When I heard, “What did the Asian say?,” I immediately looked up from the textbook I was “reading,” snapped my head up and wondered, “What did I have to say?”
This referral to outside wisdom is one way “untitled unmastered” differs from Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” and also one reason why I enjoyed this album. Since the tracks are those left over from TPAB recording sessions, they still explore many of the same themes — self-exploration, condemning the superficial, connecting to your roots — but the plea to other minority groups in “untitled 03 | 05.28.2013” and the minimal production were welcome differences from the last album. I liked the sparseness of “untitled 01 | 08.19.2014,” the joy of “untitled 06 | 06.30.2014” was a standout and the grooviness of “untitled 08 | 09.06.2014” was so infectious it got me to say words like “grooviness.”
“Untitled unmastered” may not be as cohesive as TPAB (for a reason), but its strength lies in its sparse production, which lets Kendrick’s masterful lyricism do the talking and reminds us that this is an artist at the top of his game, who’s still always striving to be better.
- untitled 01 | 08.19.2014
Although the first track off the album feels apocalyptic, it’s purely from the power and urgency conveyed through Kendrick’s voice, as the production is relatively minimal. His lyrics paint the unsettling picture of buildings plummeting and ground shaking, “swallowing young woman with a baby, daisies, and other flowers burning in destruction.” He has to answer to the big man upstairs: What has he done in the world to justify going to Heaven? Is “To Pimp a Butterfly” enough? Is anything he’s doing enough? Or is he just stuck, always “running in place trying to make it to church”?
- untitled 02 | 06.23.2014
Katt Williams has made a whole career from exploring the attitude and style of the “pimp,” but here Kendrick explores the illusions of “pimping and posing” and how the glamour and fame he’s come to know contrasts with the imagery of “pistol and poverty” from the place he comes from. If this lyrical tension isn’t enough for you to sift through, Kendrick’s flow transition in the second verse might do the trick. What a Slick Rick (I’m trying to make that expression a thing) move — effortless and cooool. After all, it’s Cornrow Kenny. How could he not be cool?
- untitled 03 | 05.28.2013
Asians are wise, y’all. We’re tellin Kendrick to be peaceful, meditate and “think of your health.” You’re welcome. Many of his songs deal with looking within himself, but I enjoy that he’s turning to other people and other cultures for guidance.
- untitled 04 | 08.14.2014
Remind me not to listen to this when I’m in bed. I don’t need Voldemort whispering at me while I’m trying to sleep, thank you very much. But apparently Kendrick’s whispering here is meant to represent the government, so the creepiness works. While the state is telling people that they’re to blame for their troubles (“talk about the charge you got…”), SZA’s beautiful, soulful singing represents the black community’s frustrations at being lied to and not knowing what to do. The mantra now is “head is the answer” — maybe the new “knowledge is power” — highlighting the importance of thinking for yourself. Or I might be overthinking it, and as one Rap Genius commenter eloquently pointed out, “he’s actually talking about getting dome.” Whatever works, man.
- untitled 05 | 09.21.2014
With lyrics like “drowned inside the lake outside away you flow,” I couldn’t help but think about Frank Ocean’s “Swim Good” and the lines: “I’m about to drive in the ocean, I’ma try to swim from somethin’ bigger than me.” Both songs explore the theme of escapism and our tendency to flee instead of dealing with our problems and the problems of society like “genocism and capitalism.” Is self-determination and control “a mirage or a facade”? Can we really control anything?
- untitled 06 | 06.30.2014
Not since “good kid, m.A.A.d. city” have I thought that a Kendrick album could be, to put it simply, a good time. Of course the album dealt with heavy stuff, but it was also just fun to listen to and something I could jam to in my car. And TPAB, although culturally and lyrically beautiful and important, was not always easy to listen to (as it should be), with the exception of a few songs like “i” and “King Kunta.” But after hearing the sixth song from this album, I feel like I can confidently say that “untitled unmastered” returns to the fine form of easy listening, without being as annoying as muzak. The production throughout is easy, breezy, beautiful, Covergirl. And this song, which expresses the importance of individuality over music that seems vaguely OutKast-like, is fun at its finest.
- untitled 07 | 2014-2016
To be honest I’d give this song 5/5 stars just for the line, “Santa’s reindeer better have some ass.” The imagery by itself is gold. But the rest of the track isn’t bad either, from the trap-sounding Part 1, all the way to the low-key third section where it’s just Kendrick and his team “jamming out” and brainstorming ideas for songs. We rarely get to see goofy, relaxed Kendrick, so it’s a nice thing to hear. Also, apparently Swizz Beatz’s son Egypt produced this song, so everyone else can officially stop sending out their resumes and accept that 5-year-olds will be taking over their jobs.
- untitled 08 | 09.06.2014
I’m a little embarrassed that “This is groovy!” was the first thing that popped into my head when I heard the intro to this song, as I’m neither a character in “That 70’s Show” nor outrageously high (at this moment). But I couldn’t deny it: This song is bringing the funk. The music is bouncy and light and wouldn’t be out of place in a Yoplait commercial where there’s a bunch of white people in sweaters eating yogurt with the same enjoyment as if they were having sex. But I’d definitely prefer not to hear it in that context.
In keeping with the name of this blog, “The Hot Pot,” I thought I’d keep the whole temperature theme going. Gimmicky, yes, but refined has never been in my wheelhouse. Why not steer into the skid, huh?
Scale: 1 (frozen) – 10 (boiling)
Rating: 9: Satan’s butthole
I debated whether that’s actually colder than boiling, but anything involving the words “Satan’s butthole” is probably not an exact science.
All in all, the album is introspective and powerful, but Kendrick does all the talking and the production takes a back seat. That doesn’t stop it from being funky once in a while. He’s also exploring a few new territories while still tapping into the themes that we’re familiar with. I can’t wait for his next project!