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.

Advertisements

Kendrick Lamar: “untitled 03” | 05.28.2013.

kendrick-lamar-untitled-unmastered-surprise-new-album-compressed1-compressed

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.

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.