WPGM Recommends: Kendrick Lamar – Untitled Unmastered (Album Review)

What is a better wake up call than finding out K-Dot a.k.a Kendrick Lamar has dropped a new record. Surprised by the minimal artwork and title tracks, I started to wonder what’s in store.

Kendrick Lamar is owning the rap game right now, with a brilliant show stealing performance at the Grammy Awards, 11 nods (second only to Michael Jackson) and 2015’s To Pimp A Butterfly being nothing short of a masterpiece, Kendrick Lamar’s ship is at full speed. This is the perfect time for Lamar to release something new, especially whilst his flag is flying high.

Safe to say for a lot of people worldwide, Untitled Unmastered is definitely going to have ear drums closely tuned in. The album starts of with “Untitled 01 08.19.2014”. If that isn’t obvious enough, it is clear that these tracks are from sessions and demos for his full length album To Pimp A Butterfly (2015). The record opens up with something along the lines of an Alice Coltrane dreamy sequence, quickly cutting into what only reminds me of RZA and Wu Tang’s signature sound.

Listening to this helps you vision Kendrick Lamar in the studio, showing off that he is a master at shaping, searching and constructing music, experimenting with ideas but also having a strong vision on the horizon. This opening track ends with a whole new but familiar sound that we will get to know well in To Pimp A Butterfly, an experiment for the later album perhaps?

“Untitled 03 05.28.2013” shows a J Dilla appreciation from Lamar, with a Philly inspired beat, produced by Astronote. This track could easily have been something The Roots would have made, reminiscent of signature tight hi-hats of Questlove, with that breaking bass guitar. The punchy female vocals are making an appearance on this, you know the ones that give “King Kunta” its flavour.

At this point, it is very interesting to see how ideas are shaping up for To Pimp A Butterfly, but this is still new music for 2016. Kendrick is brave, he has no fear of holding back in his words. Again, he speaks about the realities for African Americans in America today, his internal dialogue, social issues, his hope, everything that leads to and is explored in To Pimp A Butterfly – this guy can spit bars with a wide range.

“Untitled 05 09.21.2014” sounds like Flying Lotus has got on board, a match made in heaven, production in fact is courtesy of Terrace Martin. The Jazz inspirations are starting to build up more and more as you get deeper into this record, this must have only set the tone for the future album, and what a choice to make. Kendrick is testing with characters, voices, accents and flows, which is only a breath of fresh air in Hip Hop at the moment, and of course something that proved to be a great direction for him.

“Untitled 07 2014-2016” sees a CeeLo Green contribution, but apparently Alicia Key’s son makes an appearance too on production. This continues on to a tasty lo-fi jam session recording that suspiciously sounds like Thundercat on the Bass, it reminds me of Mos Def’s Marvellous Marvin, “come on come on come on come on”, it takes you to the east coast, closing off the epic 8-minute track.

So, the beats are varied, testing the waters with a combination of current trends, but it’s the Jazz, Soul, Funk vibes that really shine through, setting paths for a later long play. The live drum sounds are such a treat, the kick drum is loud, it really hits your heart forcefully. The cymbals and hats vibrate, allowing you to feel like you are there in the studio. Listening to this EP, you’re in L.A. and you can almost feel the heat rising off the pavement. The album finishes off with what else, a G-Funk inspired track, produced by DJ Khalil.

To Pimp A Butterfly showed us how much music history went into making the album, Untitled Unmastered supports this, proof that these guys are junkies for music, exploring every angle possible corner when making new songs, “this is a 15 min song, we just jammin’ out” laughs Lamar on “Untitled 07 2014-2016”.

This track also sees Lamar playing with the pusher character, adopting the modern sound of Trap, spinning hi-hats and deep melodic bass lines that are popular today. The repetitive lyrics then cut into a tight sampled beat, which allows Lamar to push his flow and word play limits, resulting in him proving there is no limit, K-Dot can push and change the size of syllables in such a creative way.

I really enjoy the studio magic on this, the effects used, the interactions of the songs, the mixing and overlapping, every trick feels like a new one. The spring reverbs, the cut and pasting, it all works with huge artistic merits and loyalty to hip hop. Even if this is half an hour of demos, there is no doubt you can groove to this, but this time, to a rawer product.

Testing, this is what you have to think when listening to this record. They are not cut offs for To Pimp A Butterfly, these are insights to a future. How did Kendrick’s alter egos and characters grow, the drug dealer, the people’s speaker, the kid from Compton. I adore the voices and accents that Lamar deploys, and clearly he has mastered it, ready for a big release.

The interaction between the voices, the way Lamar talks to his characters on the record is genius. It takes one hell of a word smith to be able to do all this, I can only imagine that his mind must be at a million miles an hour. I cannot hear anything wrong with this EP, maybe it is all credit to LeBron James for encouraging the release, but the people got new music and Lamar has not disappointed. Let’s hope Prince follows in Lamar’s footsteps.

Purchase Kendrick Lamar’s Untitled Unmastered on iTunes here.

Words by Muhebur Shaha

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