Disses toward Drake and Jay Electronica, guest features, and LeBron James. Here's everything we know about Kendrick Lamar's surprise release.
Almost a year has passed since Kendrick Lamar released To Pimp a Butterfly, Noisey’s favorite album of 2015. Given the response to that album, it would’ve been easy for Lamar to lean back for a moment and reassess where to move to next. But Lamar isn’t most artists.
In the 12 months since the release of To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar’s remained firmly in the driving seat. From that record’s music videos to his Kunta Groove Sessions where he performed the album with a live band to appearances on Jimmy Fallon and at The Grammys, Lamar has continued to expand upon the album’s universe, enriching the material he’s already offered and hinting at more to come, often performing unreleased and untitled verses live. The sense we’re witnessing an artist operating at his creative peak has been palpable.
The scary thing is: Lamar hasn’t even reached his final form. As each release passes, he continues to evolve and advance. Last night he surprise released untitled unmastered.—a 34-minute long, eight track EP that surfs through free-jazz, soul, funk and hip-hop. It’s going to take a while to digest the album, and the label has yet to release full credits, but here’s everything we know about it already.
THESE TRACKS WERE RECORDED ALONGSIDE THE SONGS FROM TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY
To Pimp A Butterfly took over three years to record, involving studios in LA, New York, Washington, Los Angeles, and a booth on Lamar’s tour bus. By the time recording for the album wrapped up, Derek Ali, who worked on To Pimp a Butterfly, told soundonsound the rapper had “recorded 60 to 80 tracks”. Initially, it seemed as though Lamar had succumbed to the idea of these songs never seeing the light of day, opting instead to perform them live, as he did with “Untitled 03” on Jimmy Fallon and “Untitled 08” on the Colbert Report. Earlier this year he told 2DopeBoyz he had a “chamber of material from [TPAB] that [he] was in love [with] where sample clearances or something as simple as a deadline kept it off the album. He continued, “But I think [I have] 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”.
Given that the track titles on untitled unmastered note specific dates, it seems as though these previously unheard songs are leftover from the mammoth sessions for To Pimp A Butterfly. [Update: Kendrick has confirmed these are indeed demos from To Pimp A Butterfly]
THE ALBUM WAS PLANNED, BUT LEBRON JAMES SET IT FREE
Earlier this week, TDE CEO Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith shared a picture of the label's upcoming release schedule and announced they would be releasing one new project in the next few days. In the picture Tiffith shared, it was suggested that the label has been working on the long-awaited debut album from Isaiah Rashad, the follow up to ScHoolboy Q's Oxymoron, and new albums from Jay Rock, SZA and Ab-Soul. Next to all of those releases though, one caption stood out. Scribed in the middle of the white-board were the words "KDOT ??? (GET TOP ON THE PHONE).
The photo was a response of sorts: After Kendrick Lamar’s performance at the Grammys, basketball star LeBron James had tweeted the TDE CEO, begging him to release the untitled track Kendrick Lamar performed. Can we credit him with the release of untitled unmastered.? You bet. Top Dawg posted an Instagram video last night where he credits LeBron James as the guy who held the key to the release of Kendrick's new record.
FEATURES INCLUDE THUNDERCAT, CEE LO GREEN, AND JAY ROCK
On the surface, untitled unmastered. is a project that goes light on guest features, as no artists have been officially credited on the track titles. Yet deep in the realm of the record's submerged, bubbling soundscapes, you can hear the sound of a few collaborators. Thundercat, who provided those groove-ridden bass licks in To Pimp A Butterfly returns again on "Untitled 05," as do the producers/musicians Terrace Martin (keys, sax), Sounwave (drums), and TDE’s Jay Rock and Punch. Elsewhere, "Untitled 06" is boosted with the extra-terrestrial harmonies of Cee-Lo Green, while Anna Wise sets the backdrop for Kendrick's reflections on "Untitled 03."
SWIZZ BEATS AND ALICIA KEYS' FIVE YEAR OLD SON "PRODUCES" A TRACK
Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys have a five-year-old son together. He's named Egypt, and he's better at being a five-year-old than you probably were. Because while most kids are content with wiping boogers on the side of the sofa while watching cartoons, Egypt has already burst into his father's shoes and entered the world of music production, helping to craft the beat for "Untitled 07" on Kendrick's untitled unmastered.. Call it nepotism, call it talent; call it both. You can't deny the kid has access to some of the best keyboard sounds known to man and is potentially the most lit five year old in the world right now. To be fair, it wasn’t all Egypt’s doing: hitmaking veteran Cardo also produced on “Untitled 07.”
DISS WATCH #1: IS KENDRICK SENDING FOR JAY ELECTRONICA?
By now, it's been well-documented that Kendrick Lamar can tear the heart of your favourite rapper out with a swift flick of his tongue. He did it on "Control", he's done it throughout his long running subliminal war with Drake, and it appears he's doing it again on unreleased unmastered., which features at least a couple possible disses that immediately jump out.
The first is a potential diss toward Jay Electronica. A few weeks ago, Electronica released the track "#TBE The Curse of Mayweather”. On that track, Electronica said “'He’s got 11 Grammy nominations, ya’ll not equal,’/ Man, fuck these white people. My grandmother died at 82 scrubbing floors,/ And niggas still runnin’ around beggin’ for awards”, which many perceived to be a diss toward Kendrick Lamar, as it referenced the Compton rapper’s Grammy nominations. This was then followed up with the below tweet, directed to Kendrick Lamar's manager and TDE President Dave Free.
As the one track that doesn't appear to have been entirely recorded during the To Pimp A Butterfly sessions, Lamar appears to hit back at Electronica on "Untitled 07 (2014-2016), stating "I could never end a career if it never start". Given that Electronica still hasn't released his long-awaited debut album, the idea that Lamar is referencing Electronica's slow-burning career is a fair assessment, seeing as it's almost non-existent at this point. Whether or not the line is directed at Electronica though, it’s specifically meant for someone, with TDE's Punch tweeting the lyrics to "Untitled 07" alongside the caption "final warning. seriously".
DISS WATCH #2: IS KENDRICK INTENTIONALLY CRIBBING DRAKE'S FLOW ON "UNTITLED 02"?
Drake has a penchant for raising his rapping voice into a soft yell when he wants to sound tough on a track. So much so that on his debut as a newly formed, well-groomed Canadian winter soldier on 2015’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late it reached parody-like levels. “6 God.” Yelling. “Madonna” Yelling. “No Telling,” all yelling. And it seems Kendrick has noticed and decided to mimic it to a highkey level of shade on “Untitled 02 (6.23.2014).”
The reference starts around 3:36 mark when Kendrick’s voice seemingly takes on Drake’s cadence as he runs the song into its conclusion. What better way to establish your dominance as the best by outdoing the flow mimic master, himself? According to the date in the song title, “Untitled 02 (6.23.2014)" predates IYRTITL. However Kendrick’s track was made after the release of the aforementioned “6 God” and Drake-yelling opus “Worst Behaviour.” It’s been well-noted that the pair have a long-running subliminal beef, so perhaps this is the next episode in that story.
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