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From Untitled To Titled: Decoding Kendrick Lamar’s ‘untitled unmastered.’

Revolt Staff

 // Mar 16, 2016

Asmar Bouie // REVOLT

Earlier this month, Kendrick Lamar surprised the world with untitled unmastered., an 8-song collection of demos, outtakes, and, unfinished records all from the To Pimp a Butterfly sessions.

Like most of the Compton rapper’s releases, the project earned rave reviews, a boatload of think pieces and dissertation-style written reviews — all rightfully deserved. But what makes this project particularly stand out from previous works, is how liberating and free it is. In some ways, it even plays like the aural and synesthetic equivalent to K. Dot’s powerful Grammy performance.

The shackles, which he wore to that stage, sort of represents the themes that his last three albums confined him to, from the social commentary of Section.80 to the John Singleton-esque storytelling on good kid, m.A.A.d city. On untitled, he gets liberated through the unmastered demos that altogether breathes new life into the project they were intended for, TPAB.

But the liberation doesn’t just take place in the music, it’s in the packaging as well. And the lack of titles for this batch of material, only fuels the LP’s overall raw vibe. So in an attempt to contextualize Kendrick’s skeletal arrangements, we retitled Cornrow Kenny’s untitled collection from track one to eight, breaking down the meaning of each record.

1. "untitled 01 l 08.19.2014." | "Rapture"

Kendrick is a believer in the end of days. In fact, in his December 2014 cover story for Billboard, the lyricist reflected on the thought, stating, "We're in the last days, man — I truly in my heart believe that. It's written.” So for the opener to untitled, Kendrick depicts a land where “the tallest building plummet, cracking and crumbling” all as the “final calling” approaches. Sonically, it sounds as if he’s rapping at the thunderous clouds from the top of a rumbling mountain cliff. “I made To Pimp a Butterfly for you!,” he roars, before poignantly adding “Told me to use my vocals to save mankind for you.” Between the “last days” theme and its nightmarish thrums, the title “Rapture” feels like a perfect match for this cut.

2. "untitled 02 | 06.23.2014." | "Get Top On The PHone (Interlude)"

God and Top Dawg form a duality on “untitled 02 | 06.23.2014.” just like “i” and “u” did for To Pimp a Butterfly. The “Get God” and “Get Top” on the phone chants, once again, represents the inner struggle between dealing with vanity and humility. One minute, Cornrow Kenny is bragging about “bossing up” and getting “diamonds all appraised,” the next he’s referencing Matthew 12:40 to depict being “stuck inside the belly of the beast.” It’s an inner fight that comes with attempting to make sense of reality. Lord knows.

3. "untitled 03 | 05.28.2013." | "What They Say"

Originally debuted on The Colbert Report, Kendrick speaks in the tongues of different races, before speaking from the perspective of a greedy white record label owner who is trying to pimp his art: “What if I compromise? He said it don’t even matter / you make a million or more, you living better than average.” Our title “What They Say,” explores these interactions by labeling the song with the same repeated thread that wraps this track altogether.

4. "untitled 04 | 08.14.2014." | "H.E.A.D."

“Head” takes on two meanings here as a call for higher learning and, well… yes, a joke about oral sex. “Head is the answer, head is the future,” summarizes this, um, straight up. Listening to the song, that duality sticks out and sounds as if Kendrick is trying to find solace while dealing within life’s tug of war, where we’re all stuck between finding an answer and making sense of one. In trying to depict this personal challenge, we broke down “Head” into an acronym that paints a picture of this mind state: Hellish Entity And Devastation.

5. "untitled 05 | 09.21.2014." | "Backseat Religion (Through the Rearview)"

“I got 100 on my dash, got 200 in my trunk / Name in the grab bags, put my Bible in the trunk,” raps K. Dot, sounding as if he’s rapping from a carseat, à la good kid, m.A.A.d city’s “Backseat Freestyle.” Once again wrestling “Lucy,” the looming spirit that peek-a-boos through To Pimp A Butterfly, and questioning life, Kendrick is ruminative as he searches for life’s answers, our title. “Once upon a time I used to go to church and talk to God/ Now I’m thinking to myself, hollow tips is all I got.” There’s also some remnants of Pac’s “Lord Knows” sprinkled here, as K. Dot faces the battle between spirituality and reality.

6. "untitled 06 | 06.30.2014." | "gemini"

There’s two sides to a coin and a story. Here, over Adrian Younge’s and Ali Shaheed Muhammad (of A Tribe Called Quest) production, Kendrick paints that image in a song that seems to be an extended leg of self-empowering songs like “i” and “No Make-Up (Her Vice).” “Gemini,” which he points out in the beginning song, is a “duality” and by the end of the song he pledges his allegiance to the female subject described and to the HiiPower. “You’re the goddess of the odd, I am yours.”

7. "untitled 07 | 2014 - 2016" | "Levitate (Pimp Chant) / Lord's prayer / Acoustic"

“Pimp, Pimp, hooray!” opens up this song, before the three-part track unravels. Here, Kendrick is having fun and lines like “Santa’s reindeer better have some ass” is a clear indication.

8. untitled 08 | 09.06.2014. | "Kunta's Groove"

Over G-Funk production thanks to DJ Khalil, Kendrick breaks down the pros and cons of the age-old idiom, “Mo money, mo problems.” Where “King Kunta” pulled down the dresses of his rap competition, here he utilizes a similar furor on the power of a dollar all on top of a groove that certainly warrants a two-step.

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