Kendrick Lamar new album ‘untitled unmastered.’: First listen and impressions

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The Independent Culture

We hadn’t even recovered from Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, and Kendrick Lamar has dropped a new album/EP out of nowhere.

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.

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.

Buy tickets for Kendrick Lamar at British Summer Time Festival