Kendrick Lamar was the man of the moment in 2015. To Pimp a Butterfly was a masterclass of conscious rap addressing the extreme racial discrimination that continues to play out in the US, and beyond. Untitled Unmastered isn’t a follow-up: it’s a collection of polished demos and experiments that are powerful and additive in their own right.
Lamar pulled no punches on TPAB, and he is equally as frank here. On the opening track ‘Untitled 01 08.19.2014’, he spits a tirade against discrimination, abuse of the poor, corruption, and more. Lamar’s perceptive lyricism is spectacular, making impactful statements with deliciously witty turns of phrase (“I guess I’m running in place trying to make it to church”; “Worried about your career / Did you ever think of your health?”).
This tape is ambitious musically, too, with tracks ranging from sparse downtempo, to floaty jazz, to wavy trap (‘Untitled 07 2014 – 2016’) – Lamar even gets his Bobby Womack on with an improvised acoustic solo. Backing up the rapper on this mini-album are many of the musicians and producers who worked on TPAB, including Terrace Martin, Thundercat and Bilal. It also features guest vocals from Jay Rock, SZA, Anna Wise and Cee-Lo, the latter delivering a sterling performance on the standout sixth track.
Witty words, vibrant funk, psychedelic electronica and rich guest performances make this mini-album better than many mixtapes or full albums by Lamar’s contemporaries. It’s a triumphant victory lap to his grandstanding second album.
Untitled Unmastered is out now on Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope.