Kendrick Lamar: untitled unmastered.

Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly camekendrick-lamar-untitled-unmastered-surprise-new-album-compressed1-compressed
out a little less than a year ago, on March 15, 2015. The impact it’s had on black music over the past year is incredible. It arguably helped to bring jazz music back into the mainstream, and created success for jazz musicians like Kamasi Washington, Terrace Martin, and Thundercat. Even an album like Esperanza Spalding’s Emily’s D+Evolution wouldn’t be able to achieve the kind of success (both critical and commercial) that it can now, arguably, without TPAB. It only makes sense that a year on, Lamar should release what is essentially the To Pimp A Butterfly demos: untitled, unfinished and unmastered–the raw b-sides and outtakes that didn’t quite make the album.

It begins with a sexual spoken word intro over some light jazz before Lamar steps in. From the outset, “Untitled 1” establishes untitled unmastered. as an extension of TPAB; the backing track sounds familiar, and Kendrick’s rapping style matches that of the album. “Untitled 2” quickly rose to the top of the charts, and there’s a reason: it’s easily the most bass-heavy track on the album, and in some ways more so than anything on To Pimp A Butterfly. On it, Lamar swaps styles effortlessly, imbuing it with a sense of political commentary in the line “World is going crazy / Where did we go wrong?” while maintaining his terrific sense of pacing and the dialectic between the political and the personal Lamar.

“Untitled 3” is a major standout. Here, Lamar only gets more political, but through a philosophical lens, in which he imagines the definition of success through racialized groups of people. “The asian” sees success as coming from within, and worries about Lamar’s health; “The indian” understands power as being in the land (“Longevity’s in the dirt”), and tells Lamar to invest; “The black man” is motivated by sex (“A piece of pussy / That’s what the black man said I needed to push me”) and talks about living in the jungle and “playing in the peach;” “The white man” wants to make money off him (“Telling me that he selling me just for $10.99”) and causes him to “put a price on [his] talent.”

“I hit the bank and withdraw,” Lamar repeats as the track reaches its climax. “Put myself in the rocket ship and I shot for the stars,” he says, referring now to his personal success. On the song’s outro, Lamar validates “the black man’s” desire for sex as a basic need for reproduction: “Tell em we don’t die / We multiply,” and affirms the survival of the species. Running underneath the surface is a commentary on black extinction, both culturally and ethnically, as blacks are being shot everyday, but are also struggling to hold onto their culture, as black music is appropriated and taken over by the dominant culture.

On tracks 4 and 5 he extends these themes, and eventually treats them humorously in the outro to “Untitled 7.” “Untitled 5” is soulful and smooth, and sounds the most finished of all the songs on the album, bringing up the question of why he didn’t include it on TPAB.  Track 8 is from his most recent performance at the Grammys, and is fleshed out here, offering a catchy and compelling conclusion. Perhaps the best thing about this project, though, is what it does to Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. When Kendrick Lamar can drop a brilliant 8-track album of TPAB demos out of nowhere, it makes TLOP, a forever-streaming Tidal exclusive, and its creator, the abominable West, irrelevant. Lamar has proven again and again that he’s Top Dawg of the rap world, and with untitled unmastered. he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

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Kendrick Lamar: “untitled 03” | 05.28.2013.

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Kendrick Lamar first performed an untitled track on “The Colbert Report” back in 2014, before To Pimp A Butterfly was even released. The track was only a raw, unfinished segment, but many like myself were drawn in by the political energy of its lyrics, and were disappointed when it didn’t make an appearance on TPAB, especially because it had all the elements of some of the album’s best transitional tracks, and was backed by no less than Thundercat, Bilal, Terrace Martin, and Anna Wise. Now, we finally have a recorded version,  and although it doesn’t match the energy of the performance, its lyrics are sharp and well-conceived, and the accompanying rhythm is funky and fresh. Lamar sings about his rise to fame (and economic success) in relation to ethnically different views of success, racialized through “the black man,” “the asian,” “the indian,” and “the white man.” But his treatment is both philosophical and poetic, tender and raw. A highlight from the TPAB demos, this is the one that should have made the album.

Grammys 2016: Kendrick Lamar Performs New Song, “Alright,” and “The Blacker the Berry”

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Major talking points from the Grammys last night included Lady Gaga’s performance of a medley of David Bowie classics, Taylor Swift’s speech after winning Album of the Year, which seemed to hit back at Kanye West, and Kendrick Lamar’s politically-charged performance of “The Blacker the Berry,” “Alright,” and a new song, in which he came out shackled in chains and with a prison-style backdrop, only to change into an African bonfire, and then took to a dark-lit stage with a single microphone to perform the new track. At the end of the performance, a silhouette of the African continent appeared behind him with the word “Compton” written across it. Watch the high-energy performance below.

Kendrick won 5 Grammys last night, including Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song, but lost out on Album of the Year to Taylor Swift’s 1989 and on Song of the Year for “Alright” to Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud.” Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” won Record of the Year.

Anderson .Paak: Malibu

Anderson-Paak

Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly arguably opened a lot of doors for a number of experimental hip-hop albums. Some of the artists who worked on that album have gone on to release masterpieces of their own, such as Thundercat, and Kamasi Washington, with his three-hour experimental jazz album The Epic. Out of nowhere, it seems, comes Anderson .Paak’s Malibu, a soulful, jazzy, and beautifully breezy hip-hop record that at times sounds like Lamar’s TPAB, and at other times like something else entirely. Fusing hip-hop, jazz, rap, R&B, and soul, Malibu is a shining example of everything a hip-hop album can be in 2016.

It opens with “The Bird,” a jazzy, anderson-cover
head-bobbing intro that seems to channel D’Angelo’s soulful vocal style. “Heart Don’t Stand A Chance” further shows off .Paak’s vocal chops, and culminates in a spinning electronic bridge with a rapped-over hook. Then, on “The Waters (feat. BJ the Chicago Kid),” .Paak really gets started. The spoken word transitions and jazzy interludes on this album give it another connection to TPAB: this is a concept album, in the only real sense of that term in that its an album that asks to be digested in one sitting, the tracks coming where they do for a reason. .Paak, much like Lamar, is playing with form.

The Season | Carry Me” exemplifies this playfulness, and even includes a shout-out to Lamar in the line “‘Bout the year Drizzy and Cole dropped / Before K.Dot had it locked.” .Paak even begins to sound like Lamar in places where he’s straight rapping, but has a remarkable vocal range (the kind that made Lamar himself so versatile) and changes his style on almost every song. “Am I Wrong (feat. SchoolBoy Q)” is an early stand-out, and a celebration, with funky horns and a catchy chorus. This is an album to throw on for your next party: you can groove to it on a first listen, and it demands attention even when there’s a lot else going on.

And there’s a lot going on on this album. The middle-section has everything it needs to slip into the background, in the best possible way, because unlike the incredibly dense middle-section of To Pimp A Butterfly, this is easy listening, and yet at the same time it sounds like an amalgamation of all the best alt-hip hop albums to come out in the last year, from D’Angelo’s Black Messiah, to Miguel’s Wildheart, to Thundercat and Lamar. Of course, .Paak didn’t completely come out of nowhere: he was heavily featured on Dr. Dre’s Compton last year, as well as albums by The Game (featured here on “Room in Here“), and fellow California artist TOKiMONSTA.

.Paak is from Oxnard, not exactly straight outta Compton, but is another powerful voice that can speak to a particular kind of West Coast lifestyle. Malibu nods to the surf-skate culture .Paak grew up with; at the end of album highlight “Come Down,” the announcer-type spoken word outro says, “Before Vietnam, when boards were long and hair was short, the centre of the surfing world was a place called Malibu.” On “Come Down,” .Paak manages to sound both most like Lamar and most like himself: a King Kunta of sorts and a contentious player in the resurging world of West Coast hip hop.

Freshly Squeezed’s 20 Best Albums of 2015

Freshly Squeezed’s 20 Best Albums of 2015

20. Bjork: Vulnicurahomepage_large.9ee25a14

Bjork’s vulnerable, honest self-portrait on Vulnicura detailed her breakup with longtime partner Matthew Barney, but its scope and breadth of sound make it much more than that. Bjork is a musical genius; socially and consciously relevant in 2015 as she rallied for women’s equality in music and stood up against climate change. However, Vulnicura finds her at her most emotionally raw.

homepage_large.eb62616b19. Mac DeMarco: Another One

Ahh, Mac DeMarco. He won our hearts last year with Salad Days (pronounced Sah-laad days) and is back again already with Another One. Also in 2015: DeMarco directed and appeared in a number of bizarre web videos and released Some Other OnesWatch him dance, grab himself, and play guitar in a creepy Michael Jackson mask in the video for “Another One:”

url18. CHVRCHES: Every Open Eye

CHVRCHES built on their unique brand of modern synth-pop showcased on 2013’s The Bones Of What You Believe for Every Open Eye, reaching soaring new heights. Lauren Mayberry and co. also stoop up for women’s rights, slammed Donald Trump, and defended their right to be seen as a band in the past year, despite Mayberry’s burgeoning stardom.

homepage_large.7389418117. Major Lazer: Peace Is The Mission

Major Lazer’s “Lean On” was everywhere this summer, but there’s more to Peace Is The Mission than just that. Features with Wild Belle, Ellie Goulding, Travi$ Scott, and Chronixx made for other highlights on a diverse album that showed off Diplo’s range and unique production style with Jillionaire and Walshy Fire, and soundtracked the beginning of the summer.

url-116. D’Angelo & The Vanguard: Black Messiah

Technically released at the end of 2014, Black Messiah was too late for the end of year lists last year, coming as a complete surprise and marking D’Angelo’s return after 14 years since 2000’s Voodoo. “Really Love” is now up for a Grammy, and Black Messiah has been hailed as a triumph, its influence on black music over the past year undeniable.

15. Miguel: Wildhearturl-2

Miguel’s Wildheart cements the singer’s sex symbol status, but the arrangements are luscious and diverse, making use of a wide range of production styles, such as funk, R&B, and alt-rock. Album highlights include “Coffee,” “Waves,” and “Simplethings,” but Wildheart is an album to throw on for a party, a chill Friday night, or just a good time.

homepage_large.04db1a4514. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment: Surf

Chance The Rapper has had a busy year. When he hasn’t been talking to high school students, promoting his anti-violence and “Warmest Winter” initiatives, or being a father, he’s been collaborating, and on Surf he puts his fellow artists ahead of himself, resulting in a truly collaborative project which fuses great music with a bit of star power. Still, we can’t wait to see what he does next.

url-313. Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell

Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell is a hauntingly beautiful depiction of death. Nostalgic, evocative, and heartbreaking, it details Stevens’ relationship with his mother and stepfather. “Death with Dignity” and “Should Have Known Better” are just the portal into Stevens’ family portrait on Carrie & Lowell, which traverses both time and space.

homepage_large.c5d9fc4f12. Panda Bear: Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper

The various members of Animal Collective were all fairly active this year, but Panda Bear’s Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper was the project that stood out most as a development of what AC were doing on Centipede Hz. Lennox now lives in Portugal, and his cosmopolitan brand of experimental pop is a natural segue from AC’s previous work to what’s coming next.

homepage_large.97efc20311. Vince Staples: Summertime ’06

Socially conscious, biting, and abrasive, Vince Staples has been hailed as the leader of the new generation of gangsta rap. On Summertime ’06 he fleshes out hooks like “I ain’t never ran from nothin’ but the police” with hard-hitting bars and sharped-edged lyricism. But there’s a lot more to Vince Staples than first meets the eye. Best Music Video of 2015.

homepage_large.283a416f10. Hot Chip: Why Make Sense?

Hot Chip’s Why Make Sense? took soaring singles “Hurache Lights” and “Need You Now” and based a whole album around that retro-modern sound. Hot Chip look to the tradition of artists like Bruce Springsteen and LCD Soundsystem in order to place themselves within the canon of the great electronic bands of the past, and on Why Make Sense? they do just that.

9. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just SitSIJS-2400

Clever and quick-witted, Courtney Barnett has become known as Australia’s indie-rock goofball. However, on Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, Barnett (sometimes) broaches heavier topics, such as environmental threats to the Great Barrier Reef. But she always keeps her distance, never letting on a firm stance. Thus, Sometimes (often comically) explores a large range of contemporary topics.

8. Mark Ronson: Uptown Specialhomepage_large.7045d945

There is more to Mark Ronson’s Uptown Special than “Uptown Funk.” A lot more. A truly modern rock record, traversing funk, R&B, and psychedelic rock, Ronson’s sense of what works musically is impeccable. The features with Kevin Parker (Tame Impala), Andrew Wyatt (Miike Snow), Stevie Wonder, and Mystikal make for some of the best rock jams of the year, and make the album a remarkably fluid listen from start to finish.

7. Kurt Vile: b’lieve i’m goin down…homepage_large.5f30eab1

Kurt Vile’s b’lieve i’m goin down… opens with “Pretty Pimpin,” a 5 minute long, rollicking track that sets up the rest of the album in its self-aware depiction of the man behind it. “That’s Life, tho (almost hate to say),” “Life Like This,” and “Wild Imagination” are album highlights, but Vile lets you into his head on b’lieve i’m going down, and once you start listening, it will be hard to get it out of yours.

homepage_large.4a7f78fc6. Neon Indian: VEGA INTL. Night School

One of 2015’s most triumphant returns was Neon Indian, with VEGA INTL. Night School, Alan Palomo’s first release since 2011’s Era Extraña (remember “Polish Girl“?). Palomo’s chillwave sound is bigger, funkier, and grander on VEGA INTL. Night School, with catchy hits like “Annie” and the epic “Slumlord.” A very welcome return from one of chillwave’s finest.

homepage_large.8a2cb9945. Father John Misty: I Love You, Honeybear

What would we have done without Father John Misty in 2015? His wry social commentary, brilliant wit, and cynicism made for one of the best albums (possibly ever) about love and relationships in the 21st century. “Bored In The USA,” “The Ideal Husband,” and “True Affection” are just some of the titles thrown out that encapsulate the magnetic attraction of Father John.

4. Tame Impala: Currents04192b63

Tame Impala’s Currents is Kevin Parker’s biggest statement to date. On it, he takes everything that was central to the Tame Impala project and adapts it to the changes in his personal life, the expectation that has come with his burgeoning success, and the current changes to how we experience music-and blasts off into uncharted territory…

Read the full review here.

3. Grimes: Art Angelshomepage_large.59ef246f

Grimes burst onto the scene back in 2012 with Visions, an album that topped many year-end lists that year. Under enormous pressure, Claire Boucher released Art Angels this year to widespread critical acclaim. An album that takes an immense range of musical knowledge and production styles and distills it into Boucher’s signature brand of alt-pop, Art Angels is one of the most important albums ever made by a female producer.

2. Jamie xx: In Colourhomepage_large.8f09545c

Jamie xx is a master-sampler. On his solo debut, In Colour, he proves that he doesn’t need a band to create anthemic and ground-breaking electronic music. “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” takes a sample of The Persuasions’ “Good Times” and builds it up with Young Thug and Popcaan, while “Loud Places” samples Idris Muhammed’s “Could Heaven Ever Be Like This.” Certainly, listening to In Colour feels like being on a cloud.

homepage_large.d47a58801. Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp A Butterfly

It should be no surprise that Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly is topping virtually ever year-end list that has come out this year. Why?

The fact that there are still people out on the streets in some parts of the U.S. chanting “We gon be alright” in solidarity with the victims of police brutality is a testament to the power of music to enact social change. Lamar’s “Alright” has become an anthem for the anti-police movement in the United States in large part because it speaks to the universal…

Read the full think piece here.

Honourable Mentions

Best New Artist: Empress Of, Me

Best EP: FKA twigs, M3LL155X

Best Collaboration: Big Grams, Big Grams

Best Mixtape: Erykah Badu, But You Caint Use My Phone

Best Cat Album: Run the Jewels, Meow the Jewels

Kendrick Lamar, M.I.A., and the Politicization of Popular Music

Kendrick Lamar, M.I.A., and the Politicization of Popular Music

Police harassment leads to crowd singing Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright”

2015 was arguably the year of music as political protest. The fact that there are still people out on the streets in some parts of the U.S. chanting “We gon’ be alright” in solidarity with the victims of police brutality is a testament to the power of music to enact social change. Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” has become an anthem for the anti-police movement in the United States in large part because it speaks to the universal. In a world of global terrorism, growing concerns about climate change, and systematic racial violence against minorities and people of color, we need music to express those fears and to stand in solidarity against them. Perhaps this is one reason why albums such as Run the Jewels’ RTJ2, D’Angelo’s Black Messiah, and J. Cole’s 2014 Forrest Hills Drive became so popular in 2015—all albums released at the end of last year that seem to anticipate the radical formal experimentation and political message taken up by Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly and the slew of popular “gangsta” rap albums in 2015 that include Joey Bada$$’s B4.DA.$$$, Dr. Dre’s Compton, and Vince Staples’ Summertime ’06.

However, the politicization of music in 2015 extends further to white artists and bands such as the brilliantly-named The War on Drugs, whose highly acclaimed 2014 album Lost in the Dream reached a wider audience this year with its nostalgic 70s-rock sound that has experienced a revival in the last few years with artists like Kurt Vile, Tame Impala, Mac DeMarco, and the Eagles of Death Metal—who gained notoriety in the last few weeks as they were the band playing when the Bataclan was stormed by terrorists that killed more than 120 people in Paris last month. The 70s-rock revival movement that has gained wider popularity in the last year is arguably a result of a desire for peace and reconciliation in the wake of some of the events of recent years that mirrors the sense of a dream of peace that was alive in the 1970s as a result of the Vietnam War, the anti-war movement in the U.S., and other events that shaped the 60s and 70s and the politically-charged music that we tend to associate with those decades.

The expression of political popular music is something that extends to today, as well, with the rise of electronic music and the female auteur, such as M.I.A., the Sri-Lankan born daughter of a political activist who blends Eastern and Western influences in her work. Earlier this week, she dropped a brand new song called “Borders,” which critiques the Western response to the Syrian refugee crisis and has been talked about by Pitchfork in an article called “How M.I.A. Is a Lifeline in Times of Terror.” Revisiting her earlier music, it is worth noting that although political themes underpin much of her work, M.I.A. has never been this overtly political before. In the video for “Borders,” she travels on boats with refugees and poses on barbed wire fences and atop CCTV cameras, while dropping lines like “Borders / What’s up with that?” and “Politics / What’s up with that?”

M.I.A represents pop’s politicization in recent years and can be compared with other women artists making bold statements about pop this year, such as Grimes, Bjork, and FKA twigs.

Bjork is perhaps the most political of the three in her activism for the environment and recent call for global action to save Iceland’s highlands. Artists like David Bowie, Damon Albarn, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Phil Selway, and Flea of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers are now urging world leaders to reach a deal on climate change at the current UN conference in Paris. Last week, Thom Yorke and Flea played Yorke’s “Atoms for Peace” on “Le Grand Journal,” where they also sat down to talk about climate change and politics. This weekend, Yorke, Flea, Patti Smith and more played at the Pathway to Paris concert at Le Trianon. The world’s music leaders are urging people to pressure their governments and ensure that the politicians reach some kind of meaningful agreement at the Paris conference, and are leading a political revival of music as a result. However, their messages all seem to be ones of peace and resolution and can only serve to unify people. In the words of Kendrick Lamar, we gon’ be alright.