For rap in its current form, we all understand that there is an upper echelon of rappers that are at the top of the game. Drake and J. Cole come to mind immediately as examples of this. They consistently put out chart topping singles and albums, and every move they make puts the rap game on notice. However, there is even a level right above them. The Kendrick Lamar level.
Kendrick Lamar is unequivocally the best rapper in the genre at this very moment, and he has been for over 5 years. Out of any rapper (maybe besides 2Chainz), he has the best body of work, and has somehow exhibited growth on every studio album, even while releasing the best album of the year each time. His top-notch ability as a storyteller, his unmatched talent as a lyricist, and his coherent and concise raps make him untouchable compared to anybody else. Without him, there is no standard for what it means to be “great” in the rap game.
When people look at Kendrick’s entire body of work, they tend to stand pretty firm in their choice for their favorite album. All of his studio albums are Grammy worthy, but each one is unique in their own way, creating a distinct personality that listeners can associate with.
Section.80, Kendrick’s first album, is sort of an introverted, introspective album that delves into the rampant self-hate and institutionalized oppression that is faced by Black people in America. In his second album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick shares one of the greatest stories ever told throughout the entire album, giving a deep look into the life of young Kendrick. It is a lyrical autobiography layered over with dazzling production. To Pimp a Butterfly, the third official studio album, is Lamar branching out, pushing the genre boundaries between rap, jazz, and funk, all while espousing some of his best lyrics and narrative. Finally on DAMN., Kendrick presents his magnum opus, a philosophical masterpiece layered over complex, almost schizophrenic production. It is heralded as his best work, seemingly the culmination of his lyrical proficiency and his storytelling.
The success and praise that all of his albums have garnered is overpowering to the modern listener. Each album grabs the attention of whoever is listening and never lets go, captivating them, causing them to overlook other works. With all the praise being said about the four main studio albums, it has caused one of his best works to remain unheralded.
An album of throwaways from To Pimp a Butterfly, untitled unmastered., is an oft-overlooked album because it comes on the heels of a Grammy nominated album. Most don’t even consider it a real piece of work. However, it should be recognized for what it truly is: a masterpiece.
Each track was meant to be on TPAB, but was left off for whatever reason. Amazingly, each untitled track isn’t a stand alone record. There is a clear, coherent link in between track. On the surface level, the eight, seemingly disjointed, tracks combine to create a united masterpiece. The most clear example is the transition between “Untitled 04” and “Untitled 05”. What starts off as a SZA sermon seamlessly transitions into a sprawling, 5 minute, jazz and funk laden track carried by Kendrick, other TDE member Jay Rock, and TDE president Punch. It is one the best transitions between songs that I’ve ever heard, and it didn’t even make the album.
The entire album is chock-full of some of Kendrick’s most compelling and fun verses, where it is apparent he’s just in the studio spazzing on track in a carefree way. The “rough”, unmastered tracks on this album contain unheralded gems that outshine the majority of rap that is put out now. Most rappers could only dream about making an album with this level of production, and Kendrick achieved it and didn’t even make it an official release. The production of untitled unmastered. is even more experimental and out of left field than the production on TPAB, letting you know that Kendrick and his team is capable of even more dazzling work.
The forgotten album of untitled unmastered. is one of the best releases in the past couple of years and should be treated as such. Kendrick’s genius is shown throughout his entire body of work, and we would be remiss if we forgot one of the most intriguing aspects of his discography.