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Album review: Kendrick has important leftover thoughts

Kendrick Lamar performs during the BET Experience at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on June 27. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Kendrick Lamar performs during the BET Experience at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on June 27. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Back in December 2014, Kendrick Lamar intensified the thirst for his sophomore album, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” the rapper’s magnum opus (thus far), with the debut of an untitled track on “The Colbert Report.” This performance followed up his first official single: the upbeat, 21st-century funk anthem “i.” Afterward, speculation soon ran rampant of what soundscapes the Compton, California native would skate over on his second major label LP.

During the farewell to host Stephen Colbert, Lamar was accompanied by Anna Wise and Bilal’s skittish vocals, Thundercat’s chaotic bass-playing and Terrace Martin’s soul-touching saxophone, musical talents that were woven into the DNA of “TPAB.” The performance went on to become “untitled 03 | 5.28.2013.” on Lamar’s surprise eight-track EP “untitled unmastered.,” which surfaced online late Thursday evening.

The project as a whole is a collective and extension of Lamar’s post-South-Africa-excursion thoughts, which seem sporadic, yet intricate enough to once again effortlessly elevate his reign over the rap game. On “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” his first album, we were exposed to some of the struggles and horrors that go along with growing up in Compton. However, while in South Africa, Kendrick witnessed hardships far worse than those he was exposed to growing up in gang-ridden environments.

“untitled unmastered.” is a continuation of what he couldn’t say back in March with 16 tracks; a collection of verses that he has been debuting solely through live enactments since 2014. With three television performances — “Colbert,” “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” and “The Grammys” — Lamar teased unreleased material in the form of charged and impactful enactments.

What became of the performance on Fallon’s show, however, was a less fierce and fiery final verse that interloped at the end of the “untitled 02 | 06.23.2014.” Kendrick drops bars about his Top Dawg Entertainment cohorts succumbing to the lures of rap fame — luxury cars, gold — despite the same problems existing in the projects they graduated from. There was blood and hunger in Lamar’s eyes the night he debuted that verse, and the CDQ version took away from that.

The first half of the “Fallon” track — “untitled 02 | 06.23.2014” or “Blue Faces” — still carries the same emotional weight that Kendrick brought to the stage in January. The EP’s closer questions rap’s affixation with wealth; the answer is Kendrick’s realization that money does not positively correlate with happiness. This track, along with “untitled 03,” are the most reminiscent of Lamar’s late-night spectacles, capturing the rapper’s glib vocals and fusion of funk and soul vibrations for fans to now digest over and over again.

Although this EP sonically sounds like B-sides to “TPAB,” there are prints from heavy, bombastic producers that contrast with Martin’s flexible saxophone skills. Hit-Boy and production team Nard&B lend their hard touch, which surprisingly works well with the ensemble of instruments backing Lamar nowadays. K. Dot and TDE label mates Jay Rock and Punch add their voices to a conversation centered around the class system in the United States on “untitled 05 | 09.21.2014.”

The drums, saxophone and bass treat the beat like a jam session, erratically breaking out into personalized solos. The aforementioned track leads into the album’s Easter egg: an amorous CeeLo Green hook and verse. He proclaims, “I’m bizarre, avant-garde / Both sides of me are evenly odd,” expanding on Lamar’s lessons of self-acceptance. Although this is Lamar’s project, the diverse group of talents he’s been linked to lately seem to bring out the best storyteller in the Compton emcee.

Almost a year after “TPAB” mysteriously appeared overnight, a 35-minute EP tackling, per usual for Kendrick, issues of race, distribution of wealth and mental health dropped out of nowhere. Portions of the songs were presented to the public in live fashion, but until now Lamar’s outpouring of social and political dialogue were just puzzle pieces.

Just like “TPAB” and many other of Kendrick’s projects, “untitled unmastered.” can only be done justice by listening to it from front to back. He’s a masterful storyteller — perhaps the best to ever grace the rap genre — and with his latest EP he has once again put together the pieces of the puzzle to convolutedly convey his thoughts and feelings to his fans in a disguisedly simple way.

Score: A-

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