Kendrick Lamar shines, as always, on ‘untitled unmastered.’

By Kunal Khunger

(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

How Kendrick Lamar manages to make a project of offcuts into a cohesive record jam-packed with highlights is beyond my comprehension. But, after all, this is King Lamar we’re talking about here.

Lamar is in the midst of a hugely creative period in his musical career and we are all lucky to listen to him in his prime. Having already released last year’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” Billboard’s best album of 2015, it’s obvious that Lamar has no shortage of ideas and ambition in his musical scope. “untitled unmastered.” picks up where its predecessor left off, showing an even more experimental side to his music.

The eight untitled tracks were all recorded during sessions devoted to “To Pimp A Butterfly” in 2013 and 2014, which range from slightly unfinished demos to beautiful epics that are better than most rap artists’ centerpieces. And they still managed to be cut from “To Pimp a Butterfly,” which is absolutely incredible.

A major theme of Lamar’s work has been Christianity and how it affects his view of himself and the world at large. “untitled 01” is focused on the end of our world, or “Judgment Day,” filled with incredibly detailed descriptions of falling buildings, wars and racism destroying the world as we know it. Lines like, “Backpedaling Christians settling for forgiveness/Evidence all around us the town is covered in fishes/Ocean water dried out, fire burning more tires out,” only serve to further exemplify Lamar’s mesmerizing wordplay and talent.

But Lamar doesn’t claim to be above all this destruction. He considers himself a part of the judgment, displaying an incredible self-awareness that is carried throughout the project. He brags in “untitled 02,” that “I can put a rapper on life support/Guarantee that’s something that none of you want,” gives social critiques with “Genocism and capitalism just made me hate/Correctionals and these private prisons gave me a date/Professional dream killers reason why I’m awake” and proudly announces his individualism by saying, “I recommend every inch of your lunatic ways/Praise the lord, you teach the kids how to be themself and plenty more.”

While not as developed and lush as the sounds of “To Pimp a Butterfly,” the minimalistic sound found in most of these tracks lend to a greater understanding and appreciation of the sheer musical complexity that Lamar condenses in order to make his album listenable. While most of these songs being unfinished, Lamar manages to showcase more fully fleshed-out ideas than almost any other artist.

“untitled 07” is an eight minute, 16 second track that splits Lamar’s success into three parts, starting with him being greedy and hungry for success to him realizing that it’s more important to know himself than to prove that his worth. This level of ambition is rarely found in most records, let alone a throwaway track. Lamar continues to amaze and release high-quality music and hard work.

“untitled unmastered.” is a fitting epilogue to “To Pimp A Butterfly,” filled with more insights to our world and Lamar himself. This release only serves to lend credibility to his title of “the greatest rapper alive” and will leave listeners satisfied until his next magnum opus. It seems like Kendrick Lamar’s biggest competition in today’s rap landscape is himself.

Kunal Khunger can be reached at [email protected].