Fresh off collecting a Best Rap Album Grammy for his critically hailed 2015 effort To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar has dropped untitled unmastered., an eight-song compilation album composed of unreleased demos from the Butterfly sessions.
As was true with that album, this one’s also chockful of sounds not normally associated with hip-hop, especially freeform jazz. And if the sonic backdrop is at times eclectic, the same is true of the lyrics on these tracks (alphanumerically named for the day they were recorded), which might focus lustily on sex one moment and the wrath of God the next.
“untitled 07 | 2014-2016” offers a litany of things that ultimately don’t provide satisfaction in life, including love, drugs, fame, hate and Bentleys. Lyrics reference God in a positive light (although they also compare Kendrick to God, which seriously complicates the interpretation). And it’s worth noting that other songs also fall into that same sort of spiritual trap.
“I know I’m greedy/Stuck inside the belly of the beast/Can you please pray for me?” asks “untitled 02 | 06.23.2014.” Toward the end, Lamar himself prays, “Lord, forgive me, hoping I don’t relapse.” “untitled 04 | 08.14.2014.” critiques becoming dependent on welfare, while “untitled 06 | 06.30.2014.” includes a positive line about a mother’s influence, tells a woman who loves unconditionally that she’s “equally valued” and reflects on lessons learned while growing up in poverty.
One verse on “untitled 05 | 09.21.2014.” is written from the perspective of a man who once followed God but now laments being reduced to drinking, violence and perhaps drug dealing as a way to survive. Kendrick also raps introspectively, “Studied the Son of God but still don’t recognize my flaws/I guess I’m lost, the cost of being successful is equal to being neglectful/I pray my experience helps you/As for me I’m tryna sort it out Searching for loopholes in my bruised soul.”
“untitled 01 | 09.06.2014.” envisions apocalyptic destruction that Lamar later attributes to God’s judgment as described in Revelation. He raps, “Another trumpet has sounded off and everyone heard it (It’s happening)/No more running from world wars (It’s happening)/No more discriminating the poor.” He rightly says that the judgment encompasses everyone, from “preachers touching on boys” to rapists, murderers, celebrities, atheists and “backpedaling Christians.” Near the end, after trying to convince God of his own devotion (“Who love You like I love You?”), Kendrick is apparently humbled (along with everyone else) by the totality of God’s final judgment (“I can see our days been numbered/Revelation the greatest as we hearing the last trumpet/All man, child, woman, life completely went in reverse/I guess I’m running in place trying to make it to church”).
F- and s-words fly, as well as “b–ch” and “n-gga.” “untitled 07 | 2014-2016” is rife with harsh profanity and exceptionally crude references to the male anatomy and sex. As mentioned, “untitled 01 | 09.06.2014.” mostly focuses on God’s judgment, but it begins with a man detailing a sexual experience with a woman. Sex, violence and excess pervade “untitled 02 | 06.23.2014.” Lamar says of his mentor, Top, “Me and Top is like a Kobe and Phil/F— with me and he will kill you himself.” And he raps, “Palisade view with some sex/ … Me, I’m about to let my hair down on hoes.”
“untitled 03 | 05.28.2013.” is an odd song among odd songs that offers perspectives on reality from an Asian, an Indian, a black man and a white man. Asians, he says, are focused on meditation and Buddha. Indians, he says, are interested in getting and holding land. The black man? Kendrick believes he’s interested only in sex. And the white man, in his telling, is only interested in taking away what little the black man has.
“untitled 04 | 08.14.2014.” observes, “And a preacher man don’t always tell the truth, truth, truth/Do you believe in God? If you don’t, that’s cool.” A bitter man threatens murderous violence against a father of a small boy on “untitled 05 | 09.21.2014.” (“I plan on creeping through your f—in’ door and blowin’ out/Every piece of your brain until your son jump in your arms”).
Just like To Pimp a Butterfly, this collection of unvarnished outtakes is a dizzying mixture of sometimes incisive cultural, racial and even spiritual insight jarringly juxtaposed against prurient portraits of unexpurgated rage, violence and sexuality.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.