At midnight, Kendrick Lamar dropped 8 new songs—a project titled untitled unmastered. He has performed most of the songs before. One he played on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and one during the final week of The Colbert Report. The way he released these songs suggests that Kendrick Lamar is more interested in making art than money.
untitled unmastered. isn't an "album" or an "EP," even though, with 8 songs—a total of 34 minutes—it could be called either. Instead, in the press release from Top Dawg Entertainment, untitled unmastered. is called "an 8-song project."
It's a small word to fixate on, but in the 73 word press release, "project" is the only word used to describe the intention of this piece. Which is meaningful.
As a noun, project means:
1) a planned piece of work with a specific purpose or
2) a public housing development.
Kendrick Lamar, as a rapper, makes his living off of the words he chooses—and the order in which places them. Did a publicist have a hand in the press release? Absolutely. Is it possible that Kendrick didn't sign off on it at all? I guess, but I doubt it. A publicist (even a great one) is going to call an 8 song release either an "album" or an "EP."
But this is specifically called a "project." It isn't a collection of songs, it is a purpose, a plan, an intentional movement to make something happen. It's a reminder that Kendrick Lamar is not Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, or Rihanna. Kendrick Lamar is an American black man who grew up under the reminder that he could never stop being that.
New Wilmington Arms, a housing project in Compton (where Lamar is from) was so notorious as a drug bazzar that Los Angeles councilmen felt comfortable treating it with what the Los Angeles Times printed as disgust:
"Everyone knows what goes on there," Councilman Maxcy D. Filer said with disgust. "I think we should proceed by declaring it a public nuisance and abate the nuisance by confiscating and demolishing it."
Why call something a project if it doesn't have an intention?
Without a statement, we can't know exactly what Kendrick's intention is. But we can infer a few things. untitled unmastered. appeared on almost every music consumption site immediately: Spotify, Tidal, and iTunes. He didn't put his project exclusively on iTunes like Taylor Swift and Adele have, and it's not only on Tidal like Kanye West's album. Kendrick released a project that he wants heard.
Kendrick is a big enough star by now that he could have signed an exclusivity deal and made some money on this project. And untitled unmastered. isn't about money. It's about honesty, brutality, and truth.
Even though, on "Untitled 07," he sings, "me do want dollars/me do want dollars," it's pretty obvious from this release structure that there's something that Kendrick Lamar wants more: Change.
Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.