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2016 has delivered quite a wide assortment of rap in terms of message. As we all eagerly await Drake’s Views from the 6, Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar have each released their own surprise LP’s, both with refreshingly new and iconic sounds. Many parallels can even be made between Kanye’s The Life of Pablo and Kendrick’s untitled unmastered: both with unexpected release dates, minimal cover designs, and teaser singles in the weeks and month prior to their releases. Kanye and Kendrick are both unapologetic voices in hip hop, and are representative of the current age of rap: one that is calling for a revolution in hearts and minds. What sets these two masters in their field apart is their image, which dramatically impacts their delivery and reception with the public. Where Kanye wants to stand out from the crowd, rapping about his successful clothing line and trophy wife and family, Kendrick shows his humility through stories of his past and invokes change in his listeners. His last two albums were nominated for Album of the Year, his last To Pimp a Butterfly winning Best Rap Album at the Grammy’s. Its most prominent track “Alright” became an anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement, proclaiming that “if God got us then we gon’ be alright,” inspiring hope and calling for action among black youth nationwide.
Untitled unmastered was a shock to all Kendrick fans and non-fans alike. It’s untitled tracks, unlisted collaborations, and enigmatic green cover kept with the theme of mystery that ascended out of the the release of the album. After numerous unreleased live performances on The Colbert Report (“untitled 03”) and Jimmy Fallon (“untitled 08”), many who heard these tracks awaited a physical release, only to be rewarded the night of the Grammy’s, where Kendrick performed “untitled 05”. The result is a jazzy, TPAB-esque culmination of fix-ins that feel like they just barely missed the cut for the LP. While untitled unmastered may not have the same fluency and replayability as To Pimp a Butterfly, it has the very same message and flow that fans of Kendrick cherish. With “untitled 06” sounding like a continuation of “For Sale? (interlude)” and “untitled 08” sounding like another verse for “i”, the record undoubtedly contain remnants from the TPAB sessions.
The story that got this mini-album in the news was that of “untitled 07”. Where all the other tracks are dated with initial performance records, “untitled 07” simply cites the years 2014-2016 as its release date. The result is a medley of raps with various beats and rhythms, somehow going together rather effectively, and ending off with a seemingly normal beat. This last beat on “untitled 07” was actually produced by Egypt Daoud, the 5-year-old son of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys. Videos of little Egypt at the mixing studio have filled the internet and brought untitled unmastered to a whole new listening audience.
In the end, there is no untitled unmastered without To Pimp a Butterfly, so if you liked one, you’re bound to like the other. Tracks like “untitled 02” and “untitled 05” take Kendrick’s familiar approach and rebrand them with new spins and new flows to give power to his encouraging, insightful lyrics. President Obama has said in numerous interviews that To Pimp a Butterfly was the best album of 2015, and untitled unmastered stands to be another gold star on Kendrick’s legendary resumé.