Kendrick Lamar's Surprise Album Takes On Racial Identity and Cynicism
A rogue snowstorm and frigid temperatures may be threatening the promise of an early spring, but the universe is somehow balancing out, thanks to last night’s, March 3rd, surprise release of new Kendrick Lamar songs. It’s being hailed as a project rather than an album, but Kendrick’s eight-track follow-up to his theatrical instant masterpiece To Pimp a Butterfly is still going to be on repeat for weeks. The surprise drop was foreshadowed earlier this week by Top Dog CEO Anthony Tiffith when he announced that one of the label’s artists was going to drop a surprise album, but we never expected it to be Kendrick. Now, the gates of heaven have opened up and given us untitled unmastered.—a jazz-backed journey that shows the deeply cynical demons that Kendrick fought in his Grammy-award winning album last year.
Each of the tracks on the project are stripped of song titles and named only with mysterious dates. Knowing Kendrick’s politically-charged lyricism, the dates are just as likely to be references to dates that inspired the songs as they are to when they might’ve been recorded. The only guarantee is that if you follow his late night performances (and you should), you’ve probably heard more than one of these songs before. The rapper has made a habit of subverting the system and using his talk show appearances to perform new material. Two of the songs on the album, “untitled 03 05.28.2013” and “untitled 08 09.06.2014,” were both originally performed on the Colbert Report in December 2014, and the Tonight Show in January, respectively. The tracks—if the dates are when they were recorded—come from the period of time he spent crafting his rap classic before it dropped in 2015.
“I got a chamber of material from [To Pimp a Butterfly] that I was in love with where sample clearances or something as simple as a deadline kept it off the album,” he told 2 Dope Boyz a few weeks ago. “Probably close to ten songs that I’m in love with that I’ll still play and still perform that didn’t make the cut.”
Even though it isn’t a full-fledged new album, the new project from Kendrick further cements his status as the dominant political voice in hip hop, which seems to be the basis of the new tracks. Steering clear of the misogyny and ego trips that seem to be sinking another high profile rapper, Kendrick instead confronts everything from fame and racism to the Catholic church sex abuse scandal. A biting line about “[using] my vocals to save mankind for you” in the opening track sets up the next chapter in Kendrick’s ongoing inner turmoil about his identity in the world—and we’re glad he’s invited us into his head once again.
Images via Getty and The Tonight Show.
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