Friday, 4 March 2016

Kendrick Lamar - untitled unmastered Review

Only a year on since his game changing magnum opus “To Pimp a Butterfly”, Kendrick Lamar has
returned with another “full length” “album”.  The quotation marks serve to impress upon the reader that this project is both brief in comparison to the hour long odyssey of “To Pimp a Butterfly”, and clearly made up of cuts that didn’t meet its incredibly high requirements.  The same themes are explored with the same seething anger and agile eloquent rhymes dancing over the hot jazz funk instrumental. 

“untitled unmastered” opens with the untitled and unmastered “untitled 01”.  The off kilter organ tones skirt around the sinister double bass notes and a sexualised sampled voice.  Admittedly this sample is somewhat thematically misleading, as when Kendrick enters, furious as ever, he isn’t rapping about anything that could in any way be considered sensual.  The motif behind “untitled 01” is based entirely around a scene of biblical reckoning, in which “The tallest buildings plummet, cracking and crumbling” and “The ground is shaking swallowing young women, with babies, daisies, and flowers burning in destruction”.  Kendrick then begins pointing fingers towards those responsible for this extermination, “No more discriminating the poor”.  As the instrumental begins to rupture like the earth in this biblical epoch, Kendrick begins to focus more on his own failures, over a gentle piano accompaniment.

“untitled 02” introduces the main leitmotiv that the album has to offer, this being the celebratory repetition of “Pimp, Pimp, Hooray!”.  It then delves into a deep, ominous jazz cacophony, reminiscent of the groove on “Mortal Man”, suggesting this track was considered as an alternative closer to “To Pimp a Butterfly”.  Lyrically Lamar continues in a religious direction, this time honing in on his own moral inequities and subsequent desperation.  “Stuck in the belly of the best, Can you please pray for me?”, is a line that wouldn’t have been out of place on the accusatory and inquisitive “Mortal Man”, another song about both Kendrick’s failures, and his relationship with those around him. 

The upbeat “untitled 03” incorporates the same emphatic harmonised vocals that supported “King Kunta”.  Despite this it feels more like an extension of the “Section 83” opener “Fuck Your Ethnicity”, as Kendrick dismantles racial and religious stereotypes with ease, as well as incorporating a level of understanding about the similarities each shares with the others.  “A peace of mind, that’s what the Asian said, I need a divine, intervention was his religion now it’s a prize, him believing in Buddha, me believing in God”.  The bouncy instrumental is effective in making “untitled 03” one of the more accessible songs on the album, and a welcome respite from the brilliant but draining gravity of previous tracks.

“untitled 04” sees Kendrick tackling the disenfranchisement of the youth in certain communities, dissatisfied with both themselves and the future that the world has laid out for them.  “They say the government mislead the youth, and that welfare ain’t well for you”.  Every opening line is preceded and punctuated by a sinister whispering voice, inciting immorality and disillusionment.  The line “The preacher man don’t always tell the truth” illuminates the first chink in Kendrick’s otherwise unshakeable faith, and provides the level of emotional and philosophical nuance that is a staple of his writing at this point.

The fast paced bass solo that opens “untitled 05” is at times antiphonal and unwelcoming, until the twinkling piano tones descend, accompanied by an ethereal female voice.  Juxtaposed to the overall beauty of the instrumental are lyrics that discuss violence, “Somebody said you bumped your head and bled the floor, jumped into a pit of flames and burned to coal”.  In a sudden switch of tone, the vocals proclaim, “That means the world to me”, instilling in the listener the idea that this song is thematically similar to Bruno Mar’s “Grenade”, but with stellar lyrics and intense self-awareness.
The highlight of the entire project is undoubtedly “untitled 06”, a piece of gorgeous pop that could easily have rivalled “i” as the stand out single of “To Pimp A Butterfly”.  It tackles all the same issues based around both self-esteem and personal failures, and stops just short of Kendrick proclaiming “I love myself”.  He instead asserts his own individuality, and obvious superiority to his peers, “You stick out like an alien to those around, that’s alright, I like it, you and me are the same.”       
The penultimate track reintroduces the triumphant, “Pimp pimp hooray” chant, a sort of victory chant from the man who is now without competition in his field.  The final track is another upbeat funk tune, that sees Kendrick once again in celebration mode.

If I were to quote every utterly inspired lyric on this album, discuss every exhilarating key change, instrumental fluctuation and detail, then this review would be infinitely longer than it already is.  Only Kendrick could release a set of rejected cuts from a year-old album and have it be the most honest, passionate and exciting hip hop record of the year.  I recommend listening to every song on this album, in minute detail, particularly if you’re a fan of “To Pimp a Butterfly”. 

Charlie McCartney

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