Kendrick Lamar, Untitled Unmastered
This Sonic Breakdown will cover Kendrick Lamar’s album Untitled Unmastered. The album requires some time to absorb, and we are branching into podcasts as well, so sorry for the delay in getting you guys this review. This album is not the first Kendrick Lamar album I have heard, as you guys know from the To Pimp a Butterfly Breakdown. I have listened to his previous albums, Overly Dedicated, Section .80, good kid, m.A.A.d city, and now Untitled Unmastered. I will present a breakdown of each track followed by a conclusion on the album as a whole.
“Untitled 01| 08.19.2014”
A very jazzy, funky feel is heard through the strumming of an upright bass and a man with a deep, raspy voice sweet-talking a women with a confident, charismatic, playful tone. The production feels like an extension of what was heard on To Pimp a Butterfly, and had similar aspects found on Section .80. The production changes from a mellow, slow, stripped-down beat to a more up-tempo while still maintaining a jazz feel and keeping an essence of hip-hop. Kendrick Lamar uses his more natural, raspy tone with a faster cadence in the first verse, where he describes his surroundings. He touches on religion and what he is doing or trying to do to highlight as well as help solve the dilemmas that he witnesses in his community. The line, “I heard, what have you did for me?” which, put in conjunction with the following line, “geeze Louise, I thought you say that I excel, I made To Pimp a Butterfly for you, told me use my vocals to save mankind for you.” Taking those lines and putting them in the context of the song, you can feel a frustration that Kendrick is trying to improve his community the best way he knows how, but it still isn’t good enough in some people’s eyes. This is a concept that can be shared by all and brings the saying to mind “that you can please some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.” At the end of the day, you have to live with yourself and the decisions you make. Religion is heavily referenced throughout this track and the end of days or Revelations is hinted at toward the latter portion of the song. The song ends by going back to the stripped-down, slow production with heavy bass that adds gravity while the lyric informs that mainstream determines what will make you happy (money, materials, or acquisition of things) specifically for young people. Those things can be the same things that might prevent true happiness in this life or the next.
“Untitled 02| 06.23.2014”
The first sound heard is Mr. Lamar saying, “pimp pimp hooray,” which prompted me to think about Mary Poppins saying, “hip hip hooray.” This twist evoked my childhood memories of watching Mary Poppins with my grandmother because of the glee heard in Kendrick’s voice. That movie was and is still a great musical that I will watch even to this day. The song that came to mind next was a classic summer jam by Naughty by Nature, “Hip Hop Hooray,” that was on 19 Naughty III, which was released in 1993. This track has an entirely different emotional experience than the previous two references I just mentioned, with a darker, head-nodding smooth tone. The jazz feel is carried over from the previous track and is mainly achieved with the fluttering of the saxophone. The religious undertone is also carried over, and a frustration of being tired of trying to make a change or dealing with hardship is felt from the lyrics explicitly and overtly by way of the production. The bass allows for a nice dynamic against the saxophone and with Kendrick’s calmer, smoother singing flow. In the second verse, he touches on his relationship with the CEO of TDE, Top Dawg, and that explains why Kendrick has the freedom to grow and evolve. The track ends by fading out with Lamar giving direction for who he wants on the drums because he understands and was pleased at what Curly Martin did on “Mortal Man” and “King Kunta.”
“Untitled 03| 05.28.2013”
This is a song I first heard last year when Kendrick Lamar, Anna Wise, and Bilal with Thundercat performed a beautiful rendition on the Stephen Colbert show. After seeing that performance, I was really hoping that the track would be on To Pimp a Butterfly, but unfortunately—or fortunately—it wasn’t. If it had been on that album, it wouldn’t have been heard here. This is a slightly different version that isn’t as profound as the live performance but still conveys the same atmosphere. The choice to highlight and separate Anna Wise’s and Bilal’s parts was nice because it provides more space and feels like it accentuates the hummingbird sound emitting from the flute. The snare and bass guitar are heard lightly but are key components allowing for a more poetic vibe. Kendrick highlights the differences of several ethnicities that make up the wonderful mosaic of people in America. All of these ethnicities are giving Lamar advice on how to be successful or how they see him (black males or maybe just African-Americans). He is speaking in generalities and some stereotypes, but it is to illuminate what society tends to do to all races, not just African-Americans.
“Untitled 04| 08.14.2014”
This tracks starts with a collection of singers, or one singer being dubbed to give the impression of a collective, as Kendrick is whispering suggestions to manipulate or influence what is being said. This track serves the purpose of an interlude.
“Untitled 05| 09.21.2014”
A very jazz-centered beat that provides a laid-back atmosphere. The guitar, drum, and sax engulf the senses to draw you into that world before a sensual Anna Wise comes in with a jazz singer tone. Kendrick’s first verse is the antithesis of the smooth vocals from Ms. Wise. He is aggressive and rough with a rigid cadence. Punch, who has a similar flow to another TDE artist, Ab Soul, is featured here with a nice verse; nothing outstanding, but nice. Jay Rock is featured on the third verse and complements the tone set by Kendrick. All of the verses touch on the racial injustices that minorities face as well as the lack of power they have to alter these injustices. It also touches on the institutional racism that is a major contributor to those problems and is a topic that Kendrick broached on To Pimp a Butterfly.
“Untitled 06| 06.30.2014”
The atmosphere created on this track is a vastly different feel from the previous track. The sonic properties have a bossa nova beat, which a lot of people now associate with elevator music. The production emotes a similar feeling to the popular song, “The Girl from Ipanema,” which was released in 1964 by Stan Getz. Ceelo Green performs the vocals for the track about courting a woman and appreciating the confidence instilled in her. The confidence doesn’t surpass into the realm of conceited and inspires confidence in others. It is my least favorite song. It’s still a good song, but you must be in the proper mood to really appreciate it.
“Untitled 07| 2014-2016”
The track begins with “pimp pimp hooray” again, matched with a trippy trap-like beat. This track really exposes Kendrick’s creativeness in the structuring of songs punctuated by this three-part song. The first part breaks down the euphoric feeling that comes with the drugs or vices that people have (sex, drugs, money, etc.) with the word “levitate” being repeated to confirm that high or intoxicating feel or separation of mind and body. Part two has a beat change and Egypt, who produced part two, leads us into his beat. Side note: Egypt is the five-year-old son of Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz. It seems that Egypt has received some of the musical talents of his parents because the beat is smooth and hits hard. The line, “I feel like Pacino in Godfather, I’m charged,” summarizes the aura felt by this part of the track. There is a cinematic Italian gangster feel to the production provided by what sounds like a mandolin, which is the center of the beat. Kendrick speaks on feeling confident to the point that it might hinder your growth or even worse, be the beginning of your demise. In part three, Kendrick plays on sexual innuendos of oral sex. Part three is presented as if we are getting a sneak peek into the creation zone of Kendrick and his crew. Listening to the track, some might only hear the surface meaning of sexual acts and miss the idea of using your head to acquire knowledge or a solution to your problems. There is a more playful feel to the song with a sneaky diss at Drake and a hint that Kendrick might like those cougars out there.
“Untitled 08| 09.06.2014”
A heavily funk-inspired track that sonically and lyrically fits the theme of To Pimp a Butterfly. Many people have the notion that if they had a lot of money, all their problems would be fixed. The hook touches on how even having an abundance of money doesn’t bring happiness. The second verse touches on themes that he has consistently talked about, which is how he is against prostitution and for education. He illuminates how he understands the appeal people see in having sex for money versus going to school because with one you can instantly make money versus delayed gratification with college. This ideology of instant gratification is mixed with the pros and cons that are exemplified by the line, “and your homegirls can’t be your manager/365 times four, plus more/ if you can’t get it right, tell me, do you got the stamina?/but shit, ain’t no money like fast money.” In the last verse, Lamar shows the comparison between America and the world when it comes to how to live a joyful, productive life. He draws attention to the materialistic principles that in American have of gaining money and materialistic things over truly enjoying life. He also encompasses those feelings with how the same people from other countries with more difficult plights than many Americans face still live more complete lives.
The album not having a title in essence might give the impression that it is unfocused or might not have a concept. Those people would disagree with my opinion because the album has a concept of showing and expanding upon the sentiments of the two previously released studio albums, but in an interesting manner, while still experimenting with new sounds from old, unheard tracks. This album presents a peek into Kendrick Lamar’s creative mind from the viewpoint of a fly on the wall, as I described regarding “Untitled 08,” specifically part three. I really enjoyed this album, but I wouldn’t put it on the same classic status of the previous two albums. But it is a very good album. I strongly suggest you to give it a listen if you haven’t already, and let us know what you think in the comment section.