It all started with “i,” released back in September 2014. To Pimp A Butterfly, a phrase not yet uttered, was still just a concept in the mind of Kendrick Lamar. Two months went by, with that recorded single of “i” all we had, and on December 16, 2014, Kendrick was one of the artists to help close out the end of The Colbert Report. That night, Kendrick performed what was to become “untitled 03 | 05.28.2013.,” dated on the record a whole year and a half before the performance.
“I got a chamber of material from the album that I was in love [with],” said Kendrick, and he went on to perform even more of that material on The Tonight Show, here as “untitled 08 | 09.06.2014.” and the end of “untitled 02 | 06.23.2014.” Next of course, came the release of To Pimp A Butterfly, a record I have already talked about in great length, and fully believe is one of the greatest rap albums of all time, and will be studied for decades; but no one thought, especially after the recent constant delays and waiting for Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, that we’d have more Kendrick Lamar in our hands so soon.
No one should call untitled unmastered. Kendrick’s fourth album however. Besides his own description of the album as essentially “bonus tracks,” if the track titles weren’t enough to convince you that these are cuts from the To Pimp A Butterfly recording sessions that didn’t make the album, he had performed three of the tracks here before To Pimp A Butterfly had even come out.
untitled unmastered. is a companion piece to To Pimp A Butterfly, a “behind the scenes look,” a director’s cut. For Thundercat, the bassist on both records, it “completes the sentence” of To Pimp A Butterfly. The odd part however, is how untitled unmastered. sounds more post-To Pimp A Butterfly to me then it does pre-production demos. Yes, maybe it’s because we’ve heard this a year after the record’s release, but we also haven’t – I’ve had the audio from that Colbert Report performance of “Untitled 03 | 05.28.2013.,” then titled “Untitled,” for three months longer than I’ve had To Pimp A Butterfly.
Nonetheless, these tracks still don’t sound like demos that didn’t make the album, especially on “untitled 01 | 08.19.2014,” when he states: “I made To Pimp A Butterfly for you / told me to use my vocals to save mankind for you / say I didn’t try for you, say I didn’t ride for you.” Not only is that track dated four months before the Colbert Report performance, but it’s also a bit odd for him to have proclaimed that he knew how big of a success To Pimp A Butterfly was going to be a whole seven months before the record’s release.
Whether some verses were recorded after or before though really doesn’t matter when it all comes down to it. untitled unmastered. is, as I described it above, more of a companion piece to To Pimp A Butterfly than it is a “sequel” or demo compilation. There are many themes present here that weren’t on To Pimp A Butterfly, especially when it comes to sexual innuendo or sexually explicit tracks. With the lack of a Sherane character, like we had in Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, To Pimp A Butterfly was more about black power than it was lust. “These Walls” was probably the closest thing we got to “Poetic Justice” on To Pimp A Butterfly.
Here on untitled unmastered., it tackles the black power inspiration movement of To Pimp A Butterfly, but also incorporates a sexual element in comparison, like Cee-Lo Green’s featuring track, “untitled 06 | 06.30.2014.” It’s less of a sexual reference to “Lucy,” portrayed by the devil in To Pimp A Butterfly, and more of directly, sexually implicit Kendrick Lamar. Also, the exclusion of tracks that feature artists like Cee-Lo Green, SZA, and Jay Rock from To Pimp A Butterfly further show the process of forming the perfect narrative for To Pimp A Butterfly, and not just including a track with Cee-Lo on the record because it would have gathered celebrity interest. Maybe he really did know how big the record was going to be all that way back then in August 2014.
As sacrilegious as die hard Kendrick fans might think, I don’t agree with every choice he made here on untitled unmastered. The intro of Bilal is highly sexual and actually a bit unsettling, which of course could have been the entire point, but it’s something I’d expect from Big Boi or André 3000, not Kendrick Lamar. It’s especially not only uncomfortable to be subjected to, but it also kicks off the record and is pretty out of place at the beginning there. Furthermore, the part that I disagree with the most is the exclusion of the coda on “untitled 03 | 05.28.2013.” that was performed on The Colbert Report but not here on the record. I also don’t understand the exclusion, as the whole song leads up in energy ramped up to that moment, and the recorded version is just really nothing compared to what was performed that night. Honestly everyone go watch it now, because the performance of that track is not only one of my favorite Kendrick Lamar tracks but also the only one here on untitled unmastered. that I would have wanted on To Pimp A Butterfly. “Tell ’em we don’t die, we multiply!,” he screams.
My favorite part about the record though is not that Swizz Beatz & Alicia Keys’ five year-old son, Egypt, produced the second bit of “untitled 07 | 2014 – 2016,” or that Thundercat has yet another fantastic bass line on “untitled 05 | 09.21.2014.,” but that “untitled 01 | 08.19.2014,” is in direct continuation of To Pimp A Butterfly, and that the “pimp pimp hooray!” celebration is juxtaposed with the dystopian hell-landscape that is the world Kendrick Lamar paints.
At the end of “Mortal Man,” in his “interview” with 2Pac, Kendrick asks him what the future is for our generation and 2Pac responds saying: “I think that niggas is tired of grabbin’ shit out the stores and next time it’s a riot there’s gonna be, like, uh, bloodshed for real. I don’t think America know that. I think America think we was just playing and it’s gonna be some more playing but it ain’t gonna be no playing. It’s gonna be murder.”
Here on untitled unmastered. Kendrick seems to paint that hell of war and murder, especially on the first two tracks. It’s harsh, fueled, and the most raw I’ve heard Kendrick since “The Blacker the Berry.” This element of continued narrative is by far the best moments of untitled unmastered., and while Cee-Lo Green has a fun jam and “pimp pimp hooray!” celebratory success is all fun and games as well, it’s the moments of companion with To Pimp A Butterfly that really shine through on the record. Not to mention how much of a legend I’m sure Kendrick will become/partly already is.
Right now, where Kendrick is taking rap, it’s art. He’s quotable as hell and that flow is unmatched. It’s raw, requires multiple listens, and the depth is like dropping a coin down a cavern and never hearing it hit the floor. untitled unmastered. might be the rawest and darkest we’ve heard Kendrick yet, but even released as demos (these are fucking demos, I have to remind myself), Kendrick just might always be on top, and I’m fine with that. “Pimp pimp, hooray!”