Surely, no one needs me to explain that a new Kendrick Lamar LP—even when it consists of sketches, demos, and songs in various stages of finsished-ness—is a big deal. But untitled unmastered, which arrived in the world less than 24 hours ago, completely out of the blue, is extra-significant for the way it peels back the curtain on the creative process of one of contemporary music's most significant artists.
But this album's significance resides in its fearless casualness. You hear Lamar playing around, trying out verses, trying on voices. I swear you can almost hear him thinking. The songs—no titles, only dates, like he dragged them straight out of his own iTunes—are dense with ideas, personas, contradictions, righteous energy. It seems unimaginable that he could have followed an earth-shattering record like To Pimp a Butterfly any other way than a release like this, in which he lets you see the wires, the rivets, the unexemplary notebook work—and you still walk away feeling like you have to hear it again. So fucking strong.
People will be comparing this to Kanye West's work-in-progress report The Life of Pablo, but aside from the inchoate-ness of the form, the two albums are as different as the two artists who made them. It may be petty and dumb, but my first thought was that untitled unmastered functioned more as a rejoinder to another long-in-the-works hiphop album that came out last week. I imagined Lamar hearing—or even not even hearing This Unruly Mess I've Made—and thinking an album of his unruly demos could beat it in a walk and steal any headlines that were left.