Since this surprise album stopped the world in its tracks on Thursday night, arguments have raged as to whether this is a follow-up to To Pimp A Butterfly, or simply a compilation of cuts that didn’t make it onto last year’s album. I’m not sure it matters. Regardless of when they were recorded and for what purpose, these eight tracks that make up Untitled Unmastered come out now because they show what Lamar’s feeling a year on from making one of the greatest political albums of recent times.
It’s a Lamar that’s intensely world weary. He looks out at his success and all it has brought him, (money, fame, women) and sees that all this is meaningless. What’s haunting Lamar through every bar on Untitled Unmastered is that his attempts to stop white America’s profiting off its black population have failed – actually doing the opposite and making white record-label owners millions. He views himself as an unwitting accomplice, at times taking scathing slashes at his own position, whilst at others resignedly turning away, withdrawing from his old state-of-the-nation addresses and looking to personal relationships – a place where he might actually be able to affect change.
The jazz squeals of saxophones, Thundercat’s G-funk basslines and Lamar’s tongue-twisting vocal dexterity feature throughout means it’s a brilliant, if bleak, listen.
It’s the other sign of Lamar’s coin, offering a view into some of the insecurity, anxiety and depression that lies behind the courage, cynicism and anger of To Pimp A Butterfly.
To Pimp A Butterfly was a call-to-arms, it felt like a record that would push society undeniably towards an equality that was long overdue…but 2015 has turned to 2016 and what’s happened? #oscarssowhite, #britssowhite, the Kesha verdict, and Donald Trump. At least it’s nice to know Kendrick, on Untitled Unmastered, is as depressed about 2016 as the rest of us.