Kendrick Lamar

Untitled Unmastered (Aftermath / Interscope)

Phases & Stages

Obliging NBA superstar LeBron James' call for "those untitled tracks," Untitled Unmastered shouldn't be considered an uncalculated affair. In one of the better uses of B-sides in recent memory – if they could reasonably be called such – the Compton MC got the jump on March Madness 2016 with a creatively unhinged and politically charged salvo likely to rival any to follow. It also doubles as a thoughtful companion piece to four-time Grammy winner To Pimp a Butterfly from last year. "Untitled 01" initially meanders as an Outkast deep cut-influenced free jazz piece, but shapes up quickly as Lamar runs roughshod on sin and religious judgment – setting off an album-long motif. "Pimp, pimp hooray," exclaims the rapper, touching on internal struggles with greed over atmospheric trap on "Untitled 02." Label associates from Top Dawg Entertainment, SZA and Jay Rock ask you not to "second-guess yourself" on the fleshy "Untitled 04," offering humanity a pleasurable cure-all: "Head is the answer. Head is the future." Producer Terrace Martin and genius bassist Thundercat – both of whom leave considerable marks the album over – lay groundwork on inequality for "Untitled 05," and "Untitled 06" features Cee Lo Green cutting through thumping bossa nova from producers Ali Shaheed Muhammed and Adrian Younge. Aside from the political and religious carry begun on To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar seems to be aiming (if passive-aggressively) at Drake's head periodically. Reminiscent of Big Daddy Kane and Rakim's semi rivalry, the two are locked into a simmering "cold war." Untitled Unmastered can't be considered completely realized since there are tell-tale signs to the contrary, such as the live demoing of "Untitled 04" toward the end. Nevertheless, these overt aims at artful truth in a world of edits result in a near-classic in their own right. Kendrick Lamar does an impeccable job of wrapping up the entire Butterfly process in a tidy bow.

****

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