Yesterday, March 3rd, 2016, Kendrick Lamar decided to grant the wishes of millions of fans, and one LeBron James, and release an eight song EP of the To Pimp a Butterfly leftover songs, titled untitled unmastered. The entire project plays like a look into the creative process of one of the most consciously innovative MC’s of the 21st century. Songs are only identifiable by dates, but no explanation on what those dates signify. Is it the date of completion or date the idea formed? Or could be the date he ultimately decided to scrap it?
The song “untitled 06 | 06.30.2014” features Kendrick employing his trademarked high-pitched, alien voice while rapping about how “these metamorphic, supernatural forces dominate what I see.” So when CeeLo Green appeared thirty seconds into the song, matching Kendrick’s animated vocals with some of his own, it sounded more logical than collaborative. CeeLo’s beautifully crooning of “am I mortal man or make believe?” instantly confirms he comes from the same lineage of molding his vocals to fit the emotion of each individual line.
CeeLo Green spoke with HipHopDX about the making of “untitled 06 | 06.30.2014” from Kendrick Lamar’s recent compilation, how Kendrick is making the “blackest music” out now, the youthful energy that has possessed him and much, much more in this extensive interview.
HipHopDX: How did this song start out?
CeeLo Green: Believe it or not, it was something we had worked on while he was working on To Pimp a Butterfly. I had forgotten about it, I didn’t really know what would become of it.
DX: So how do you and Kendrick link up to work together?
CeeLo Green: We kind of stumbled upon each other by way of another mutual friend we both happened to be working with, Adrian Younge. The only truly exceptional thing about it is the song itself. The way it was done was really organic and natural so there’s it’s not a really big story behind it. In the course of doing a project or multiple projects, you exercise your right to be expressive and compile new material. You really never know what to make of it.
DX: The song is titled “June 30th 2014.” Is that when the song was finished or when Kendrick got the song?
CeeLo Green: I’ll leave some of it to the imagination because I can’t answer intelligibly. I really don’t know. As much as I can recall is the fact that Adrian reached out to me like ‘Yo, Kendrick likes this idea that we did. Do you mind?’ I’m like ‘Of course not.’ This was post-everything that has happened recently. This was almost two years ago.
DX: Did you write the lyrics for your part?
CeeLo Green: I definitely wrote my part. We didn’t do the song together. It was an idea that was available to be embellished upon. Kendrick was attracted to the idea that was. So it was never really a complete song. I’m just as surprised as you because I didn’t hear the complete song until last night.
DX: What’s different from what you heard originally? Did he add anything to the original idea?
CeeLo Green: He kept it pretty intact. He kept it in its original form for the most part. It’s unmixed, it’s unmastered. So, it’s raw. It’s very ironic, because it’s raw and well done at the same time.
DX: That’s the beauty of it. It’s called untitled unmastered. but it sounds better than most albums out this year. In the chorus you mention “mortal man” which was a song on To Pimp a Butterfly. Did you hear the “Mortal Man” song at all before you made the track?
CeeLo Green: That could just be a cool coincidence. The album wasn’t even out yet. It was in the process of recording. I can be definitive in saying it wasn’t a listening session of the material he had amassed for the project. To be honest, it’s even more flattering that it was an idea that was unfinished that he saw potential in. He validated it, by evolving and extending the thought. Expounding upon it.
DX: You and Kendrick have almost parallel careers. You both started out in a group focused heavily on rapping and lyricism. Then ventured into blending genres. From your 20+ years in the game, what do you think of the artist Kendrick Lamar is?
CeeLo Green: I think his innovation is so apparent and so imperative at the moment. I think he is making the blackest music there is at the moment. ‘Black’ meaning infinite possibilities. Black is very ironic. Like the vastness of space. It’s everything and nothing at the same time.
DX: When I heard Section.80, that’s when I knew he had the makings to be a great MC. What music from Kendrick Lamar’s catalogue made you a believer?
CeeLo Green: A lot of the times you take mixtapes as streams of consciousness. You take it with a grain of salt. The mixtape was originally meant to showcase the fact that you were quantiful in saying that ‘I have this to give away. These are the expendables, if you will. Wait until I get the chance to focus for my real, formal project.’ I can basically say, the complete opus of good kid, m.A.A.d city. I do consider him an ally and an extension of the collective efforts of Dungeon Family and the continuum of that consciousness. I’m almost like a proud, surrogate father.
DX: That is the exact feeling I get when I see artists like yourself, Erykah Badu and Prince embrace Kendrick Lamar. As if you all want to make sure Kendrick gets it right. The Internet often makes that difficult but also helps artists release music out of nowhere. I love the communal spirit of the game. What do you think the Internet has done for MC’s? Looking at TIDAL with Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo album.
CeeLo Green: It’s powerful and it’s empowering. It’s very inspiring. It’s encouraging the effort, action and optimism amongst artists and executives alike. I think it reminds the executives of the artists’ hardwire they must have underneath it all in order to be able to identify what’s potential or what’s possible in a person. Or an artist.
I also think that it’s threatening. It’s definitely threatening as well to the establishment that once was. It’s no longer the same. You have to remember that TDE [Top Dawg Entertainment] are independent and so are their actions and accomplishments. They have done a mighty thing.
DX: You released Heart Blanche in November and now you’re on the Kendrick Lamar album. What is next for you?
CeeLo Green: I’m on tour. I’m in Mobile, Alabama. I’m doing something called “The Love Train Tour.” We’re doing our fourth show, we’ve been on the road for almost a week now. It’s going exceptionally well. We’ve had some mixed emotions about that Heart Blanche album, at first. Amazingly enough, it’s starting to be revisited by people. I think the opinion on it is changing. We released it at a very peculiar time, in November, weeks before the entire industry shuts down for the [Thanksgiving] holiday. Now, with the advantage of the single “Work” being utilized in the trailer for Barbershop 3 it has taken on a new life. Everything is good. I’m working on a number of different projects. This could have not come at a greater time. It’s impeccable. It’s God timing. I just got through producing Tone Trump’s new single, called “5.” Me and Nipsey Hussle got a new record coming out. I hope I’m not giving it out way too prematurely.
DX: I know you can’t speak too much about it, but can you confirm that the song with Nipsey has the same feel as the “Tears of Joy” song you did with Rick Ross for his 2010 album, Teflon Don?
CeeLo Green: I can confirm that. I’m working. What feels really good is I’m adding this youthful feel that’s possessing me at the moment. The young ones are acknowledging me all of a sudden. It’s a very special time in my professional life. I can’t believe some of the calls that I’m getting and this new Kendrick is a surprise. It definitely won’t hurt. It can only make things better.