It was a surprise when Kendrick Lamar released the EP “untitled unmastered” at the beginning of this month. Coming so soon after my album of the year “to pimp a butterfly” this could have backfired in lesser hands, where the conventional collection of B-sides are released as a quick money grab after a success. Feeling more like a decision made by the label then the artists themselves.
Although “untitled unmastered” follows some of those conventions, being a collection ideas recorded during and around the making of “to pimp a butterfly”. It manages to show an artist at a creative high. Experimenting with ideas that are as interesting as anything on his most recent album. If Kendricks not at the top of his game he’s certainly at the top of every one else’s and instead of a cheap money grab “untitled unmastered” feels like a stop-gap for fans. A way for him to leave behind the sound of “to pimp a butterfly” and move onto something completely new for his next album whilst also relieving some of the hype that would surround what’s to come it if there had been a two-year wait.
I have listened to this EP many times over the past few weeks and every track manages to hold its own and be part of my favourite collection of pieces so far this year. It was hard to pick one for the TOTW but Untitled 05 grabbed me most on first listen and continues to be a favourite, exemplifying what Kendrick does so well.
The track opens with a two minute build from Anna Wise and Kendrick. Describing different forms of suicide. Accompanied by the jazz instrumentation of drums, saxophone and a collection of keys that have a real woozy swing to them. It’s a sound that feels slightly off, disorienting the listener and it sets you up for the aggressive, regimented delivery of the first verse. It gives the woozy bed of music direction whilst providing a musical context for the angry, drunk and murderous character Kendrick unveils over the first verse. The track then opens up the floor to two more verses including fellow TDE label mates Punch and Jay Rock who both express elements of fears and insecurities within themselves that manage to fit the theme of the overall tune.
The fact that you can read just as much into the musical accompaniment and production as you can the lyrics make this and “to pimp a butterfly” so compelling. There’s a reason why songs sound like they do and why they’re structured in their place within the context of the EP/Album. It goes above and beyond what most artists are willing to do. Creating a work with meaning and subtext that just isn’t there in the surface focused world of most modern popular music. For this Kendrick Lamar deserves all the accolades and credit he is getting at the moment. He’s become one of the most relevant and important artists currently creating work in any of the arts. Proof that there is still hope for the mainstream music industry. That people can create, express and experiment with ideas and sounds and still be successful. I don’t know how he can top the past few years of work but I’m looking forward to see him try because whatever comes next will be both exiting and unexpected.