Kendrick Lamar's "Untitled Unmastered" is the polar opposite of Kanye's new album, "The Life of Pablo." Where "The Life of Pablo" is an unfocused and experimental joyride through Kanye West's superego, "Untitled Unmastered" is a powerful statement of intent on the part of Lamar, another Grammy-winning rapper.
Lamar grew up in Compton, the birthplace of West Coast gangsta rap. As a child, he watched Tupac and Dr. Dre film the music video for "California Love," which solidified his connection to hip- hop for life. Lamar had a few minor successes with mixtapes, verses and independent releases, but it was his 2012 major label debut, "good kid, m.A.A.d city," and his absolutely incendiary single, "Backseat Freestyle," that brought him national attention.
In 2015 he released "To Pimp A Butterfly," a lush and volcanic masterpiece of self-reflection, anger and loss. TPAB was not only the best hip-hop album of 2015, but the finest record of the year, regardless of genre. Not everyone likes hip-hop music, but failing to find the genius in this record would be a shortcoming of the listener.
"Untitled Unmastered" isn't quite a mixtape, but it isn't really an EP, either. The record is eight untitled and un-mastered demos from "TPAB," but doesn't feel like a collection of outtakes. A similar comparison can be made with West's "The Life of Pablo," but it is much more apt here.
Lamar's work, ranging from "good kid" to now, tackles the narrative of fighting the instinct to break bad in order to become the greatest person possible. Kendrick is searching for the means to become a butterfly and with lyrics like "Am I mortal man or make believe?" he comes closer to that metamorphosis.
"Untitled Unmastered" is another home run from Lamar and probably not the only one we will get from him in 2016. The man is prolific, profound and has something to say that everyone, even those without ears attuned to hip-hop, should hear.
Available at Ranch Records