Kendrick Lamar’s untitled unmastered. album artwork.
A few days ago news came out that the latest Star Wars movie The Force Awakens, which came on in theaters in December 2015, would be released on DVD in April. As is the case nowadays, the blockbuster movie will be paired with bonus features that include the chance for fans to see a documentary on the making of the movie, find of how the costuming came to be, and, of course, watch deleted scenes.
The latter feature is always a questionable one for me: “Why would I want to see what was purposefully left on the cutting room floor?” It’s a question I always wonder before inevitably pressing play. What occurs next is some version of harsh criticism (“Why didn’t they include XYZ?! That would have fit perfectly!”) or thankfulness (“Whew! I’m so glad they left this junk out!”). And the same goes for music and album releases. Though when an album comes out, the way its “extras” are packaged with the actual “standard” album is a bit more messy.
For example, the standard version of Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo album technically ends with Frank Ocean’s words on “Wolves,” the thirteenth track on the album. It’s perfect. But what immediately follows Ocean’s thoughtful lyrics is a goofy Collect call from imprisoned rapper Max B. The Harlem rhymer, iconic for his cool ways effectively gives West permission to use the eventually scrapped Waves title. The entire skit is unnecessary. By including it on Pablo, Kanye is basically saying, “Hey guys, Max B approved of me using a title that I eventually decided against. Just thought you should know.” And because this bonus track sits right next to “Wolves,” it effects the quality of the album as a whole. From Max B on, four tracks that clearly don’t fit the mood of TLOP play, ruining the good standing of the actual standard album.
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This morning I woke up to my younger brother’s text: “KENDRICK’S NEW ALBUM IS GREAT.” He was excited. As was I. The Compton rapper apparently released new material last night, just a year removed from dropping his critically acclaimed To Pimp a Butterfly album. Once I hopped on my MacBook to check out the music, one glance at its track-listing told me that the cuts are essentially ones that were left on the cutting room floor from TPAB recording sessions. Their titles are all calendar dates, suggesting that the eight songs were made while Lamar was working on his Grammy-winning masterpiece. This collection is suitably called untitled unmastered. That says it all.
So with that in mind, I wondered what I usually do: “Why would I want to hear what was purposefully left off the album?”
Well, I do appreciate that Kendrick didn’t carelessly fling these songs at the end of Butterfly. So I can separate the two from each other. It’s a gift Kanye didn’t give me. And I for sure want to have more insight on what one of this era’s greatest musical minds was thinking and creating when he made his second landmark album. untitled unmastered. is not an album as much as it is a mixtape of rough drafts and ideas that didn’t make it out of the cocoon. Still, as marvelous as Butterfly is, some of those ideas, are bound to be good, right?
In this case, RIGHT!
“untitled 03 05.28.2013.” is this gem that he dynamically performed on The Colbert Report in December 2014. “untitled 08 09.06.2014.” debuted on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon in January, another fervent performance of a song that I couldn’t listen to a studio version of. Until now.
Other tracks are solid, but are clearly sonically out of place on TPAB, like “untitled 02 06.23.2014.,” which sounds too trappy for the funky jazz vibes that dominate the true album. But it’s cool to know that Lamar wasn’t a complete shut-in and at least put some time in to trying out different genres within Hip-Hop.
It’s also crazy to think that all eight of these songs could have made the TPAB had they been shined up to 100%, which all don’t seem far from. As far as content, they all are Butterfly-worthy, from the apocalyptic future Lamar envisions on the opener (“The ground is shaking, swallowing a young woman/ With a baby, daisies, and other flowers burning in destruction/ The smell is disgusting, the heat is unbearable…”) to the culturally divisive third track to uu‘s closer.
So in the case of untitled unmastered., yes, I’m thankful that these tracks weren’t Butterfly bonuses. But I’m also glad these saw the light of day. Clearly, Kendrick loved them enough to share live, possibly finished, variants of them on television. And I’m looking forward to unpacking their content, which rivals TPAB cuts in most cases.
Other artists should adopt Lamar’s method of releasing bonus cuts/deleted scenes. Don’t ruin the shine of your proper/standard album by sitting it’s premature siblings next to it, as promising as they are. When you can recognize the difference, it’s easier to fully appreciate both.