The Ascent Of The Creative Black Man: Kendrick Lamar Untitled/Unmastered Review

“Somewhere near the center of this cosmos we occupy, the creative black personality lives and maintains itself, moving through time, unlocking mysteries, producing reflections and legend. Once, black life and the ceremonies that punctuated it; birth, rites of passage, the praising of natural forces or gods, these and other efforts all found channels of expression in many forms. African man, creator of masks that tell us to this day of joy and rage in his land, also released his spirits into dance and other motion that designed to explore all realities within the human being.”

-Clayton Riley

Kendrick Lamar is a man of many masks. A boy has the right to dream, A man has the right of choice. A thief has the right to honesty, A pastor has the right of Heaven’s voice. Kendrick Lamar, long considered a master storyteller, has worn the mask of each of these men, and many others on his never ending quest to weave thought into the tapestry of mainstream black artistry.

The poet, as much a product of Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and the Harlem Renaissance as he is the streets of Compton that raised and inspired him, has often cited his desire to write and perform with purpose, responsibility, and an attention to detail that plays across the mind’s eye as short stories and vignettes. These stories have helped propel him to the top of Hip Hop’s pantheon of new class MC’s, heralded as a lyricist who wears the mask of master craftsman.

To Pimp A Butterfly was a masterpiece of funk, jazz, Spoken Word, Hip Hop, and blackness. It combined a story so personal with themes so universal to the uniqueness of the black experience that it was able to permeate many generations, viewpoints, and emotions. Ironically, or perhaps by design, some of the most inspired, exciting, and downright genius glimpses of Kendrick’s lyrical acumen were NOT displayed on the album itself, but by performances leading up to and following the release of the album. On several television performances, beginning with a show-stopping turn on one of the final episodes of The Colbert Report, Kendrick debuted never before heard verses. Fans clamored for these lost songs, reaching a fever pitch when Kendrick’s emotionally charged and fiery performance at the 58th annual Grammy Awards unleashed a lyrical barrage so potent and powerful that Lebron James himself publicly demanded proper release of these gems from TDE’s vaults. For those of you in the know, the pleas have been answered in the form of Untitled Unmastered, a collection of eight previously unreleased songs that speak to not only Kendrick’s continued usage of the mask of lyrical visionary, but also that of the Black Creative.

Some of us never did wrong but still went to hell
Geez Louise I thought you said that I excel
I made To Pimp a Butterfly ‘fore you told me
To use my vocals to save man-kind for you
Say I didn’t try for you, say I didn’t ride for you
I tithed for you, I pushed the club to the side for you
Who love you like I love you?
Crucifix, tell me you can fix
Anytime I need, I’mma start jotting everything in my diary
Never would you lie to me Always camaraderie, I can see,
our days been numbered Revelation greatest as we hearing the last trumpet
All man, child, woman, life completely went in reverse
I guess I’m running in place trying to make it to church

Every Kendrick Lamar project beginning with 2012’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City has incorporated God and Kendrick’s reverence for the Most High. Kendrick’s verse is apocalyptic in tone; fierce, paranoid, frustrated with a sense of incompletion and forsaken deliverance. The Creative is at once a slave and disciple to THE Creator, and as a compliment to To Pimp A Butterfly‘s internal struggle, Kendrick strives for understanding amongst chaos. As a collection of unreleased jewels, there is no unifying concept to this project, but there are consolidating themes. Kendrick, as the Creative, uses music as color and lyrics as pictures. This project’s color is that of Purple and the canvas with which he paints is to use imagination as the eye of his soul. On Untitled 02 he uses color and imagery to speak on his undying love and loyalty to his crew.

Cornrow Kenny, he was born with a vision
All morning with the mixed dashboards triple digits
Parallel park like an alien, can’t visit
Slideshow for the night show, ten bitches
Fine hoes with a blindfold, King Kendrick (Hello Billy)
So many plays on me I finesse
Palisade views with some sex
I lost a lot of love for missionary
This the first time I confess
Me and Top is like a Kobe and Phil
A father figure fuck with him, you get killed
Fuck with me and he will kill you himself
TDE the mafia of the west
Move in silence, yeah, we juggin’ like that
Act of violence, yeah, we juggin’ like that
I did a lot of dumb shit in my past
Lord forgive me, hoping I don’t relapse
Dave just bought a new nine eleven
Almost thought I’d seen another plane crash
Q just bought a brand new McLaren
Rock-a-lack about to buy the projects
Moosa got his son dripping in gold
Ali ’bout to let his hair down on hoes
Me, I’m about to let my hair down on hoes
Top billing that’s a million a show
Might blow the whole no whammy on Soul
Might tell Obama be more like Punch
Sounwave caught a Grammy last year
Mack wop, bet he do what he want

It is important to understand that the feeling of this song is to reaffirm the message that Kendrick feels safe with these people. Safety and security are the number one priorities of the King, as he must surround himself with trusted generals, advisors, and consorts as he holds court. Rocks will be cast at the throne, and while Kendrick has in earnest attempted to cultivate unity, this IS Hip Hop and through the lights, cameras, and action; glamour, glitter and gold, Kendrick and TDE know what time it is. The theme of contrasting advice and worldly philosophy manifest themselves in Untitled 03, where the Creative must listen and decipher the advice and temptations that represent the stereotypes of the races of man

What did the Asian say? A peace of mind
That’s what the Asian said, I need a divine
Intervention was his religion and I was surprised
Him believing in Buddha, me believing in God
Asked me what am I doing, he said “taking my time”
Meditation is a must, it don’t hurt if you try
See you thinking too much plus you too full of yourself
Worried about your career, ever think of your health?
What did the Indian say? A piece of land
That’s what the Indian said, I need to demand
Telling me longevity is in the dirt, buy some property first
Profit a better dollar with generational perks
Equity at his best, really, you should invest
These tangible things expire, don’t you expect
Income with so much outcome and yes
Look at my heritage, we blessed
Now what the black man say? A piece of pussy
That’s what the black man said I needed to push me
To the limit, satisfy my hunger Do it all for a woman, hair cut to a wool
We like to live in the jungle, like to play in the peach
What you saying to me?
He said “nigga, come back to reality for a week
” Pussy is power, cut on a new chick every night
I wouldn’t be prouder, you should allow it

As the Asian speaks on peace of mind and wellness of spirit, the Indian speaks on the importance of land and how to extend one’s generational legacy through its possession and cultivation. The black man then speaks on the need for sexual reproduction and the spread of the black man’s seed as a means of our race’s continued existence. It is important to distinguish and separate these viewpoints from that of the white race’s viewpoint. The three cultures (Asian, Indian, and African-American) provide an aspiration towards productivity, while the white man’s is that of exploitation.

What the white man say? A piece of mines
That’s what the white man wanted when I rhyme
Telling me that he selling me just for $10.99
If I go platinum from rapping, I do the company fine
What if I compromise? He said it don’t even matter
Make a million or more, you living better than average
You losing your core following, gaining it all
Put a price on my talent, I hit the bank and withdraw
Hit the bank and withdraw, hit the bank and withdraw
Put myself in the rocket ship and I shot for the stars
Tell me what you accomplished and what he said to the boy
I’mma make you some promises that you just can’t ignore

The Creative can understand and distinguish the good from the bad, noting that even though he may be of different spiritual or cultural background, that he can indeed draw a little from the well of advice that each culture’s spokesperson presents. The exception is for that of the White man, whom he must ultimately reject, or “hit the bank and withdraw” once it becomes clear that the price of success will come at the cost of his own artistry. Songs 04 and 05 blend together in a jazzy haze that invoke metaphor and analogy, SZA and Kendrick croon that “Head Is The Answer”, which could at once be a symbol for using one’s brain for creative contemplation or simply a sly nod towards oral sex as a temporary salve for momentary stress. 05 is as close to a posse cut as it gets, as Punch and Jay Rock lend their voices to personal anecdotes of damaged psyche, spiritual insecurity, and uncertain destiny dressed in false bravado.

I watch the sun rise then I watch the sun fall
Studied the son of God but still don’t recognize my flaws
I guess I’m lost, the cost of being successful is equal to being neglectful I pray my experience helps you
As for me I’m tryna sort it out Searching for loop holes in my bruised soul
But who knows? I just need a little space to breathe
I know perception is key, so I am king

Cee-Lo Green pops up breezily on track 06, lending his soul machine vocals to a song of self-acceptance. Here the Creative is speaking to a woman with whom he is enthralled, and in return attempts to explain himself, flaws and all. With poetic ingenuity he flirts with an air of lightness, playfully and romantically shooting her with Cupid’s arrows as he expresses the dualities of his personality and the magnetism of his attraction to her.

My mama told me that I was different the moment I was invented
Estranged baby, no I’m not ashamed
I recommend every inch of your lunatic ways
Praise the lord, you teach the kids how to be themself and plenty more
You know the male species can be redundant
I mean we love a woman and think we can satisfy her
Between sheets, covers and pillows
I’m promising your lack of tolerance stuck on a 0
I’m promising that I’m acknowledging you as my hero
Cause you believe in me
No you’re not easily impressed But I possess qualities that you need to see
Look at my flaws, look at my flaws
Look at my imperfections and all
Look how you think that my mystique is a round of applause
And yours equally valued
You stick out like an alien compared to those around you

Track 07 is really three songs put together, in true Kendrick Lamar fashion. In the first segment, he revels in the feeling of his creativity, a composer who at this moment truly grasps the importance of the symphony he is constructing. This is HiiiPoWeR in its truest form, a perfect artistic fusion of heart, honor, and respect. No drug, no amount of fame, alcohol, or material possession can compare to that moment in time when the Creative is truly in his element. The second segment is the Creative’s reaffirmation of self. Kendrick isn’t afraid to let loose a warning to those who doubt his lyrical wizardry or dedication to his craft

You niggas fear me like y’all fear God
You sound frantic, I hear panic in your voice
Just know the mechanics of making your choice and writin’ your bars
Before you poke out your chest, loosen your bra
Before you step out of line and dance with the star
I could never end a career if it never start

Reminders to Jermaine Cole, Drake, Jay Electronica, and Mac Miller. Kendrick’s got love for you all but he wouldn’t hesitate to MURDER you niggas. This isn’t an invitation to battle in the direct sense that Control was, rather it’s a flag planted in the Kingdom that Kendrick has claimed for himself, and it’s name is Compton.

Part 3 is a partially musical, partially conversational creative jam session with Producer Taz Arnold, who went on to have co-production credits on several songs on To Pimp A Butterfly. This serves as a peek into the process of the Creative, as a single guitar strum helps to awaken the germ of a song idea in Kendrick’s mind.

The album culminates with 08, where the Creative looks at his environment and that of American society through the lens of those who are on the verge of losing hope. These “Blue Faces” as Kendrick calls them are suffering from a myriad of different ills and afflictions, and none of them can be bothered to take the time to step back and view their problems from the perspective of a broader world. Kendrick himself begins to lament these problems until a conversation until an encounter with a man from Cape Town brings him back to his senses.

You never been through shit, you’re crying hysterical
You settle for everything, complain about everything
You say you sold crack, my world amphetamine
Your projects ain’t shit, I live in a hut bitch
I’m living to keep warm, you living to pay rent
I paid my way through, praying to Allah
You played your way through, by living in sci-fi
Bullshitting yourself, you talking to strangers
Same thing goes for the ones you came with
When y’all came on the boat looking for hope
And all you can say is that you’re looking for dope
These days ain’t no compromise
And your pain ain’t mines half the time
A brand new excuse ain’t shit to me
Bitch I made my moves, with shackled feet
Cape Town

The album ends with a spoken interlude of a man opining on the sad state of affairs of a people stuck in a cycle of self-pity, and the selfishness that acts as a the counter to self progression. This ending acts as the beginning To Pimp A Butterfly, where we find Kendrick on a journey of self healing, forgiveness, and understanding. Battling his way out of that dark place of inner turmoil and into the light of salvation. Whether or not Kendrick, or by extension any of us as black men and women, truly finds that salvation by way of spirituality or knowledge of self, is an answer that is wholly unique to our paths.

What Kendrick has proven with this collection is that, at least with the To Pimp A Butterfly sessions, there is no such thing as a throwaway Kendrick Lamar verse or concept. For in taking this journey he has unlocked the potential within himself to create something immense, something important, something that contributes to modern black art. It is projects like this that showcase such devotion to purpose that make Hip Hop the greatest genre of our time. This compilation, and the songs within it may remain untitled….

But they are surely Masterful.


By Alonge Hawes

Alonge Hawes is a writer from Stone Mountain, GA and the creator of the Blue Collar Hustle web series. in his spare time he enjoys studying African American history and obsessively deciphering the lyrics of Nas, Kendrick Lamar, and Common.