Kendrick Lamar’s surprise mixtape unsurprisingly provocative

Late last Thursday night, rapper Kendrick Lamar released a surprise compilation album on iTunes and Spotify titled, for lack of a more appropriate word, “untitled unmastered.”

Many of the compilation’s eight tracks, which are titled with the dates that they were recorded, were originally performed live on several late night shows, as well as at his much-talked-about performance at this year’s Grammys. Lamar later confirmed that the tracks were unfinished demos that did not make it onto his critically acclaimed album, “To Pimp a Butterfly.”

As a result, the tracks largely carry over Lamar’s preoccupation with his inner demons and the state of the political and social landscape of America as a breeding ground for many flavors of racism.

The first track, “Untitled 01 | 08.19.2014,” is pure poetry in its comparison of religious imagery and symbolism with commentary on the violence and destruction caused by war, hate and racism. The lyrics here are incredibly convicting and are only emphasized by Lamar’s customarily aggressive delivery.

The album takes this momentum and disperses it evenly throughout the remainder of the tracks. But “untitled unmastered” doesn’t sound like the Kendrick Lamar you might be used to if you haven’t listened to “To Pimp a Butterfly.” The tracks here are largely experimental, with plenty of mid-track tempo changes and style swings that pull the rug out from us just when our ears have gained a foothold.

Musically, Lamar indulges in jazz, funk and soul sounds, employing liberal use of saxophone and jazz club style hi-hat, drums, piano and seductive bass. Most of the tracks also feature a large number of guests, which allows Lamar to pop in and out at will.

“untitled unmastered” at its core is a mixtape, but without all the negative stereotypes that usually accompany that particular label. Yes, the tracks are often minimalistic, but only to emphasize the meaty lyrics and themes that Lamar is trying to communicate. The album, despite being a collection of demos, remains remarkably cohesive as only a rapper as talented as Lamar could manage.

Once again Kendrick has given us hip-hop that you probably won’t bump to in the car or at the club. And that is not an insult in the slightest.