Kendrick Lamar never stops working. After releasing his breakout album “good kid, m.A.A.d City,” he began working on his next album. “To Pimp a Butterfly” was released in 2015, earning him awards and accolades.
One thing that separated Lamar from modern rap was the style beats featured on the album; “To Pimp a Butterfly” is heavily influenced by jazz. As Lamar says himself on “Black Friday,” a song produced with rapper J. Cole, “Nothing more influential than rap music/I merge jazz fusion with the trap music.”
In addition to featuring such eccentric beats, Lamar’s biggest strength is his storytelling. “good kid, M.A.A.D City” chronicled Lamar’s troubled upbringing in Compton and “To Pimp a Butterfly” dealt with his reaction to his newly found fame. However, what he released last year was everything he created between 2012 and now. With no warning or promotion, Lamar released “untitled unmastered,” a collection of unnamed songs he produced between 2013 and 2016.
The main vibe I get from this album is that these songs follow the same feel and tone as “To Pimp a Butterfly.” A lot of these songs resonate with the story Lamar was trying tell in his previous album. The struggles of Compton, racial injustice, returning after becoming famous and learning to love yourself are all themes common on “untitled unmastered.” It becomes hard to believe Lamar never intended to release any of these songs for sale. One song, “untitled 03 | 05.28.2013” was debuted for the first time during one of the final shows of “The Colbert Report.”
I can understand why Lamar didn’t include these songs on “To Pimp a Butterfly,” as I find it hard to imagine fitting another 34 minutes of music into that album. I’m even loosely considering this collection of songs an EP. In reality, it’s the bonus songs that didn’t get included in a deluxe version of “To Pimp a Butterfly.”
My only complaint about this release is that it lacks a clear and coherent narrative. Where Lamar’s previous two albums were these epic tales of his life, this feels like the collection of bonus songs that it is. This isn’t a bad thing, but it diverges from what made Lamar so special.
Without a doubt, this is the kind of music Lamar is best at making. He thrives when he displays his personal thoughts in his lyrics. In this way, he has become the most thought provoking and significant rapper today. Lamar wants to be the influence for prospective rappers, just like Tupac was for him. He says on “untitled 07 | 2014-2016,” “[I] hope it’s evident that I inspired a thousand emcees to do better.” In a few years, I’m sure his influences will be felt throughout the rap industry. In the meantime, Lamar is not done yet.
Title: “Untitled Unmastered”
Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Release date: March 4