Kendrick Lamar has made a statement yet again. On Friday at midnight (March 4), the Compton rapper surprised fans with Untitled, Unmastered almost a year after dropping his Grammy-winning sophomore album To Pimp a Butterfly.
Untitled is an eight-track collection of cuts recorded between 2013 and 2016 but serves as an important declaration of independence for K. Dot, according to Top Dawg Entertainment Co-President Terrence “Punch” Henderson.
“To me, it just means freedom,” Punch told Billboard over the phone. “[Kendrick’s] first album [good kid, m.a.a.d. city] doesn’t sound anything like the second album [TPAB], so it opened him up to where he can do anything he wants. There are no bounds to what he can do creatively. Most artists have a certain lane they have to stay in but for him to put out songs [from To Pimp a Butterfly sessions] along with stuff that he performed on the late night shows, it just shows you that he can do whatever he wants.”
While the music is an intricate set that showcases both Kendrick’s aggressive and spiritual sides, the project’s title was inspired by another music icon. “As far as Untitled, Me and Kendrick always talked about doing a sort of Black Album, like how Prince did back in the day,” Punch explained. “There was no album cover, no song titles, no anything — just tracks he threw out.”
The second part of the project’s name, though, isn’t just a label for the raw recordings. “Everything that we do is deliberate so if you hear something that says Unmastered, we absolutely did that on purpose,” Punch explained. “There’s more than one meaning behind that.
“We’re definitely trying to break chains musically and socially,” he continues. “The whole thing to me just represents breaking the chains, whatever those chains might be, whatever chains society puts on you. We’re trying to break those and be free.”
Kendrick explores freedom in his songwriting, too. “I shall enjoy the fruits of my labor if I get free today,” he raps on “untitled 03 | 05.28.2013.” But another theme — Lamar’s spirituality — often comes across in his rhymes. On this effort, for instance, religion is referenced at least once on every track. It’s a conscious effort for Lamar because it’s also “an important part of him as a person.”
“He has a spiritual side,” said Punch. “He has a belief in God that’s strong, a faith that’s strong. Of course that’s going to come out in what he does because all his music is from him so every part of him is coming out. It’s all a part of growing up, being a man and putting your real self out there.”
Punch understands this side of rapping because he’s an MC as well. Although he’s laid low in recent years to focus on his TDE presidency, he’s actually a longtime K. Dot collaborator and showcases this on “untitled 05 | 09.21.2014.”
“Kendrick was at the studio and he called everyone to come through,” recalls Punch of the Track 5 sessions, which were recorded on the date specified in the title. “He hit me and was like, ‘Yo, come rap.’ He was just playing beats. He was like, ‘Hop on this.’ We came up with the concept and just did it.”
While most of the project remains true to the originals, he adds that some changes had to be made for its final release. “There were a couple things that got modified when we actually decided to put it out,” he says. “You know how he starts off the verse? I originally had something else right there but we switched it up because of sample clearances… He switched it up while I was in London at the BRIT Awards with SZA, when she came out with Rihanna.”
Another song on Untitled, Unmastered with recent changes is “untitled 07 | 2014-2016,” a three-part cut crafted over the course of two years. Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys also revealed that their 5-year-old son Egypt produced a portion of the track.
“That kid is a prodigy,” Punch says of Egypt’s talents. “It’s bananas but I understand it because I’ve got a 6-year-old son [Terrance “Quack Quack” Henderson III] so it’s a part of how you raise these kids. Obviously, they’re a musical family so he’s been brought up in that since infancy so it’s not that far of a stretch for me. It’s just obvious that they ain’t putting no limits on Egypt and that’s dope. He gets chance to flourish and do the things he’s interested in.”
Thanks to Untitled, Unmastered, Kendrick also continues flourishing, putting distinct sides of his artistry on display. “It’s different styles on there,” says Punch. “You can’t pigeonhole him at all. He’s got everything. I don’t see a weakness in his whole thing. If he wants to do storytelling, that’s cool. If he wants straight bars, that’s cool,” before offering again, “He can do whatever he wants.” [Billboard]