On the night of March 3rd 2016, hip hop fans were given a midnight surprise from one of Rap’s most talented artists. Around 11 o’clock,  Kendrick Lamar announced the surprise release of 8 new songs available for streaming and purchase on all major streaming outlets (imagine that, Kanye). Coming off the release of his Chart topping and critically lauded album To Pimp A Butterfly, rumors had been swirling regarding the possible release of unused material from the To Pimp A Butterfly sessions. After performing a previously unheard track during his powerful performance at the Grammy’s, fans of Lamar, including NBA player LeBron James pleaded with the Compton based rapper to release the tracks.

Lamar released the album, titled untitled unmastered to a refreshing lack of fanfare after the feverish self promotion and social media campaign used by Kanye West in promotion of the overhyped and ultimately disappointing  The Life Of Pablo. As the title suggests, the songs have a very organic  feel to them.  The album’s songs are also titled in a somewhat minimalist fashion, each following the same formula: the word: untitled, which is followed by a track number, and a date.

untitled unmastered lives up to it’s name. The album has a very raw, mixtape-like feel to it, lacking the the polish, production value and finish of Kendrick’s other works, especially To Pimp A Butterfly. That being said, a lack of polish and production value is not necessarily a bad thing, especially for someone like Lamar, who is not unlike Mobb Deep’s Prodigy in his already raw and gritty vocal delivery. In general, one of the biggest issues with  modern hip hop is how overproduced a great deal of it sounds. It is refreshing to see a talent like Lamar in such a raw, intimate setting, reliant only on the his own voice and the beat behind his vocals.

The lyrical content is deeply personal as well. Themes of race, violence, and especially Lamar’s spirituality are recurring themes throughout the album. “Untitled 08” is a particularly powerful song, and chronicles issues with adversity and feelings of futility behind a “King Kunta”-esque beat and delivery.

One thing that really separates Kendrick from other rappers today is his use of sampling, and on untitled unmastered, he doesn’t disappoint. The samples on the album are really interesting. Since he broke out, Kendrick has showed an uncanny ability to to find unique and unconventional sampling material. The jazz and funk influences of To Pimp A Butterfly are definitely in their developmental stages  at times in the album, especially on “untitled 05 9.21.2014” and “untitled 06 6.30.2014”. Lyrically, the album is very much displaying the transition from the more adolescent Lamar that we saw in Lamar’s first two albums to the more politically aware

Although not a full length follow up to To Pimp A Butterfly, untitled unmastered serves as an interesting, albeit short work that really gives us an up close and personal look at Lamar’s growth as an artist since his last release, 2012’s Good Kid, m.A.A.d City.The use of jazz and funk samples coupled with Lamar’s gritty vocals really gives this album a retro feel. This is an album that musically embraces rap’s heritage, especially bringing to mind the work of past greats like The Pharcyde and Eric B. & Rakim, but still manages to sound fresh and innovative.

In untitled unmastered, Kendrick Lamar continues his mastery of defying rap’s status quo. While the album is nowhere near the quality of To Pimp a Butterfly or Good Kid, m.A.A.d city, it is a solid transition piece for listeners to enjoy as they eagerly await a follow up . The album feels very much like a rap companion to bootlegs released by Bob Dylan and The Grateful Dead.

I give the album a 8.3/10.

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