Many Angelenos woke up Friday with one thing on their minds: Get to the surprise new Kendrick Lamar album. Released Thursday night after it suddenly appeared on Spotify earlier in the evening, Lamar's new record is called "untitled unmastered" and features eight tracks, each only identified by date.
Lamar performed some of these songs during appearances on late-night talk shows and at last month's Grammy Awards. But these are studio versions of the tracks, and the majority of them are as jolting and innovative as anything on "To Pimp a Butterfly." Which is to say, this is the sound of an artist in the zone, dropping masterfully phrased lyrics with the confidence of Stephen Curry popping half-court three-pointers.
Below, a highlight reel of some of Lamar's best rhymes on "untitled, unmastered." (Hat tip to Genius for the quick-turnaround lyric transcription.)
Track 1, called "untitled 01 |08.19.2014," takes place in end times. Lamar cites the book of Revelation, "dark skies, fire and brimstone." Trumpets blare. The world is near an end. Lamar vanquishes in the first verse any notion that these are tracks retrieved from the recycle bin.
"Life is long as infinity, this was the final calling
No birds chirping or flying, no dogs barking
We all nervous and crying, moving in caution
In disbeliefs our beliefs the reason for all this
The tallest building plummet, cracking and crumbling
The ground is shaking, swallowing young woman
With a baby, daisies, and other flowers burning in destruction
The smell is disgusting, the heat is unbearable
Preachers touching on boys run for cover, they paranoid
Rapists and murderers hurdle alleys
Valleys and high places turn into dust
Famous screaming in agony
Atheists for suicide, planes falling out the sky
Trains jumping off the track, mothers yelling 'He's alive!'
Backpedaling Christians settling for forgiveness."
The second track, "untitled 02 | 06.2314," is an ode to Top Dawg Entertainment, the record label that helped propel Lamar to fame and whose roster and production team form the core of the company. In a masterful second verse, Lamar delivers a rhymed (and cussed) rundown of TDE's players, including Dave Free, Sounwave, Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock and others.
"Me and Top is like a Kobe and Phil
A father figure ... with him, you get killed
... 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 ... 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 Remy on soul
Might tell Obama be more like Punch
Sounwave caught a Grammy last year
Mack wop, bet he do what he want"
Lamar debuted "Untitled 03 | 05.28.2013" as the final musical guest on "The Colbert Report." Moving through advice given to him by men of different races, Lamar offers a kaleidoscopic look at the perils of success.
"A piece of mine
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."
Parts of "Untitled 05 | 09.21.2014" were first performed at the Grammy Awards in February. A psychodrama that takes place in the mind of a fallen man, it focuses on isolation and violence.
"Once upon a time I used to go to church and talk to God
Now I'm thinkin' to myself, hollow tips is all I got
Now I'm drinkin' by myself, at the end of Section Park
Watch you when you walk inside your house
You threw your briefcase all on the couch
I plan on creeping through your ... door and blowin' out
Every piece of your brain until your son jump in your arms
Cut on the engine, then sped off in the rain
The lyrics to "Untitled 06 | 06.30.2014," which feature a hook sung by Cee-Lo, are slippery. It opens with a doozy of a couplet -- "These metamorphic supernatural forces dominate what I see/ A Gemini, do I let these personalities always conflict in me?" -- before moving into verses that take the form of a conversation with a lover.
"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."
The epic "Untitled 07 | 2014-2016" occurs in three acts across eight minutes, and each section has its own structure. The second presents a chest-puffing battle verse in which Lamar boasts that he "kept my focus anonymous 'til I dealt with the consequence." Then he lets loose on lesser artists.
"You ... 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
The murderous capital, avenues lookin' like evil dead zombies
With batteries to the head."
The final track, "untitled 08 | 09.06.2014," sees Lamar wrestling with his newfound wealth while friends from his past continue to struggle. A nuanced look at gray areas and hard choices, the song closes the record with a series of astounding verses. The artist performed this on "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon" in January.
"My home girl got a credit card scam
She got a scholarship to college but she don't give a damn
Intuition, she got a broke ... wishin'
She tell me this on the phone with the noodles in the pan
I know you, woman, I console you, woman
You feel like the universe owes you, woman
Oh the anticipation of hoping you could make it
... don't prosper chasing education
But you're talented, and can't handle it
And your homegirls can't be your manager
365 times four, plus more
If yan't get it right, tell me, do you got the stamina?"
Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter and Instagram: @liledit