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There's A New Kendrick Lamar Project Out, But It May Sound Familiar Already

Kendrick Lamar performs at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles in February.
Robyn Beck
/
AFP/Getty Images
Kendrick Lamar performs at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles in February.

NPR's Audie Cornish spoke with Frannie Kelley of NPR Music's podcast Microphone Check about Kendrick Lamar's untitled unmastered. You can hear their conversation at the audio link.


Hip-hop fans received a surprise Thursday night: an unexpectedly released project from Kendrick Lamar called untitled unmastered.

The cover of Kendrick Lamar's <em>untitled unmastered. </em>project.
/ Courtesy of the artist
/
Courtesy of the artist
The cover of Kendrick Lamar's untitled unmastered. project.

Each of untitled unmastered.'s eight tracks is — as the album's name headlines — untitled, followed by a date. If those dates (most of which fall between 2013 and 2014) are correct, it means they were recorded during the same period as Lamar's masterful To Pimp A Butterfly.

As of Friday morning, untitled unmastered. was available across many music platforms, including Spotify, iTunes and Tidal.

When this music made its way online last night, some news outlets breathlessly hailed it as the leak of a "surprise new album" featuring "eight new songs."

That's not quite right, though. The project's title suggests a certain fluidity and work-in-progress liminality, and its cover is an unadorned, almost industrial green field. It's a strategy that nods to the lifting-the-veil feel behind Kanye West's The Life of Pablo.

A lot of this material will be familiar to attentive listeners; as NME points out, Lamar has already performed certain passages from this project quite publicly already, including on TV performances on shows like The Colbert Report and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. And the sprawling, eight-minute "untitled 07" is partly a reworking — or rough, improvised version — of material that appears earlier on untitled unmastered.

There were hints that something was in the works earlier this week already, starting with a not-so-mysterious Instagram post on Wednesday from Anthony Tiffith — the CEO of Lamar's label, Top Dawg Entertainment — which Lamar promptly retweeted.

All of the signs in untitled unmastered. point to this release as a snapshot of Lamar's creative process, but given the intensity with which his work is received, and that surprise full-album drops have become almost expected in the marketplace, many fans may interpret this project as a full artistic statement.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.