To Pimp A Butterfly was by anyone’s estimate the biggest record of 2015. Pretty much every music magazine on the planet (including this one) declared it the album of the year. That fact alone might lead the uninitiated to believe that To Pimp A Butterfly was pretty flawless. Except it wasn’t. Not even close. I mean, it has five or six absolutely perfect songs, but it’s also a total fucking mess to be honest with you. Kendrick Lamar can be way over the top and at times (dare I say it?) corny as fuck.
We all know it, too. And that’s where Kendrick Lamar might lose a lot of people. For those of us who stick it out, though, and embrace his goofier tendencies, there is a lot to love. At the center of Lamar’s work is a big heart that gives zero fucks. How can you fault that? Even more importantly, this is a man interested in telling the truth in the most excellent way possible. His preferred method: dense, jazz-influenced, trail blazing, not-scared-of-a-motherfucking-thing, consciousness-rap. It’s inspiring as fuck. That’s why To Pimp A Butterfly blew us all away. Even if most the time we skip that song where he goes down the “loving you is complicated!” rabbit hole. We respect the balls it took to make that song in the first place.
What then do we make of, untitled unmastered, which Lamar gave us by surprise last Friday. Kendrick’s schmaltziest tendencies (as in, “Pimp! Pimp! Hooray!”) are on full display but so too is some of his fiercest rapping to date. To be honest, this will be dismissed by some as a collection of B-sides and hailed by others as a minor masterpiece. The truth is, it’s both. But more than anything this is an album about being scared as fuck because, you know, the impending apocalypse. And that’s worth mentioning.
Thing is (and I’m not trying to bum you out, but):
The entire middle east, from Libya to Syria to Lebanon is rapidly descending into chaos, it’s causing one of the worst refugee crises since World War II. China’s economy is perilously close to collapse, meanwhile, North Korea is acting more aggressively toward the west than it has in decades. The European Union seems to be teetering on the brink of collapse as well, and after a decade of recession and austerity this has put NATO into similar peril. Far-right politicians are gaining support all over the world, but most troublingly in western Europe and the US.
As for the United States (ugh!) we are an honest-to-God embarrassment to ourselves. We very well could nominate a bonafide fascist as a presidential candidate. And if you aren’t too worried about that, or if you think he can’t win, know this: you’re fooling yourself. Idiots often win elections in the US, especially if the person they’re running against gets indicted.
In a word, things are fucked.
Kendrick Lamar seems to have been worried about all of this for a while now (most of this album was recorded in 2014). He quotes the book of Revelation, he asks hard questions and provides no answers, he allows himself to have faults, he grapples with the nature of love, life and God. He probably does a lot of other shit too that I haven’t even noticed yet. What I have noticed is that this album, like To Pimp A Butterfly, is 100% fascinating. The fact that I’ve listened to this thing 20 times and haven’t even began to wrap my brain around it means a.) not only should I probably not be writing about it, but, b.) it’s probably a lot better than I think it is. Whatever. All I really know about untitled unmastered is this: it’s exactly what we need right now.