Kendrick Lamar: Untitled Unmastered - Album Review

An in-depth review of Kendrick Lamar’s Untitled Unmastered

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A complete rundown of Kendrick Lamar’s surprise mixtape titled Untitled Unmastered.

Referred to one of the most challenging albums of 2015, Kendrick Lamar’s second studio album, To Pimp a Butterfly, received eleven Grammy nominations and won four awards, becoming most nominated rap album in the Grammy’s history. Considering that Kendrick’s previous album, Good Kid, M.A.D. City was unjustly snubbed by Macklemore’s The Heist, three years before; this was a major win for Kendrick.

To Pimp a Butterfly has left many music critics waiting anxiously for what Kendrick might do next. In the meantime, Kendrick has released untitled unmastered, a compilation mixtape just as psychologically thrilling and politically-charged.

While many of the songs were created to accompany the winding storyline of To Pimp a Butterfly, the songs on untitled unmastered stand out as their own micro-universe.

​untitled 01 | 08.19.2014

The track starts out knee-deep in our apocalyptic future. Kendrick is having a dream about the earth “no birds chirping or flying, no dogs barking / We all nervous and crying, moving in caution,” and the earth is smoldering—covered in sulphuric brimstone, “The smell is disgusting, the heat is unbearable”.

Life is Fury Road, unless we live life to the fullest.

Mad Max Fury Road 3
While To Pimp a Butterfly felt like Kendrick’s characters teeter between the world of twisted dreams and harsh reality, untitled 01 | 08.19.2014 starts firmly in the vivid vision of Kendrick, who sees the end times in our modern struggles.

untitled 02 | 06.23.2014

This tack is a lot like u from To Pimp a Butterfly.

After the success of Good Kid, M.A.D City, Kendrick feels disconnected from his life as a famous rap star and the violence and poverty that he sees in his hometown of Compton.

Kendrick lost his childhood friend Chad Keaton in 2013 while away recording music for To Pimp a Butterfly. This left a profound effect on Kendrick, who felt the need to go back to Compton and “ball again ‘fore he call us home”.

Kendrick feels like his friends are on borrowed time and doesn’t want to waste it. He feels “stuck inside the belly of the beast”, like he can’t escape this nightmarish present.

Kendrick Lamar Chad Keaton

untitled 03 | 05.28.2013

Kendrick asks people of other ethnicities to advise him on how to live life.

The Asian tells him to find “piece of mind”. The Indian tells him to find “a piece of land”. He asks a fellow black man, who tells him: find “a piece of p*ssy”.

When Kendrick turns to ask the white man, the white man takes from Kendrick. A criticism of the record industry, Kendrick criticises executives for selling his talent, making most of the profit, and telling Kendrick he is still “doing better than average”.

​untitled 04 | 08.14.2014

Short but sweet. The fourth track on this album features the sweet sounds of SZA, New Jersey native who exploded on the PBR&B scene with her 2013 album, Z.

This song is about contradictions in life, whether or not you partake in faith or welfare. It is about not second guessing your gut feelings.

untitled 05 | 09.21.2014

Systematic inequality is central to the themes of To Pimp a Butterfly and untitled unmastered.

Not only that, but struggling with anxiety, depression, and mental illness while also being oppressed by the system. “See I’m livin’ with anxiety, duckin’ the sobriety”.

Abusing alcohol and other substances is a way many people self-medicate, especially in communities that are trapped by institutional poverty and violence.

Everyone has that aunt that smokes to calm her nerves or that brother that drinks to sleep at night—anxious about his next utility bill.

Kendrick Lamar

The hook takes us even further down this train of thought to suicide.

“Jumped into a pit of flames and burned to coal, downed inside the lake outside away you flow”.

In the U.S., suicide rates among young black boys have been on the rise in the last twenty years. With an economic downturn, financial inequality, and social justice issues at the face of the U.S. zeitgeist, this song hits home.

untitled 06 | 06.30.2014

Featuring Cee Lo Green’s whispering vocals, untitled 06 | 06.30.2014, is about embracing your own unique loveliness.

Cee Lo Green said that the song was “organic and natural”, further elaborating that he takes “mixtapes as streams of consciousness”.

As a Gemini, Kendrick says, “duality personalities always conflict in me”. He’s talking to his girl, assuring her that even though he seems a little “bizarre, avant-garde”, they are a part of his attractive self.

He’s kooky, so what? This track is a great contrast to untitled 05, in its positive message. Kendrick embraces all of his personalities!

untitled 07 | 2014-2016

What is better than sex, drugs, money, or fame?

Kendrick says that self-love and self-acceptance gets you higher than the best drugs, the best sex, or even the most money. At some point in the song, it seems like Kendrick resents wealth and fame.

With industry executives hounding him for their cut, he spits: “Shut your fuckin’ mouth and get some cash, you bitch, you, You in your feelings, I be in my bag, you bitch, you”.

While they are whining about getting their money, Kendrick is doing his own thing—loving himself, his friends, and his life.

As the longest songs on the album, 07, feels like several songs or recording sessions that have been sewn together as a summary of the themes of Untitled Unmastered.

Head is the answer, head is the future”, Kendrick sings in an unmastered part of the song. He could be talking about sex being the answer to life’s pains or using knowledge to solve your problems.

This is up to the listener to decide if they want to make that choice.

Kendrick Lamar
​untitled 08 | 09.06.2014

Kendrick closes the album with a track that reminds us of the financial hardships of black Americans and coming to terms with his success in spite of the unfair odds.

Kendrick sees “blue faces” all around him, even as he is skipping to the bank for that “new money”. Guilt is welling up inside of him, “it’s breaking me down honey”, he says.

Kendrick is talking to his home girl who “got a credit card scam”. Even though she “got a scholarship to college”, she needs short term money to get through most days.

College takes patience—four years or more—which is a lot longer to wait for than a scam that can help her in the now. Kendrick empathises, because even though she may get a college degree she will still have to hope to “make it”.

His friend can be educated, talented, and hardworking, but the workplace has the odds stacked against her because she is a woman.

Conclusion

While this mixtape is untitled and unmastered, Kendrick’s latest still outperforms other artists sonically and thematically.

Imbued with funk, we take a peek into the dual mind of a creative who is reconciling with his fame and his roots.

Kendrick’s voice is skillfully tuned and rung out for a joyride through multiple perspectives. Are these the personalities he refers to in 06? He plays the role of the burdened seer, struggling woman, and guilt-ridden survivor.

Kendrick has always been a high-concept story teller, and he excels again with Untitled Unmastered.

Kendrick Lamar’s Untitled Unmastered is available for download now via iTunes.