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Album review: Kendrick Lamar’s latest album is a collection of unreleased demos, that is good enough to hold its own

The songs are just as political, psychedelic and adventurous as the 16 that made To Pimp a Butterfly’s final cut.
Kendrick Lamar won five Grammys last year. Robyn Beck / AFP Photo
Kendrick Lamar won five Grammys last year. Robyn Beck / AFP Photo

Untitled Unmastered

Kendrick Lamar

(EMI)

Four stars

Kendrick Lamar has never been more relevant. To Pimp a ­Butterfly was 2015’s most universally praised record. His anthem Alright is routinely chanted at American ­protests – including by a group at this past weekend’s ­cancelled Donald Trump Rally in ­Chicago. He stole the show at last month’s Grammys, where he won five awards, with a ­politically-charged performance.

It’d be understandable for the 28-year-old hip-hop star from Compton, California, to rest while sitting on top of the world. But as the recent release Untitled Unmastered shows, Lamar has no interest in letting others take the ­spotlight just yet.

Granted, the eight-track release is just a collection of unreleased demos from Butterfly, and stylistically there’s plenty here to feel like it could’ve been little more than a supplement to that record. But this is no typical content dump of B-sides.

Or even if it is, it shows just the creative level Lamar is operating at if he is to consider these tracks as failing the album litmus test. The songs are just as political, psychedelic and adventurous as the 16 that made To Pimp a Butterfly’s final cut.

It’s amazing, though, that Untitled 05 | 09.21.2014 wasn’t on Butterfly, where it would’ve fit seamlessly between the mid-­album tracks Institutionalized and These Walls, with its paranoid saxophones and sultry backup vocals.

But as part of this record, it makes Untitled Unmastered seem like Kendrick’s Amnesiac to last year’s Kid A. Another standout is Untitled 07 | 2014-2016 which quite simply is a stunning piece of recorded audio. In three parts across eight minutes and 16 seconds, Lamar goes from experimental funkadelia and catchy hooks, to a short, angry freestyle over a percussion-laced beat, to the final few minutes of laid-back freestyle over a minimalist beat to be produced by the 5-year-old son of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keyes.

The record is so tight, ­efficient and confident that it even finds a perfect use for the no-longer-relevant CeeLo Green, who’s featured pitch-perfectly on Untitled 06 | 6.30.2014

With this release, Lamar gives us this eight-track collection that instead of out-takes and demos feels like its own complete statement. At the rate he’s going, we might not have to wait long for the next instalment.

Published: March 14, 2016 04:00 AM

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