Coming only a year after his earth-shattering masterpiece, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” I was surprised to hear word of a new Kendrick release arriving. In fact, I was worried. It isn’t like Kendrick to rush projects, so I was happy to hear that this in fact leftovers from the preceding album. Eight untitled, unmastered, raw tracks, clearly from the same creative headspace as “To Pimp a Butterfly.” But it doesn’t only show in style and sound, it shows in quality, because the limited material here is absolutely stunning.
The album opens with more of the jazzy textures that defined “To Pimp a Butterfly,” complete with rolling drums, beds of pianos, tumbling saxophone lines, etc. This sound defines much of the album, albeit with rawer production. The beats here sound like straight up, in the moment jams, with really loose and live drums and bass to drive the grooves. “untitled 05” is a great example of this, with a cascading bass line and an almost droning drum groove reminiscent of D’Angelo’s “1000 Deaths.” (In fact, “Black Messiah” is a pretty appropriate comparison for this project, with all of the analogue production.) Adrian Younge, one of the biggest advocates of analogue production today, even comes along and produces “untitled 06” with Ali Shaheed Muhammed. The drums, like on Younge’s recently released “Something About April II,” sound husky, dusty, and alive, playing an irresistible Bossa Nova groove. The groove, along with CeeLo Green’s typically incredible (and catchy) guest vocals, make this clearly one of the standouts here.
But the album’s production isn’t all live, however. There are a couple of trap beats here, which at this point in Kendrick’s career, sound more out of left-field than the jazz. This is also due to the eerie and lumbering nature of them. Kendrick obviously isn’t out out to make a bangers, so when he goes down a more obnoxious, ignorant, “trap” route, it becomes unsettling instead of infectious. But ultimately interesting.
The real draw here though, is Kendrick himself. The production, while interesting by itself, only serves to compliment his lyrics and voice, and he is on his A game here, spitting some of his most poetic verses yet. The first track features a lone verse detailing The Rapture, complete with tumbling buildings, earthquakes, fire, and dried up oceans. Just personally, this is a topic that’s always interested me, so hearing Kendrick tackle it with such vivid poetry was great. More vivid verses follow in “untitled 05,” with images of Kendrick drinking himself into a stupor at an intersection. With this song, it becomes clear how some of these tracks could have fit on “To Pimp a Butterfly,” as lyrically it has that that same “rock bottom” feel as “u,” but the guest verse from Punch provides a ray of hopeful light. A number of other verses and tracks on this album we’ve already heard, like “untitled 03,” which he played on The Colbert Report, “untitled 08,” which he played on Fallon, and “untitled 02,” where the second verse he spits is the one closed out his Fallon performance. (I prefer that verse live, as here he raps it much more understated.) However, the other previously heard songs match up to their live counterparts, as they retain the same groove due to the raw production, and obviously Kendrick doesn’t lose a step.
“untitled unmastered.” is great for any album, and for a collection of essentially leftovers, its exceptional. Like “To Pimp a Butterfly,” the production is jazzy and interesting, and Kendrick continues his reign as the best rapper around, no question (and continues his path to legend status), but also continues his run of unprecedented excellence. Through 3 studio albums, one B sides collection, countless live and televised performances, and many public appearances, he’s still batting .1000. “untitled unmastered” is just another piece of the narrative.
Standout Tracks: “untitled 01” “untitled 03” “untitled 05” “untitled 06” “untitled 08”