Continuing with the trend of surprise albums, Grammy Award-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar dropped the unexpected compilation album, “Untitled Unmastered” on Friday. The eight-track album is a collection of songs that were created for Lamar’s previous studio album, “To Pimp A Butterfly,” but did not make the final tracklist. Although these songs didn’t make the cut, the album’s production and lyrics mirror Lamar’s previous greatness.
The 2015 platinum record “To Pimp a Butterfly” left many in awe of Lamar’s politically charged music, which encompassed the sounds of jazz and West African styles, and those who hoped for more from the album can find some solace in this new compilation.
The track “untitled 02 | 06.23.2014.” draws one of the closest resemblances to “To Pimp a Butterfly” in both production and style. Lamar also references other tracks from the studio album at the close of the song. Cheers of “Pimp-pimp, hurray!” open the track, and lead to a haunting bass line and saxophone intro. The substantive lyrics highlight the Compton-based rapper’s struggle between his position in the music industry and his life before success.
On “untitled 04 | 08.14.2014.” and “untitled 05 | 09.21.2014.,” Lamar shares the spotlight with fellow Top Dawg Entertainment label mates. Jay Rock and SZA collaborate on the first of the two songs, where SZA reflects on government control while Lamar, representing the government, whispers subversive thoughts to the listener. Jay Rock — who released his own studio album “90059” last September and was more recently injured in a severe motorcycle accident last month — enters in the final 30 seconds of the song, mumbling the bridge which then leads to the next track.
Those who watched Lamar’s performance at the 2015 Grammy Awards may have recognized parts of the first verse of “untitled 05 | 09.21.2014.,” which was included in his act. The track, which features Anna Wise, Punch and Jay Rock, is another piece of the compilation that would have fit well on the final version of “To Pimp A Butterfly.” Its lyrics, which focus on social inequality as the result of institutional racism, is a sobering reminder of Kendrick’s mastery over the microphone.
The track that begs the most attention is the only one without a specific date attached to its title. Named “untitled 07 | 2014-2016,” the track separates its over-eight-minute length into three distinct parts. The three sections come from different demos, which were forced together to make this track.
The first part of the song alludes to the rising success of Lamar as he raps in what feels like a trance, and Lamar then turns to rapping about his success with a new elevated ego in the middle part of the track. The third and final section of the song is much simpler. It’s Lamar and friends in the studio without the feel of any boasting or outside interruptions. Over a guitar, Lamar sings — not very well — lyrics from “untitled 04 | 08.14.2014.” as friends laugh and talk in the background. While each of the three parts were enjoyable, the song isn’t cohesive and makes for a confusing experience.
Although these eight tracks alone could not stand up to the goliath studio album they were created for, the songs are evidence of Lamar’s ability to consistently create quality music. There is currently no explanation as to why these songs did not make it to the final version of Lamar’s previous studio album, but it may simply be because “To Pimp A Butterfly” was already 16 tracks long.
Either way, this was not something that was released with the intention of garnering awards. Instead, the album is a recognition that these tracks stand on their own as impressive creations from Lamar and his team. As praise continues for this unexpected album, we can only wait for the next addition to Lamar’s repertoire.