron James to thank for this:
Now somebody get him to ask for that Frank Ocean album.
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