Kendrick Lamar’s Section. 80, good kid, m.A.A. city, To Pimp A Butterfly, as music fans we are currently living in an age of one of the most frighteningly consistent artists of our time. Every album – and this will be subject to debate for years to come – better than the last, every release creating more demand for new material than the other. Hip-hop is a consumerist industry, and the key word here is ‘demand’.
All the pressure to produce consistently awe-inspiring work might leave most artists searching, with some cracking under pressure, but not Kendrick. Since the release of To Pimp A Butterfly, a masterstroke of soul-bearing and collaborative energy – and especially over recent months Kendrick Lamar has been enjoying the response of his live performances where he’s chosen to debut new untitled songs. From ‘Untitled I’ on the Late Show with Steve Colbert, to ‘Untitled II’ on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, to his recent iconic performance at the Grammy’s finishing his short set with a section of yet another untitled track. Each performance has been as impactful and frantic as the last with each appearance increasing the demand for a new album with these untitled tracks. Lo and behold it has arrived.
Only a few weeks on from the Grammy’s untitled unmastered has now been released with all the previously performed songs as well as 5 others reaching a collective time of 34 minutes.
There is no sign of the artist searching from within needed, no cracks appearing, just a spontaneous release from an artist who supposedly had all these tracks sitting on a shelf ready to go. These songs simply were never meant to disappear into the annals of Youtube.
Looking back, the decision to tease this release by playing three untitled songs on three major late night shows, seemingly without any reason may seem audacious, and to some self-indulgent. However it also speaks of an artist enjoying the nature of his work as a performer. While this could have been a subtle publicity stunt to lead up to an album that was intended to be released anyway these live appearances highlighted the importance of live element of musical performances.
Questions of whether the album would have been released if the performances hadn’t gone as well are intriguing, yet made invalid by our knowledge of the prolific ability of the man. Those questions do however highlight the nature of the music business at its most basic: Artist performs material to fans, fans approve, artist releases the material requested. In an age where music is taken for granted with numerous streaming services and websites, the simple nature of supply and demand seems almost alien.
untitled unmastered is a seemingly miscellaneous collection of songs that have only come out after the demand created from live performances of a handful of unreleased tracks. Whether choosing to look cynically into this as a incredibly well thought through publicity campaign or, as some are perceiving Kanye West’s recent album The Life Of Pablo, as a by-product of a quantity-over-quality market, where even the biggest faces of hip-hop struggle to stay relevant in a crowded, overexcited field. On the face of it, this album carries itself with enough confidence to resemble the former much more than the latter.
While it may seem naively optimistic to discuss the album’s release in these terms it is also encouraging to feel like an album of such quality has been released from such basic, organic means.