Album Review: Kendrick Lamar: ‘untitled, unmastered.’

Blaise Radley

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Releasing an album without warning is probably the most effective manner to announce your status as a heavyweight within the music world. On a creative level it implies that producing an album of worthy material is a trifling matter, whilst containing the implicit brag that the artist has reached a point beyond the realm of promotion, where releasing new music is front page news whether or not it’s been forewarned. That’s not to say Kendrick is having some sort of Kanye-esque moment here, but instead that he is securing his status at the top of the game with each passing month. More than anything else untitled unmastered. comes across as a personal gift for avid listeners, rather than an acknowledgement that he takes his wealth of fans for granted.

Straight off the bat it should be evident that this EP is constructed from cuts previously left on the floor–that’s not to say the quality is low but the title, the song names and the sudden release make it pretty clear where these songs have come from. What is surprising then is how consistent this release is, full of weighty kick drums and rolling basslines all topped with Lamar’s signature brand of conscious rap. Its relative brevity is helpful given that it only clocks in at 8 tracks, but the creativity you would expect from Kendrick still permeates the majority of what is on display here. Songs are normally left off a record for a reason, so some skepticism is warranted but by the time you hit the second track it should be clear that this is something to applaud rather than a potential misfire.

‘untitled 07 l 2014 – 2016’ is the track that probably best captures the essence of this release. Constructed like a play in three acts, it begins with a bass-heavy beat that’s most reminiscent of Good Kid M.A.A.D City, accompanied by a sombre Kendrick intoning “We don’t want problems/ We don’t want tricks”, before moving onto a latin-infused second section which opens with the wonderful “I feel like Pacino in Godfather, I’m charged/ Our father who art in Heaven, Kendrick at large”. Most interestingly however, is the last part in which we hear Kendrick accompanied by an incredibly scarce backing track in an impromptu recording/jam session, with interruptions and laughter left in for good measure. In just 8 minutes he flits between the two ends of the spectrum we’ve seen his work take up until now, before giving us a rare glimpse behind the creative curtain so many artists like to hold up in front of their work.

The only major criticism that could be leveled at untitled unmastered. is that it is not as innovative or cohesive as his major studio releases, but that was clearly never Kendrick’s intention. Receiving this EP as it’s intended is a joyful experience, a surprise that only serves to remind us why he can drop a record of b-sides without warning and still ignite a global frenzy of mouse clicking.

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