As 2014 came to an end and the final “Colbert Report” aired, Kendrick Lamar humbly took to the stage to send off the host and his audience. Stephen Colbert jokingly mentioned that since this was the last episode, the show’s previous performers, like Paul McCartney, Jack White and Nas, were technically Kendrick’s openers, and he was the main act. But not even star-studded comparisons could phase Kendrick. Along with Terrence Martin, Anna Wise and Thundercats, Kendrick ushered in 2015 with a gradually building flurry of saxophone and politically-charged lyrics that left viewers in awe.
As 2015 comes to an end, the questions of the best song and album of the year become hot topics for debate. The buzz will likely center on Drake and Future, with some praise for Kendrick, Chance the Rapper and Vince Staples thrown in. However, what stands out in my recollection of the year in hip-hop is how I eagerly waited for months to hear a studio version of the song Kendrick performed on “Colbert.” What we’ll call “Untitled” turned out to be a one-off special that apparently didn’t make the cut for “To Pimp a Butterfly,” or TPAB, Kendrick’s third studio album that released in March to critical acclaim.
That’s not to say I was disappointed with TPAB – I stand firm when I say that it is the album of the year, and I think the majority of critics would back me on that. It’s an album that takes listeners back to the origins of rap as jazz poetry while still incorporating some modernity and funk in songs like “The Blacker the Berry” and “King Kunta.” The timeless sound is accompanied by a new tale of personal struggle and eventual enlightenment (most visible in the tracks “u” and “i“) as a sort of sequel to the story presented in the album’s Grammy-nominated predecessor, “good kid, M.A.A.D city.”
The most accomplished song from the album would have to be “Alright,” which has become the unofficial soundtrack to the Black Lives Matter movement in a time in which assurance of a more welcoming future is needed most. Protesters across the country have taken to chanting the chorus of the song in unison and in defiance.
What I find astounding is how “Untitled,” which proceeded TPAB by several months and was reportedly written the day of their performance on “Colbert Report,” captured almost all the major themes of the album — both musically and lyrically — in its short three and half minute run time. It’s got the jazzy-funky-modern sound, lyrics discussing issues of both fame and race and an ending chorus that repeatedly states the resistance of the Black man to succumb to inequality. It was truly a preview of what was to come in 2015 in terms of both Kendrick’s music and national politics.
Simply put, the song is the essence of what was arguably the best album of the year. For that reason, I believe “Untitled” to be the song of the year. I’ve never been more disappointed to see a song go unreleased, because when Kendrick walked on stage and grabbed the mic, no one could have ever anticipated the complexity and subtle perfection that would be “Untitled.”