Album Review: untitled unmastered – Kendrick Lamar

By Tom Loughney ’16

You know what I like? Demos. Big into them. They’re good! They’re cool! There’s something really appealing about listening to your favorite artist’s unreleased material. It’s raw. It’s human. But it’s part of the reason that I’ve come away from Kendrick’s new EP, untitled unmastered, disappointed.

I still somewhat enjoy listening to what Kendrick’s put into this record. The 8 tracks make for a brisk, listenable 30 minutes, but most of the songs feel flat. The problem isn’t the production – it’s the delivery. You’d think that an unmastered track would bring out some raw emotion, but Kendrick’s rapping sounds bored – almost sluggish, at points. Remember that Colbert Report performance? Remember watching him tremble – stirring and gyrating up on that stage, moving like a man possessed? Remember how fast your heart started to beat when you heard him spit those bars? Remember how radical that was?

Good, because none of that comes across on the recorded version. Hold onto that memory as tight as you can. It is more precious and valuable than mint gold, a clean home, and a lover’s smile.

Each of these tracks, like the Colbert performance, comes from Kendrick’s ‘vault’ material. This is the stuff he was initially saving for one-off, exclusive performances, so as to create ‘moments.’ This is a really, really cool idea that this album’s existence renders hollow. It gives untitled unmastered a disingenuous feel, which is a large part of the reason I have trouble getting on board with it. It’s not a good look, and the deadpan delivery only heightens how little this record works as a demo entry.

There are some appealing moments on untitled unmastered, mainly having to do with the production. “untitled 04” has a great outro that transitions well into “untitled 05.” Too bad you have to squirm through ‘Kendrick Lamar does ASMR’ on 04. Hey, if Kendrick’s plosive whispers are your ASMR trigger, more power to you. They make me feel like someone’s tickling my brain, however, and no thank you I do not like that one bit not one little bit and so I will be taking a pass on old number 04.

Back to “untitled 05” – this might actually be one of my favorite tracks on the album. Kendrick’s delivery is pretty decent, and a lot more worthwhile than what he does on the first half of this record. untitled unmastered is definitely frontloaded with a lot of mediocre tracks, so don’t let that scare you off. “untitled 07” has some spooky production – lots of reversed, modulated high pitches. It’s kitchy, catchy, and dark. Then it transitions into a cool little bass track. Kendrick’s flow isn’t particularly captivating, but it’s competent – and definitely better than most of what he’s doing on the rest of the album.

I understand that this is a really short review, but that’s emblematic of this release’s biggest issue – there’s really just not a lot to say about it. Kendrick is still focused on interesting issues, but I don’t think he’s addressing them with nearly the energy or finesse that he does on either To Pimp a Butterfly or Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. The production is fine, but not nearly as arresting as his other material. There may not be a lot to latch onto, but it’s still worth a listen for hip-hop fans and Kendrick completionists. I just wish my take away from untitled unmastered hadn’t been ‘missed potential.’

 

Favorite Tracks: Untitled 05, Untitled 07, Untitled 04 (outro)

Least Favorite Tracks: Untitled 02, Untitled 04 (ASMR)

Rating: New-Kendrick-is-Still-Good-Kendrick-Even-if-it’s-Not-Great-Kendrick/10

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