Kendrick Lamar - Untitled Unmastered

Kendrick Lamar - Untitled Unmastered

 Get God on the phone.

After the success of good kid, m.A.A.d. city, we wondered where Kendrick Lamar would go next. He responded with To Pimp a Butterfly—a transcendent concept album that rivals its predecessor in excellence. After, we wondered if Kendrick had exhausted himself. TPAB is a tricky album to follow-up. It charges at you like a bull at full speed. It infuriates and ignites. Yet it's reassuring in equal measure.

So how do you follow up an album of such great significance? You don't. You create something distinct that still lies within your purview. Eight new tracks, all untitled, each with a powerful focal point.

"The tallest building plummet, cracking, and crumbling. The ground is shaking."

It opens with an apocalyptic scene that recalls parts of Mad Max: "Ocean water dried out, fire burning more tires out/Tabernacle and city capital turned inside out." Kendrick's word work immediately eliminates any doubts that these songs are leftovers from the Butterfly sessions.

Life no longer infinity this was the final calling
No birds chirping or flying, no dogs barking
We all nervous and crying, moving in caution
In disbeliefs our belief's the reason for all this
The tallest building plummet, cracking, and crumbling
The ground is shaking, swallowing a young woman
With a baby, daisies, and other flowers burning in destruction
The smell is disgusting, the heat is unbearable
Preachers touching on boys run for cover, the paranoid
Rapists and murderers hurdle alleys
Valleys and high places turn into dust
Famous screaming in agony

Undoubtedly, untitled unmastered was packaged as a gift for Kendrick fans eager to hear more from the reigning rap king. Tracks like "untitled 03" and "untitled 08" sound like they could fit perfectly with To Pimp a Butterfly.

The latter is a neck-snapping funk jam, previously unveiled on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon when it was still known as "untitled 02."

The second part of that Tonight Show performance introduced another would-be "untitled track," the eventual "untitled 02," in which Kendrick sends warning shots to his peers: "I can put a rapper on life support/Guarantee that's something none of you want."

In fact, Cornrow Kenny really let his hair down on "untitled 02," which also nods to several members of the Top Dawg Entertainment crew:

"Me and Top is like a Kobe and Phil
A father figure, play with him, you get killed
Play with me and he will kill you himself
TDE the mafia of the west
Move in silence, yeah, we juggin’ like that
Act of violence, yeah, we juggin’ like that
I did a lot of dumb things in my past
Lord forgive me, hoping I don't relapse
Dave just bought a new nine eleven
Almost thought I’d seen another plane crash
Q just bought a brand new McLaren
Rock-a-lack about to buy the projects
Moosa got his son dripping in gold
Ali 'bout to let his hair down on hoes
Me, I'm about to let my hair down on hoes
Top billing that’s a million a show
Might blow the whole Remy on soul
Might tell Obama be more like Punch
Sounwave caught a Grammy last year
Mack wop, bet he do what he want"

The most musically complex song on untitled is "untitled 05," a 5-and-half-minute avant-rap jigsaw puzzle. With Thundercat (bass), Terrace Martin (keys and sax), and Soundwave (drums) working in concert, it combines hip-hop's deepest roots--jazz, funk, and soul. It also sports some of the album's most harrowing content, courtesy of Lamar, Punch and Jay Rock.

"No you're not easily impressed, but I possess qualities that you need to see."

"Untitled 07" is a three-part track co-produced by Egypt Dean, the 5-year-old son of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys. It captures an emotional high and the eventual deflation, capped by a jam session in which Kendrick illustrates a vision for another song on the EP.

Overall, untitled unmastered fits nicely with Kendrick’s mantra as a rapper: leadership, awareness, influence, and the occasional sexual allusion. Every track on the album is attached to a specific date. Although the chant at the beginning of the tracks helps unify the album, the songs were likely created piecemeal, rather than as a collective body of work.

As if his dominance was ever in question, Kendrick has made an even more powerful statement with untitled unmastered. Although it lacks the cohesive focus of his last two efforts, untitled unmastered remains a remarkable addendum to Kendrick Lamar's catalog.