Review: Kendrick Lamar’s 'Untitled Unmastered.'

Get the details of the rapper's surprise new album.

ByABC News
March 4, 2016, 4:32 PM

— -- ****1/2

Kendrick Lamar just delivered a quick, surprise follow-up to last year’s amazing “To Pimp A Butterfly,” and it is an eight-track, thirty-five minute dive-bombing record showcasing why and how he’s become one of the most compelling figures currently trying to bring hip-hop back to its essence while also pushing the genre forward.

The album is currently available on iTunes and on Spotify and Tidal. In keeping with its name, the songs on “untitled unmastered.” are left only identified by numbers and dates. The cover is an alluring shade of pea green but again without an actual image. This minimalist approach actually keeps things mysterious and of all the artists working in hip-hop today, Lamar is among a small group of MCs who are harkening back to a pre-hip-hop era. Hanging out with Thundercat and Kamasi Washington has no doubt left an impression and Lamar himself has an other-worldly “jazz-cat” kind of vibe and an innate sense of wisdom beyond his years.

This feels very much like it is in the same space as “To Pimp A Butterfly.” It’s every bit as confrontational and in some circles it will be seen as controversial with its topics and its phrasing, but that comes with the territory. Great hip-hop breaks boundaries and will no doubt make some people uncomfortable. Lamar knows this and his rhymes are filled with an extremely politically-minded fury as he approaches each track with the flexibility and the fearlessness of an unapologetic slam poet. On “untitled 02 | 06.23.14,” he delivers a seemingly stream of consciousness flow that circles both his personal inner-monologue and issues in the geo-political realm. Listening to this, you wonder if this is a collection of tightly put-together words that were purposely written beforehand or possibly a free-styling master at work. Lamar firmly understands how cadence, repetition and rhythm can create a sonically stunning, attention-grabbing concoction.

As he was on “To Pimp A Butterfly,” Lamar continues to be a biting voice on issues of racial tension. When we look back on 2016, his reflections will stand as authoritative examples of protest records that symbolize the turmoil of our time. On “untitled 03 | 05-28-2013,” he explores points of view from the perspectives of people of all different ethnicities, culminating on a reflection on how white people in charge of corporations have routinely exploited hip-hop. If this makes you uncomfortable, you are not this record’s audience. That being said, Lamar is expressing his sense of plight and in a world where Macklemore and Eminem get more press than most other rappers, the notions of inequality are pretty impossible to deny. (Combined with the #OscarsSoWhite controversies, Lamar is just speaking to an obvious bigger problem that needs to be solved.) His goal is equality and how we can learn a lot from each other without exploiting each other for selfish gain.

This collection delivers a rich tapestry of ideas within a very short time. There are repeated mentions of self-respect throughout in a world where people put their endless trust in institutions of government and religion only to be let down by false promises. Lamar is cerebral in his approach. Intelligence and learning to think independently are cherished notions here. Sometimes you need to struggle to achieve greatness and change often doesn’t come easily.