ALBUM REVIEW: Kendrick Lamar's 'untitled unmastered.'


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Kendrick Lamar’s unpublicized surprise release, untitled unmastered. has met with incredible success. In many ways, this project sounds like a sequel to Kendrick’s last album, To Pimp a Butterfly, which also met with both critical and popular success. In these most recent projects, Kendrick continues to forge a sound that is simultaneously soulful, jazzy, pleasant, and yet, at times, arrestingly sharp and piercing. Thematically, his work embodies a similar contradiction; it is, in one moment, fun rap music, easy to ride to, and in the next, somber and thought provoking. Kendrick Lamar is often mentioned for the contemplative, self-aware nature of his music. Thematically, much of his work is devoted to the political and social marginalization and even the physical trauma many black Americans are subjected to. This focus, and the intelligence that Kendrick applies to it, have made him a favorite object of praise for mindful hip hop heads (as well as an object of blame for certain conservative media outlets). What is really most remarkable about Kendrick’s work, though, is the way his address of these social issues, as well as his many apparently sincere enquiries of God, never remove his music from whole-hearted participation in the same experiences that he is simultaneously observing and analyzing. Kendrick’s music may be, in many ways, a contemplation of experience and struggle, but it is also an anthemic and often celebratory part of that experience. Untitled unmastered. is no different.untitled unmastered. The production on this album alone makes it worth having. Jazz-inspired keys and rumbling, thrumming bass lines sound entrancingly smooth behind Kendrick’s characteristic high-pitched, panicky voice and intricate, fast-paced flow. These beats obviously owe their parentage to jazz, blues, funk; in other words, Kendrick is acknowledging a heritage of excellent black art. Untitled unmastered. along with TPaB, uses African American imagery and history to further establish Kendrick as not only an intelligent, poetic, creative analyzer of black culture and art, but as an invested, participating creator thereof. And, perhaps what is even more important, these beats are beautifully done. What really sets Kendrick apart, though, is his lyricism. Fans of Kendrick’s work so far will not be disappointed by untitled unmastered. His characteristic, unabashed observations of black experiences of marginalization are there; his critiques both of government and of violence in black communities are there; his genuine, self-reflective prayers are there, too. Kendrick’s emotional voice and shaky, sprinting flow pronounce lyrics that leap from topic to topic, and, it seems, the only thing excluded are easy answers. Kendrick’s evocative lyricism in untitled unmastered. represents not just his continuing growth and definition as an artist. In this album, listeners can witness a hip hop that does not provide a moral to the story. That is where Kendrick continues to stand taller than other “conscious” rappers. He is creating work that manages to be both about and a part of an experience. As such, the lyrics in untitled unmastered. may seem strange and hard to follow, but they also ring with a refreshing, even startling authenticity.  
Credits Words by Micah Bhachech Photo by Ellis Parrinder for the Observer News Review