By Matt Derenzo
For the past five years Kendrick Lamar has released material that has been highly regarded as consistent and quality hip hop in an era of mediocrity. In an era of simple, repetitive beats and easily consumable lyrics, he has brought a mainstream alternative to the landscape. Lamar’s new album of previously unreleased tracks and demos furthers this inventive production and thought-provoking lyricism.
Lamar’s spontaneously released album “Untitled Unmastered” is an avant-garde collection of songs that did not make it on the final cut of his latest studio album, released last year, entitled “To Pimp A Butterfly.” The influence of “To Pimp A Butterfly” can be heard throughout the entire album. From the pumping, fluid bass sound that carries the album, to the experimentation with different music styles, such as free jazz and funk, as well as lyrics centered around issues about prejudice, propaganda, and self-annihilation.
You can also hear the progression of Lamar’s sound from his first album “Section .80” through “To Pimp A Butterfly”. Although Lamar’s sound constantly changes from album to album, the main themes of his work have pretty much stayed the same. His music tells the story of a decaying society that is desperately trying to find value in the world. He has a way of looking at the world that can sound very critical, without sounding pretentious. In one of the stand-out tracks from “Untitled Unmastered”, “untitled 02 | 06.23.2014,” Lamar states, “I’m sick and tired of being tired, I can’t pick a side, the Gemini.” This one verse encapsulates the main themes of the album, such as the self-awareness of his own problems and the hope that something positive will arise from this situation.
The musical style of “Untitled Unmastered” demonstrates a variety of different sounds and genres. Although this album uses a lot of electronic production, it also includes practical instrumentation as well. This adds an extra element of authenticity to the music of Lamar. You can hear a massive difference in the power and impact of the real drums in songs such as “untitled 05 | 09.21.2014.”, compared to the more artificial sound of a drum machine. The use of real instruments adds to the authentic, improvisational jazz and funk sound of the album. Studio musicians such as Terrence Martin and Thundercat bring a genuine sound of energy and passion to the rhythm of “Untitled Unmastered”. From the steadily grooving bass sound of “untitled 08 | 09.06.2014.” to the soothing and experimental trumpet from “untitled 05 | 09.21.2014.”.
“Untitled Unmastered” flows surprisingly well. Even though Lamar’s newest album is structured in an unconventional way, there is some sense of narrative. When the album opens with the first track, Lamar seems to have intense feelings of confusion and anger about the state of the world, by the last track he sounds as if he has come to a sense of realization and acceptance about modern society.
Lamar has created a piece of work where you can feel the influence behind his previous albums, as well as what he might create in the future. He made great use of the new media marketing style by simply releasing his work with barely any prior notice. By using this model he gave his listeners a more personal experience with his music that would not have been possible otherwise.