After hearing Jay Rock’s ode to LA on 90059, or the funk-soul leanings more recently on Anderson Paak’s Malibu, it seems not only was Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly steeped in afro-centric empowerment, but it was one of those landscape-shifting albums that inspires a new era. You don’t need to look further than the Donald Trump rally a fortnight ago where protesters chanted ‘Alright’ for proof that Lamar’s lyrics have seeped into culture.
And with such a profound impact, it’s hardly surprising that a B-sides album from K.Dot will leave people scrambling for headphones on a Friday afternoon in the office. untitled, unmastered is not only spontaneous, but it feels like a backdoor into TDE studios where you glance over to a bunch of demos on Kendrick’s laptop. And through a somewhat haphazard construction, it provides an anatomical insight into Kendrick’s creative process, with songs like ‘07’ comprising of three demo’s stitched together. The third of these is a jam session of early scratchings that would eventually become ‘04’. Kendrick cracks up over a chunky bassline, as he sings “head is the answer, head is the future”. He turns to the band in the closing stages of ‘02’ and asks ‘who’s on the drums’ – before appointing someone to ‘Mortal Man’ and ‘King Kunta’. This project we see him transcend past from just the frontman, to assume his spot as conductor of the whole show.
He comes through lurching and heaving with the same kind of angst on ‘01’ that inspired Butterfly- creating subtle dissonance over a double-bass backing to immediately get under your skin. The track is a dialogue between Kendrick and God- which these days has become a hackneyed feature of rap music (ie. every Kanye song ever). As it unfolds though, it seems while Kendrick’s world remains faith-centric, he seems to have a fractured relationship with God- and verses on ‘04’ are needed to exorcise some of those doubts.
Pimp, pimp! Hooray! Appears on various tracks across untitled, in what appears to be a roundtable clinking of glasses to what Butterfly has amounted to, as well as being a signature thread of all Kendrick projects. It can be akin as a lighter equivalent to the spoken I remember you was conflicted poem at the end of each track of Butterfly. The celebration must also extend to all the other accolades he has received in the last twelve months- getting the keys to Compton and sweeping five Grammy’s from eleven nominations.
Despite the tense flicking between album and post album sessions, a creative restlessness translates across much of the album. He is creating for the sake of creating, unwilling to stand still, not only to fully capitalise before the window closes, but to put the stake down that somehow, he is scarily getting better. Chopping and changing his flow from frenetic, to inebriated, to silky and solemn- but all the while in total control.
The news gets even better for those lucky enough to see Kendrick TONIGHT at Rod Laver in Melbourne, or Sydney or Blues Fest over the weekend on his world tour, bringing special guest jazz extraordinaire Kamasai Washington and his latest shoulder popping creations to life.